Perspective

What Can Fast-growing Businesses Learn From Other High-Performing Pursuits?

Recorded at the TDM Growth Partners People and Culture Growth Summit in June 2022.

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In June 2022, we hosted 100 of the world’s best growth company CEOs, Founders, Chief People Officers, and investors at the Sydney Opera House to uncover best practice when it comes to scaling people and culture. This session was titled “What fast-growing businesses can learn from other high-performing pursuits.”

The panel consisted of:

Sir Steven Hansen – All Blacks Rugby Head Coach from 2012-2019
Alyssa Healy – World Cup Cricketer, Australia
Tim Brown – CEO and Co-founder Allbirds

And was moderated by Ed, TDM Investment Team member.

Immediately following this session we posted this article with our key takeaways – 15 Lessons that Business Leaders can Learn from High-performing Sportspeople.

Ed (00:19):
What can fast growing businesses learn from other high performing pursuits? We’ve decided to hone in on sport mainly because it’s closest to my heart and I could drag in some incredible guests as part of the network, sir Steve Hansen, who was the most successful All Blacks coach of all time. And to put that into perspective, the All Blacks are the greatest sporting team by success rate ever in the history of sport. And he’s the most successful coach of that team, knows a thing or two about high performance. We’ve got Tim Brown, sorry, Steve’s in Tokyo by the way. So he’s dialling in from Japan. We’ve gone full international. Tim’s just hopped off a plane from San Francisco and decided to join us. That’s how good a person he is. He’s in Wellington though. And so Tim, many of you would know is the co-founder and CO CEO of Allbirds, but before that, played professional soccer including at the World Cup for New Zealand.

So the star player turn coach in many respects what it is to be the star of the show into the director of the show. And that transition is a really interesting transition to make. And of course we have a current star in Alyssa Healy, one of my favourite cricketers in the world. For those that follow cricket, you would’ve been following as part of the World Cup recently. And before that, the T 20 World Cup, who was player of the final, who under pressure delivered for their team and for the nation, it’s the person to my left. And so that lens is the high performing employee. Let’s start with you Alyssa. What are some of the traits of teams that you’ve played in that have in your mind, made them ultimately successful?

Alyssa Healy (02:07):
What stood out? For me culturally in particular, I think I can reflect over the last five years of the Australian women’s team that I’ve been a part of that it’s been one of the most successful periods in cricket, male or female, which has been incredible to be a part of. But I think what stands out the most for me is that teamwork. And I mean that might sound really cliche, but it was genuinely, there’s a lot of big personalities in that group, but everyone took their egos out and decided that they wanted to play their role to make sure that the team succeeds. And that was the biggest step for us. And cricket is such a unique sport that it’s a team game, but it’s actually individual. All the stats you look at when you finish your career is all individual. It doesn’t really talk about what team you were in, whether you were successful or not. It was how many runs you made, how many wickets you took. So at times there’s a tendency to be quite selfish in your thinking, but I think for me, what has stood out is you take the egos out of the room, everyone buys into the culture the values and does their job for the team. And ultimately, you’re part of one of the most successful teams in history, which I think everyone would much rather prefer, I hope, anyway.

Ed Cowan (03:19):

Without doubt, Steve Hansen, any opening reflections.

Sir Steve Hansen (03:23):
All good teams, and I think companies would be the same. They have clear drivers. So things like team is first, individual second, they live their values from the top down so they’re not just things they put on the wall and then forget about, they identify the critical few that are so important for them to be successful, and they do that really well and they concentrate on that and they work hard at getting those right every day. They’re adaptable in their thinking, they’re flexible in their thinking, so they can change in the moment if they need to or they can learn faster than the opposition. They’re happy to talk about the inconvenient facts. I think they’re the things that we don’t talk about because they’re hard conversations, but if we don’t talk about them, they’ll sneak up behind us and they’ll bite us on the bum and then we have to talk about them.

But they’re happy to have robust discussions about those things right from day one. And finally, I think they have the ability to have an idea chucked on the table. And a little bit like Alicia has said, there’s no ego, no I, it’s about us and it’s about we being as good as we can be. And they’ll chuck that idea on the table, they’ll smash it to bits and they’ll do one of two things. They’ll either turn it into a great idea or they’ll get rid of it and realise it’s not a road they want to go down, so they’ll just chuck it off to the side of the table and move on. So yeah, for me that’s some of the critical things that we’d have to get right if we want to have a good team.

