The All Blacks are probably the most consistently successful team in history, having dominated Rugby Union for decades, perhaps almost a century. In the professional era, they have a win rate of 86%. James Kerr is an author who was embedded with the All Blacks for 5 weeks. It’s written so lyrically and with such pathos, that it’s almost like poetry. He weaves powerful Maori proverbs into All Black sayings and shows how these teachings can enrich and guide us in life.
Maori believe that the haka draws up tipuna, our ancestors, from the earth to the soul. It summons them to aid us in our struggle here on earth with the sound of ngunguru, the low rumble of an earthquake: Tis death! Tis death! I may die! I may die! Tis life! Tis Life! I might live! I might live!
Chapter 1 – Character
Waibo ma te tangata e mihi = Let someone else praise your virtues
SWEEP THE SHEDS – Never be too big to do the small things that need to be done
The chapter opens with an inside view of a match against Wales where the All Blacks win 42-7. After the press has left the locker room, the players and coaches debrief and take turns to say what could have gone better. After this, two senior players stand up and get two brooms and started sweeping up the sheds.
They brush the mud and the gauze into piles in the corner. While the country is still watching replays and schoolkids in bed dreaming of All Black glory, the All Blacks themselves are tidying up after themselves. Sweeping the shed. Doing it properly. so no one else has to. Because no one looks after the All Blacks. The All Blacks look after themselves.
Andrew Mehrtens calls this an ‘example of personal discipline.’ and ‘if you have personal discipline in your life, then you are going to be more disciplined on the field.’
Vince Lombardi based his success on what he called ‘The Lombardi Model’ which began with a statement:
‘Only by knowing yourself can you become an effective leader.’
From self-knowledge, Lombardi believed, we develop character and integrity, and from character and integrity comes leadership’
An incredible quote from Buckminster Fuller, who when ‘depressed and considering suicide asked himself some questions that revolutionised his life’:
What is my job on the planet? What is it that needs doing, that I know something about, that probably won’t happen unless I take responsibility for it?
“Humility is seen as a vital part of a well-adjusted character. It is essential to mana, the Maori and Polynesian word that captures so many qualities; authority, status, personal power, bearing, charisma, and great personal prestige and character….for Maori, mana is perhaps the ultimate accolade, the underlying spiritual goal of human existence.”
SWEEP THE SHEDS – Never be too big to do the small things that need to be done
Chapter 2 – Adapt
Maui – the discoverer of the secret of fire – was spearing birds with his brothers one day. But as his spear had no barbs, the prey escaped them. Maui’s mother told him to use sticks to create barbs for his weapon – which he did. They feasted on kereru (pigeon) that night.
GO FOR THE GAP – When you’re on top of your game, change your game.
Will Hogg believes that effective organisational requires four key stages. The absence of any one factor will inhibit culture change and often make it impossible: A Case for Change A Compelling Picture of the Future A Sustained Capability to Change A Credible Plan to Execute
Chapter 3 – Purpose
The person with a narrow vision sees a narrow horizon; the person with a wide vision sees a wide horizon.
PLAY WITH PURPOSE – Ask ‘Why?’
After defeat against South Africa in 2004, the coaching staff sat down for what Graham Henry described as the most important conversation of his All Black career. “It would result in the most complete overhaul of the most successful sporting culture in human history.”
Brian Lochore came up with the six words:
Better People Make Better All Blacks
So by giving the players the tools to mature and contribute off the pitch, they would also be helping the players to contribute more effectively on the pitch.
What are you playing for?
Daniel Pink: “Humans by their nature seek purpose – a cause greater and more enduring than themselves”, pointing out that we leave well-paying jobs for purpose-driven ones, that we volunteer, and that we have children.
Maslow: we all move towards a state of self-actualisation – a psychological state of presence, flow, self-respect, self-expression and authenticity.
Victor Frankl: From research at Johns Hopkins University, “asked what they considered ‘very important’ to them now, 16% checked ‘making a lot of money’; 78% said their first goal was ‘finding a meaning and a purpose to my life’. “What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for a worthwhile goal, a freely chosen task”.
Nietzsche: “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How”
So what was the Why for the All Blacks?
It was: “To Add To The Legacy”
“Seek the treasure you value most dearly; if you bow your head, let it be to a lofty mountain.”
Chapter 4 – Responsibility
Be a leader, not a follower.
Pass the Ball. Leaders create Leaders.
General David Petraeus: “Instill in your teams members a sense of great self-worth – hat each, at any given time, can be the most important on the battlefield.”
Henry formed a Leadership group made up of senior players, to which responsibility was devolved to.
Henry was an ‘autocrat’ so this was hard for him to do, but in doing so, he displayed what Jim Collins calls Level 5 leadership: “a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will”.
