Three Lessons in Leadership Learned from Coaching Youth Rugby

This past weekend we finished an incredible Spring season of youth rugby where I had the opportunity to coach my son along with 40+ other kids. Having one of the most successful seasons in years was due in huge part to the kids’ willingness to learn new things, trust their teammates, and play with total joy. At the celebration banquet, I started to see some of the same lessons learned on the pitch that applied to building a successful team and organization. Here are three that stood out. Here are some of the lessons in leadership I’ve observed throughout the season.

  1. Recruit Like Your Job Depends on It
Love what you do; tell a friend (and the world)

Last Fall I wrote some of the lessons learned from coaching my son’s 4th grade football team (and then the overall All-Star team). Out of every issue of my newsletter, the one that is the most-read (and months later still heavily read) was the edition focused on that football team and the, “Secret to Your Team’s Success“.

My son likes football but he LOVES rugby so it was only fitting he spent the better part of last year’s Fall Football season constantly recruiting his teammates and friends to come out for Spring Rugby. He tried every pitch and sure enough several of his All-Star teammates came out for their first every rugby season and boy did it make a difference.

It made me think about the importance of recruiting high-caliber employees is to the success of every company and how it can never be solely on the shoulders of HR. In my years leading and building strategy with 1,000 of global recruiting teams, the most successful companies I’ve been around have employees at every level actively engaging and recruiting their next wave of future hires. I’ve seen it done via social media, employee referral programs and even making it part of onboarding along with several additional creative ways along the way.

Net, net, great people know great people, and the more you can engage your employee base to actively recruit the better pool of talent you’ll have to choose from.

2. Create a Team Environment Where Everyone Contributes

My son and the team started off their season on a tear, scoring like crazy and going undefeated. Here’s the problem. He was the only person scoring and he wasn’t passing the ball to his teammates. Often when leading teams, we have our, “star players” who can dominate the group and command the majority of the attention. While that’s often good for the bottom line I’ve seen time and time again where other teammates don’t feel as involved. Worse yet, without being given the chance to shine, this can damage the overall morale of the group.

So, I got creative. I put my son in a position where he had to pass the ball to a teammate before he could get the ball back and run. He wasn’t a fan initially but soon, the entire team was contributing (and scoring) and the level of fun increased tremendously. The team kept winning AND playing at a higher level than before. Now, instead of just him, his teammates were also getting awarded, “Player of the Match” and the team started to play with real joy.

One easy way I’ve handed this throughout my career is to ask a dominant personality (and contributor) to spend a key team meeting in silence and to type encouragement to their teammates supporting their suggestions. This role reversal allows quieter voices the space and opportunity to share an idea they may have been waiting to voice and gives perspective to that dominant team member. How have you handled the same situation?

3. A Leader’s Greatest Responsibility: Create the Next Generation of Leaders

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received from a mentor centered around the measure of a true leader was the ability to cultivate the next generation of leaders. I’ve been fortunate to be part of hyper-growth companies throughout my career and one key factor has been the environments where best practices were taught at every level.

For whatever reason when companies reach a certain size or most often after they’ve been acquired, I’ve seen leaders start to withhold their knowledge from their direct reports. This can be for several reasons. Job security (especially after an acquisition) is a big one. But the reality is, as leaders, we’ve gained a tremendous amount of knowledge to be in the positions we hold.

I recently had a senior leader who’s worked with me across multiple companies be assigned a high-level project to help us scale for our rapid growth. He’d seen me lead the same project for two larger software companies in the past and had been part of the process. I let him know I was available for help if needed but it was his project to own and deliver. And you know what? He crushed it. I can’t tell you how incredible it was to see him complete and share with senior leadership. I even learned a few new wrinkles he’d added. To me, a leader is only as good as the next generation of leaders he/she creates (and now I need him to pass that knowledge down to his team.).

In closing, coaching my son this past Spring helped me realize there’s a lot to be learned about leadership on the rugby pitch. The same as when we coach our kids’ teams, our role as company leaders is to coach our teams to be the best version of themselves and to create an environment where everyone can shine. Who knows your company’s next great leader may be waiting for their chance to contribute on your next team call. As you find yourself on the soccer fields, baseball diamonds, and even rugby pitches this Summer, enjoy the moments and think about what lessons you’re seeing in action that could drive future success to your company’s team.

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Andre J. Boulais

Chief Revenue Officer at Cnect

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Bonus: Your Team’s Success is Part of a Larger Company Success Story

My son’s team was one of four for the 2nd to 4th-grade level. At our rugby banquet, we celebrated not only all four of those teams to our group’s success but also the other age brackets (5th/6th grade; Boys and Girls Middle School teams). Throughout the banquet, the steady message is that every team grew and contributed to the group’s overall success.

This got me thinking about how important perspective is amongst our teams. So often it’s easy to be siloed. As someone who’s led a variety of teams and currently lead Sales, Customer Success, and Marketing, it’s easy to get into the mentality of “our team is doing X” and we forget the larger, “we as a company are collectively accomplishing Y”. One way I’ve counteracted this throughout my career is to make part of our 1:1s to give kudos for a teammate but also a member of another team/division.

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