Ed Cowan (04:58):
Tim, you’ve seen both sides of the spectrum, but let’s start with your sporting experience. First and foremost,

Tim Brown (05:04):
The sporting stuff’s so foundational for everything that I’ve done in business. And if I could summarise it, I think it’s being part of a group of people pointed in one direction is a very special feeling and that takes time. And Steve’s touched on it. You’ve got to articulate the values and the vision and the mission really, really clearly those three things. But I think the special groups that I’ve been a part of in sport in particular, they weren’t just clear on the what. I think it’s really sometimes quite easy to define what you want to do. You want to win a world carport, you want to make the team or you want to win a game. They were just as clear, if not clearer on the why and the larger sense of what the win would mean in a larger cultural context or in the world that they live in that it more personal, more special. When I think about the New Zealand teams that I played in that were really successful, they understood not just what the results were about and what they wanted to achieve, but why that would be important, why that could be transformational for them, for their families, and maybe even for the country. And that’s harder. That takes a little bit more work. But I think once you unlock that, then the what tends to follow pretty closely

Ed Cowan (06:25):
Wonderful reflections. We’re going to get into some what I would probably describe as niche topics, but really relevant topics hopefully for people who are scaling fast growing businesses. And the first topic is managing performance. And it’s very obvious in sport whether you win or you lose, that happens on a weekly basis. And so the performance reflection cycles are really short. We’re talking six, seven days. It happens continuously in many respects. My experience in the business world is this can take six, 12 months plus. And so I think there’s something to learn from sport in this respect.

Tim Brown (07:20):
The language of performance is something that I think you take for granted in a sporting context, right? It’s there all the time. It’s hovering over every practice each weekend. The result you make the team, you didn’t make the team. And so you almost take for granted the idea that you’re constantly getting input and feedback on your performance. And I think in the business world, I really, it’s been a big adjustment for me to understand both people are not used to that and it doesn’t happen as often. And you’ve got to be very, very thoughtful and methodical about defining a language of performance. You go to a business context and when are you talking about performance once a year, a big review cycle. And so I think one of the things I’ve had to learn is that you have to be very methodical and clear in defining a language of performance.

I think the other big difference, ed, is with sport, you are away. You’re travelling, you are able to develop a deep personal context. I always think that the foundation of high performing teams is a deep level of trust and I think in a sporting context that’s accelerated. And in the business world without that, particularly in a remote working environment, I think it becomes very, very difficult to articulate and then act on a language of performance that allows people to get better, that is very direct, that makes people better, that calls out things that fall short of values or results or behaviours that fall short of what you want. And I think it’s taken me a long time to understand in business you want the same things, but you need to approach it

Sir Steve Hansen (08:55):
In a different way to build that foundation of trust and to define a very, very clear language of performance within a culture.

Ed Cowan (09:01):
Wonderful answer and a wonderful call out on trust in line with this language. Alyssa, I’m going to go to you around just the clarity of role and accountability. And I know the success of the Australian cricket team that you’ve been a part of. Each and every player calls that out as a reason why you’ve been so successful. What does that look like in the team?

Alyssa Healy (09:25):
When a new player comes into the squad? We’ve obviously got a pretty well set values. We live by some sort of culture. We’re on tour a lot, right? So a lot of the small things that happen on tour we try and recognise that are living by our values and our culture. But for us, when a new player comes into the side, as daunting as it might be, you’re standing there in front of Meg learning, Elise Perry, that you’ve looked up to growing up learning the game, and you come into the side, one of the first things that you’ve got to do coming into the squad is actually present your version of those values in front of the group. It makes a hell of an experience for that person. It makes a great experience for us watching. But I think ultimately it makes that person, new person coming into the group instantly more comfortable in the environment because they’ve got to speak, they’ve got to talk to us about how they’re going to live, the values, what it looks like for them, whether that’s on the field, off the field.