This culture change results in things like Stephen Donald, the 4th choice fly-half kicking the winning points in a tight World Cup Final.
Chapter 5 – Learn
Gather the good food, cast away the rubbish.
Daniel Pink in Drive: The 3 factors that he believes creates motivation in a human being: mastery, autonomy and purpose.
“How do leaders create an environment that delivers the opportunity for personal growth and professional development?”
Sean Fitzpatrick, All Black legend:
“Be the best that you can possibly be”
“Success is modest improvement, consistently done.”
“The best sports people in the world practice more than they play”
“Business people should practice too. They should go home at night and analyse their day’s performance. They don’t and they need to. To be good at something takes practice and lots of it.”
Tom Peters: Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence, only in constant improvement and constant change.
Leaders are Teachers.
Leaders are Learners.
Doing 100 things 1% better. Marginal Gains. Inches.
W. Clement Stone: “You are a product of your envirnment so choose the environment that will best develop you towards your objective. Analyse your life in terms of your environment. Are the things around you helping you towards success – or are they holding you back?”
Guy Davis to Sean Fitzpatrick: “The only thing I want you to be is the best that you can possibly be.”
Pericles: “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments but what is woven into the lives of others.”
“Your legacy is that which you teach”
Chapter 6 – Whanau
Hold on to the spearhead formation of the kawau.
NO DICKHEADS. Follow the spearhead.
Whanua means to be born or give birth. For Maori, it means extended family. Our family of friends, our mates, our tribe, our team.
Kipling: “For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack”
Arab proverb: “It’s better to have a thousand enemies outside the tent than one inside the tent”
Maori proverb: “A little water seeping through a small hole may swamp a canoe”
“Let us be united, not pulling against one another”
Chapter 7 – Expectations
My language is my awakening, my language is the window to my soul
Aim for the highest cloud.
Ira Glass: Great stories come to those that tell them.
Fitzpatrick: Don’t be a good All Black. Be a great All Black.
What would a great All Black do?
In The Songlines, the Koori believe that when young men go walkabout, the words they chant ‘sing their world into existence’.
“Chatwin also reminds us that the Ancient Egyptians believed that the seat of the soul is our tongue. Using it as our rudder, and words as our oar, we steer our way across the waters to our destiny.”
Fitzpatrick: “Judge yourself against the world’s best”
Chapter 8 – Preparation
The way the sapling is shaped determines how the tree grows
TRAIN TO WIN
Practise under pressure
Don Bradman practiced as a boy by throwing a golf ball off a corrugated wall and hitting it back with a cricket stump. “He made practice his test.”
“Practise with intensity to develop the mindset to win” Train to Win.
“Like physical fitness, mental toughness is the result of a long-term conditioning programme”
By adding progressively more pressure, “our brains acclimatize to the pressure. We develop clarity, more accurate, automatic execution and situational awareness.”
A person who is taught at home will stand with confidence in the community
Chapter 9 – Pressure
The first stage of learning is silence, the second stage is listening.
KEEP A BLUE HEAD
Control your attention
Red Head: Tight, inhibited, results-orientated, anxious, aggressive, over-compensating, desperate.
Blue Head: Loose, expressive, in the moment, calm, clear, accurate, on task.
How do we avoid Red Head and stay in Blue Head?
First, put yourself in a calm, positive and clear state.
Second, anchor this state through physical actions like scrunching your toes or clenching your fists and reopening them. Repeat until automatic.
Third, use these anchors when you feel pressure.
Chapter 10 – Authenticity
Cluster the branches of the manuka, so that they will not break.
Keep it real
Gilbert Enoka: “We always talk about the ‘real self’ rather than the ‘fake self’. If you come into the All Blacks and you succumb to peer pressure, and you do things because others want you to, if you’re not grounded, then you get found out” “He uses the analogy of a bridge that is secure because it is made of several different planks: personal skills, friends, family, being an All Black. ‘If the only plank you’ve got is the rugby one, then you’ll always come unstuck'”.
Better People Make better All Blacks
Enoka: “Development of the authentic self is hugely powerful to performance”
Bill George: “the essence of a great leader is about ‘being genuine, real and true to who you are’.”
Authenticity starts with honesty and integrity.
Honesty: the ability to deliver honest feedback
Integrity: The ‘ethical accuracy of our actions. It’s about getting stuff done. “Though the end result is trust, belief and respect, these are merely the by-products of the fact that when we say something will happen, it actually does happen. This means that others can count on us to deliver. And most importantly, that we can count on ourselves.”
