One of the most frequent questions I get asked is “what was it that made you take such an interest in and get involved in Leadership, what was the moment that triggered your interest.
Now it might seem hard to believe, but my very first leadership experience and what I believe to be one of my most defining experiences, happened when I was only 10 years old.
Now obviously I didn’t fully understand the impact at the time, but as I got older the lesson became much more obvious and clear to me.
At this time I played for the school rugby team, in the pic, I am third from the left on the first row.
We weren’t a great team and during the season and finished mid-table with as many defeats as victories.
However, through the luck of the draw, where we only played teams that were weaker than us, we somehow managed to get through to the local cup final much to the surprise of many.
However, it seemed like our luck was about to run out because, in the final, our opponents were going to be the team that had finished top of the league and had beaten us twice both home and away.
Not only had they beaten us, but they had thrashed us by a combined score of 50 points to 3.
As you can imagine, our thrill of making the final was quickly diminished by the harsh reality of who our opponents would be and another thrashing was the probable outcome.
But our coach showed amazing leadership.
He told us when it came to the final this game was different. This was a cup game, and we were a great cup team. We were unbeaten in the cup and the league results didn’t matter, in fact, they were irrelevant when it came to the cup.
He said that we had a really big advantage because the other team was going to expect to win as they thought they knew how we would play. They would be preparing for the league team they had beaten twice and not our unbeaten cup team.
This would be a big shock to them, our game plan would be a surprise to them and it would be one that they wouldn’t expect and had not prepared for.
He also told us he was going to improve our game plan that would actually make us the favourites.
This completely changed our attitude, we were excited that we were now going to be the favourites, that we were going to surprise them, and that we would have a new and improved game plan.
We now had belief that we could win.
For the game plan, the coach had an overall approach, but also told us we would each receive special instructions, that if we followed them, then we would win.
For myself, the coach told me that I wasn’t a creative player, but in this game, I was to be key to victory.
I was to be the destroyer, my key job would be to focus on one thing and one thing alone, and that was to stand opposite their star player and every time he got the ball to just absolutely flatten him.
Nothing else was more important. I was to just, as quickly as possible, cut down his space and stop him from playing. I was to reserve all my energy for just this one task.
The coach told me that I would have played a great game then I would be ‘man of the match’ if every time their best player touched the ball I stopped him dead. Which made me feel special and critical to victory.
Others were given specific instructions too, it was all part of our collective game plan.
During the game every player followed the instructions they had been given to the letter because we had belief in our coach, we had belief in the game plan and now we had belief in ourselves and our ability to win.
For my part I hurried, harried and tackled their star player every time he got anywhere near the ball. It was my sole focus.
Our game plan was a complete surprise to our opponents. They were expecting an easy game and our approach knocked them out of their usual rhythm.
It caused them to start to make some simple elementary mistakes, which led to two early touchdowns, which confirmed our belief we could win, and spurred us on to continue with our plan.
You could visibly see the other team’s heads drop.
We gave them no space, we didn’t let them play their game, we dictated the pace, we controlled everything.
Of course, they were the better team and as the game wore on and as we tired from our high energy approach, they started to get back into the game. They did score late on but it wasn’t enough it was too little too late and we managed to hold on and win 6-3.
This was a huge shock result and it was all down to great leadership.
What I learned from that was that, if you can take away doubt, build confidence, create a plan which the team believe in and get some early success, then the teams can actually achieve what had previously thought to be beyond them.
This also taught me that it’s not always the best team that wins, sometimes it’s the best-prepared team.
When some things feel impossible it might just be the approach you’re using, so look at alternative approaches, don’t persist with approaches you know won’t succeed.
This is the impact that leadership can have, it can take an ordinary team and help them achieve extraordinary results and it was this that got me to become so interested in leadership.
Gordon works with organizations that want to equip their leaders with the tools to drive engagement, performance, and profits.