And at the end of the day, it makes each and every one of us accountable for that person living out those values. It makes them accountable. They’ve said it out loud, we can enact say, you know what? You’re not living up to that today or Well done pat on the back. You’re actually living those values and good on you for giving it a crack. So I think that’s one thing that we actually do really, really well. We, I guess celebrate little moments along the way where people are doing it really well. We call out when it’s not happening as much. But I think celebrating those things and keeping everyone accountable of living by that ultimately drives a team in the forward direction that we want to be going.

Ed Cowan (11:01):
Steve, do you have any reflections on ensuring that the team is absolutely crystal clear on what their role is and how they’re going to be a held account to that?

Sir Steve Hansen (11:12):
I think it’s probably one of the big tools in the toolbox for success. It’s really important that I as the coach stand up and say, right, A, B and C and non-negotiable. Everything else is. And to go back to Tim saying the why is important, why is it non-negotiable? Explain that. Explain my own expectations of myself and what I expect for me to deliver to my athletes. Give them permission to call me out if I’m not doing that. And then follow that with, okay, what are my expectations of you? And one of the clear things is to understand your role. So my job is to make sure, and the staff’s role to make sure is that you understand what it is that you’re being asked and challenged to do to such a high level every day. And once you get that, it gives you confidence.

If you know what your role is, you’ve got confidence. It allows you to prepare better. It creates an ownership. If you’re brave enough to empower that person to actually really own the role, you get a real responsibility and a team coming together. Everyone owns their own role and gets on with it. They deliver. And I think it allows you to manage the ego too, because the ego is always there and we all have one and it’s just mastering it in the occasions when we get a wee bit of ahead of ourselves and it gives you a tool to just quietly pull them back into line and understand that, hey, the number one non-negotiable thing is this team comes first. And everything we do, every decision we make, everything we work hard at is to make the team better. If we make the team better, you get all the rewards that you’ll ever want.

Ed Cowan (13:10):
Just to round out the topic of managing performance, something you just touched on there, Steve, there is light and shade to ego. Some of the most brilliant performers in the world is based on ego. The bravado that they can do anything is the reason why they’re successful. But the shade to that is you can have the brilliant dickhead and it is very common in the workplace as well. And maybe to you, Tim, how you view the brilliant dickhead, has that changed from the sporting world to the corporate world and has the reaction been the same or the outcome being the same?

Tim Brown (13:48):
Well, firstly, it’s good to be out of America. I feel like I can’t say dickhead in America, so it’s good to be back. I don’t think, again, in the best teams that I’ve been in, there’s ever been space for that. I think ego, of course, everyone has that on some level and it’s attached to performance. But I think Steve said it really, really well. I mean, I think what is non-negotiable? I think sometimes we spend a lot of time focused on that and not enough on the bits that are negotiable, the ability to impart your own style, bring yourself to work, your own sense of who you are and how you want to act to be your own person and not conform. I think the great teams give space for that. I think the great coaches give space for people to have an identity that can be transcendent, that can be eccentric, that can be special.

That all has to work within the non-negotiable bits. But the bits that are negotiable, I think we don’t talk enough about. And I think in my evolution as a leader and a manager in a corporate setting, I think I’ve got a lot better at giving a lot of space for people to attack the clearly defined problem and the clearly defined values in their own way and come at it in the way that they want to come at, which is usually not how you want to do it. And usually that I think is a pretty important part of a team being successful, is giving space for that.

Ed Cowan (15:25):
Couldn’t agree with you more when there’s no space in a sporting team for the brilliant dickhead over the long period of time. There can be some tolerance in the short term, but I’ve heard you say before, Steve, if you can’t, this is gender specific, I’m sorry if you can’t change the man, change the man. How did you deal with that player? Perhaps that you knew was brilliant, but ultimately you couldn’t make sense of.

Sir Steve Hansen (15:52):
That’s the key. You’ve got to make sense of them. You’ve got to get to know your people and understand and value them. The dickheads, a dickhead for a reason, something in his life has caused him to want to be the centre of attention or her to be the centre of attention, causing that person to want to use the word I all the time. And it’s probably come from a really young age where they may have felt that they weren’t good enough. Now when we understand that, then we can work with that athlete and get them to realise that actually the power of we is stronger than the odd. Most of the kids are selfish. So I sit down and we had one athlete who was so selfish, it was unbelievable. But I sat down with him and I said, righto mate, at the end of every day I want you to write down all the selfless acts you did and put it in the back of your book.