“There’s an old story about J.P. Morgan who was shown an envelope contain a ‘guaranteed formula for success’. He agreed that if he liked the advice written inside he would pay USD 25,000 for its contents. Morgan opened the envelope, nodded and paid. The advice: 1. Every morning write a list of the things that need to be done that day. 2. Do them.”
“If we speak with integrity our word becomes our world; a commitment, a declaration of intent, a generative force.”
A person who can be taken at his word.
Chapter 11 – Sacrifice
CHAMPIONS DO EXTRA
Find something you would die for and give your life to it.
“First to arrive at the gym, and the last to leave – an extra rep, an extra ten minutes, an extra set, an extra circuit.” Who wants it more?
Don’t die like an octopus, die like a hammerhead shark.
Chapter 12 – Language
Let your ears listen
INVENT YOUR OWN LANGUAGE
Sing your world into existence
In 1999, John Kirwan and Sean Fitzpatrick wrote The Black Book, which became the All Blacks’ team bible:
- No one is bigger than the team
- Leave the jersey in a better place
- Live for the jersey. Die for the jersey
- It’s not enough to be good. It’s about being great.
- Leave it all out on the field
- It’s not the jersey. It’s the man in the jersey
- Once an All Black, always an All Black
- Work harder than an ex-All Black
- In the belly – not the back
- It’s an honour, not a job
- Bleed for the jersey
- Front up – or fuck off
Kevin Roberts: Revolutions start with language
A branding exercise to define the All Blacks’ brand values: New Zealand, Winning, Power, Masculinity, Commitment, Teamwork, Tradition and Inspirational and:
Or the USMC:
- Honour – Integrity, Responsibility, Accountability
- Courage – Do the right thing, in the right way, for the right reason
- Commitment – Devotion to the Corps and my fellow Marines
Words start revolutions
“Within the Al Blacks, as within other high-performing environments like the Marines, the Red Arrows and Apple, there is a similar obsession with the formative power of language:
- ‘World class’
- ‘Red hot, we were red hot today’
“Mottos and mantras are a key part of the road-map to the All Blacks’ mindset. These linguistic heuristics go straight to the heart of the belief system, becoming shorthand for the standards and behaviour that is expected.”
Mottos and mantras “capture character in a sentence, change minds with a turn of phrase, and distil essence into a few words. The best teams – the All Blacks, Apple, the Marines, Nike, Honda, Adidas harness the power of these mottos and mantras to reflect, remind, reinforce and reinvigorate their ethos every day.”
What is the food of a leader? It is knowledge. It is communication.
Chapter 13 – Ritual
RITUALISE TO ACTUALISE
Create a culture
In 2005, the All Blacks unveiled a new haka, one that they built from the ground up in order to reflect the diverse makeup of the team.
Ritualise to actualise
The are hundreds of tiny rituals that are part of being an All Black:
- The initiation ritual
- Flags on the walll
- Your place on the bus
- Anthems and caps etc
“Rituals act as a psychological process – a transition from one state into another. They take us into a new place of being.”
“By creating their own equivalent of the haka, leaders can attach a sense of personal meaning and belonging to the organisation’s overall purpose.”
It’s our time! It’s our moment!
Chapter 14 – Whakapapa
You are but a speck in the moment of time situated between two eternities, the past and the future.
BE A GOOD ANCESTOR
Plant trees you’ll never see.
Whakapapa is the distillation of “the ancestral soul of the team, connecting past, present and future, and stretches from the very beginning to the very end of time.” It “literally means to pile rocks in layers, one upon the other, so that they reach from the earth to the heavens.”
Sean Fitzpatrick: “The reason your children turn out right is because their parents are right…what you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others”
“In the All Blacks, in parenthood, in business, in life, it’s about leaving the jersey in a better place. And it takes character.”
Jim Traue’s essay on whakapapa from a Caucasian perspective:
“Whakapapa delivers mana.”
Albert Schweitzer: “Example is not the main thing in influencing others, it is the only thing”
Greek proverb: “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they will never see”
John Wooden: “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
“Leadership is surely the example we set. The way we lead our own life is what makes us a leader. It is what gives us mana.”
Grow and branch forth for the days of your world
Chapter 15 – Legacy
At the same time as the spiral is going forward, it is also returning.
WRITE YOUR LEGACY
This is your time
“When a player makes the All Blacks, they’re given a book. It’s a small black book, bound in fine leather, and beautiful to hold.” The pages start at the beginning of the Whakapapa, from the 1905 Originals that started the Whakapapa, and continues all the way through to the present day. “The rest of the pages are blank. Waiting to be filled. It’s time to make your mark, they say. Your contribution. It’s time to leave a legacy. Your legacy. It’s your time.”
Legacy is in the same league as Shoe Dog by Phil Knight. (Read my review of Shoe Dog here)
Buy a copy of Legacy – What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life here.