And at the end of the week, we’ll go over them and if there’s nothing to write down, don’t write it down. And he didn’t even have an idea what a selfless act was. So we explained that to him. And then I went to the staff and I said, right, every time you see him doing a selfless act, make a fuss about it. However, if he does a selfish one, don’t say anything because that’s his normal behaviour. Anyway, now at the end of that week, he came in and he didn’t have a lot on his book. And I said, well, that’s great. You’ve got a few there. And we talked about other ways that he could do it. And by the end of two weeks he was flying and I would see him get off the bus to grab the doctor’s bag. And we had a lady doctor at the time, and she had three big bags that she had to carry, and he would grab two of them plus his own bag and take them up to her room. And of course the staff would catch him doing this and giving a pat on the back. And so in a way, we turned him around and we called out the good behaviour. So I think it’s okay to be different. It’s definitely okay to be different. However, I think if you want to change a behaviour that’s not right, then you have to understand your athlete better than just at a surface level

Ed Cowan (18:19):
Going to take some reflections or questions from the floor on the topic of performance and managing that if there are any irony.

Question: How do you manage both team and individual performance?

Alyssa Healy (18:32):
Yeah, I guess managing teams in a team environment. I guess from a World Cup point of view, I mean you want to win every game, but ultimately you want to win the last one. You want to win the final, you want to be there, be peaking at the right time. And for me, the way I look at it is how are you managing your people around cricket, around the sport, around your business? How are you managing them away from the park to make sure that they’re bringing their best when they need to? And for me, I think that’s been one of the biggest shifts I’ve seen in our team in women’s sport over the last five years is we’ve fought so hard to try and be fully professional for a long period of time that we’ve trained our asses off. Every day we’ve put in the extra effort, we’ve hit 1,001 balls because we’re always told we’re not good enough. So we’re trying to be better. We’re trying to be better so that everyone out there watching says, oh, how amazing is this? Or instead of, oh, they’re not quite at the standard we want to watch yet. So we’ve fought and fought and fought and trained our bums off that all of a sudden now we’ve had a coach come in and said, whatcha are doing that for? It’s going to be an optional session. And he got 12 girls ready to go to an optional session. He says, don’t come to training today. You don’t need to train. And all of a sudden a shift in mindset, the girls are like, well, what do I do with my day? What do you mean I don’t have to train? What am I going to do? And he said, whatever you want to do to make sure that you’re ready to play tomorrow. So that might be golf, that might be going for a coffee, going for lunch, going for a cheeky beer of an afternoon, sitting out over the beach, whatever that might be. And ultimately that has got more out of our team than going to training and hitting a thousand or one balls because it’s created a relaxed environment. There’s no judgement if you don’t come to training, if you say, my body’s not quite where it wants to be, I’m going to give it the extra day. The team will say, we trust you to be ready to play. So that would be my experience that managing people off the park has actually I think led to the biggest gains on the park.

Ed Cowan (20:29):
What does wellness look like at scale in an organisation? And being really deliberate as a leader around that is so key. So a wonderful call out.

Sir Steve Hansen (20:39):
I think what Alyssa said was spot on, I think. Is it right for the team that we’re going over train? No, it’s not simple as that. But is it right for a individual to spend five minutes thinking about how she’s going to play or how he’s going to play? Yes, it is. So everybody, and this is why I’m saying setting the expectations is really important. And then living to those expectations because all very well saying, okay, it’s an optional session. And then criticising people for not going. That’s the worst thing you could do. If it’s optional, it’s optional. And you’re empowering and giving ownership to your athlete or whoever it is that you’re doing it with to make a decision that’s right for him or her. And again, knowing your people, if you’re watching somebody who’s making decisions that aren’t right for them, then you’ve just got to gently nudge them through good communication and good one-on-one chats to say, well, maybe you do probably need to take that optional session. Everybody is motivated by different things, and that’s great. Who cares, if you’re motivated by money, who cares? If you’re motivated by the fear of losing, it doesn’t matter. That’s just normal everyday stuff. However, what is it that we’re all going to unite to be motivated to play well for this team to try and be better every day? And if better means going, having a cheeky beer, go and have one, people say it’s a five day working week. Well, who said that? Who said That’s right?

And they’re like, do we ever actually challenge the paradigm? Because if you keep doing what you do, you’re going to get what you always get. And it may not be good enough.

Tim Brown (22:40):
That resonates with me, Steve. One of my observations coming into the business world, and another thing you take for granted in the architecture of sport is the breaks are sort of built into it, right? There’s an off season where you step away, there’s a rest day after the game because inherently as an athlete you build up to peak performance. You’re not always at peak performance. That’s not the way it works. You go after the off season, you get a little unfit so you can build back up again and be fit. And I think in the business world, you’re trying to always be on as a recipe for that not being the case and for performance over time to slowly degrade. And I think as leaders, building in a calendar and thinking just as much about the rest as about the performance is what you do intuitively as an athlete, as a coach, in the sporting context, you would never try and be always on.

And yet in the business world, that’s what you’re asked to do. I think there’s a really interesting opportunity, the gift in disguise that we’ve been given over the last couple of years of remote working and covid, and we are currently in the transition of returning to office and we’re doing that three days a week that you actually do have the opportunity to give people space to rest, reflect, recharge, and then come back at this, come back at this problem. I think as a general rule, we tend to massively overestimate what we can achieve in the short term and underestimate what we can achieve in the long term if we’re really clear on what we want to do. And so that compounding impact to getting a little bit better every day. You understand as an athlete, but you have to have the rhythms that allow you to do that. And the business world does not do this well, they do not do this well.

Sir Steve Hansen (24:28):
We always used to work on triangles because I’m quite a simple bloke. So the triangle is the easiest thing I could draw.

One of the triangles we had was the performance triangle. So the P was at the top of it. But what we knew was if we had simulation on one corner and enjoyment on the other corner an equal amount, we would always perform. When we got too much enjoyment, we would get loose. And when too much stimulation, it was like, oh God, this is a chore. I’m sick of this. And they’d see the coach coming down the hallway and they’d dive into a bedroom to hide from you. And we had some coaches that were like that, and we had to bring them back in cage, give them space, give them space and use of humour is amazing. You can change something just by having a laugh, you can take all the pressure on and you can take it off. And taking it off is the key because people are better when they can just flow and pressure creates a lot of road bumps. So if you can think about at my workplace, are we creating a environment that has enjoyment and has simulation and equal amounts, then the individuals are going to perform for you.

Question: What is the role of diversity, equity and inclusion in high-performing teams?

Ed Cowan (26:01):
I don’t think this is controversial, but my experience with D, E and I in a sports team is no one cares for it. And I don’t mean that in the bad sense. I mean in the best sense, no one cares for it because it doesn’t matter if you are black, yellow, pink, purple, gay, straight, no one cares because winning and having a great team is the most important thing, and performance is the most important thing. So it doesn’t exist in a sense. It exists in its perfect sense. Maybe you would be the better description. And it always has struck me odd that isn’t the case in the workplace and we’ve got a lot of work to do as a society to have perfect de and I. What are your reflections while you’re going, Alyssa, around D, E and I in your team specifically, and then we’ll take some reflections.

Alyssa Healy (26:55):
I think it’s been a real strength of, I think women’s sport in particular. I think what they’ve done really well is prove to the world that diversity is amazing and what you can achieve when you’ve got diversity of thought, diversity of skill and talent I think is pretty remarkable. I mean, I often think about big organisations and I often think, well, if everybody thinks the same in that group, are you really getting any better? Are you really, I guess reaching all the markets you possibly can? That’s the simple way I put it. And in a sporting context, we want the most skillful people in the world, don’t get me wrong. But we also want different skills. We want have different athletes to get the job done for a team.

I think diversity is natural in sport. I think women’s sport in particular is incredibly accepting of it, and I think men’s sport has come a really, really long way in accepting and I guess changing the norm, challenging the norm.

Ed Cowan (28:01):
I think the naturalness to the diversity is a much better way of phrasing it than I did. Steve, I’m going to go to you because the All Blacks deeply embrace the various cultures within the team, and this has played out in a wide variety of ways, but be it the haka or other rituals that are performed, be it the Anglos or the Pacificas or the Maoris, to coming together under multiculturalism essentially in one team for one mission. How did you think about empowering your team around that?

Sir Steve Hansen (28:32):
Well, we sat down and wanted to understand our own identities for a start. So who were we? Where did we come from? What did that look like? And then we wanted to establish an identity for the All Blacks. And whether you are in the All Blacks for one game or 149 or whatever, there’ll be a story told about you and you’ll tell your grandchild will hear that story. So what story do you want them to hear? And we want to be successful. We can’t be successful. We can see that in the world now with racism, the barriers we put up over that because we just don’t understand each other well enough. So you’ve got to break down the barriers and get people to understand. So we would do crazy stuff where you would have Andrew Haw who’s a farmer from Ramly, and if you know New Zealand, some people would even call it redneck country, he’d be rooming with Kevin, who’s from South Auckland.

Those two guys found that they had similar values, they had similar feelings, they had fears, they had strengths, and it didn’t start off like that, but by the time they finished their careers, those two guys were so tight, as you said, it wouldn’t have mattered if they were pink, blue or what, that they actually got past all of that. And I think it’s about creating an environment that allows the people within it to a, not tolerate anyone that can’t see past it, but actually give them the opportunity to grow and learn and move through it and become a better human being because of it.

Alyssa Healy (30:33):
I think that’s the point. And what I’ve loved seeing our group evolve over the last period of time is we’ve sat down, I feel like Matthew might, our coach who just left may have read a book, I think it’s called Legacy or something like that. I, I’ve heard of it. I think all our stuffs come from the All Bikes. It’s starting to sound that way, but which is pretty cool. But one of the things we’ve really pushed in our group is learning more about Australia’s past Australia’s history in particular, the indigenous history. And you’re just creating a really great, well-rounded people in your team, educated people. And I think once they finish playing cricket or sport and they move into the workplace, they move into the world. I think the world’s a better place for it.

Sir Steve Hansen (31:24):
I think what we need to do as we are trying to do with the colour racism issues that we have is break down the fears and the misconceptions that we have when we are born. We don’t care what colour you are when we’re born. We don’t care if you’re a girl or boy. However, along the way, all these people feed all this crap into you and you start forming ideas about what should be and what could be and how it is. So if we can break those things down, and that’s what we did in our team, we broke them down. And I think in companies, you’ve got to break them down and say, well, here’s the misconceptions. Because are so many people, whether they’re men or women, if they give themselves to the team, they’ll contribute so much more. And you get so much more out of that rather than have little pockets. You just can’t tolerate that.

Question: What are you looking for when selecting members of your team?

Sir Steve Hansen (32:31):

If you get the selections right, everything else after that comes easy. If you get the selections wrong, then you are battling. But if you select the right athletes, what you’re looking for I guess is do they have the talent to do the job you want ’em to do? May not be showing it, but do they have that talent? B, do they have the mental fortitude to be able to perform on the big stage? The next question is, righto, I’m going to pick him because he can do the core role I need him to do. He has the talent to be even better. He can mentally cope with it. Then we bring him into the environment and see how he adjusts there.

We don’t throw out, well, I didn’t anyway throw athletes straight in. I wanted to know what they’re like at training, how they’re coping with training. And yes, there’s the odd one that went straight in, but most of them, we would let them come in. We had a process that looked like very similar to what Elis said, that at the beginning of the campaign, expectations were outlined. We’re trying and make that new athlete feel part of it. We’d provide a platform for them to understand the expectations and deliver on how they thought they could deliver on it. We made the responsibility of the established teammates to make them feel welcome, and they were the teachers. So we’d get an alignment about that. We always let them start to have the confidence to be in the group. And when they started to show you that, and you could see it in the training, then you’d say to yourself, right, hey, these guys are ready to go.

And we’d pick them and invariably they’d go out and play really, really well. And then you’d get media bash, why do you pick ’em earlier? But going back to Alicia’s point about social media, we’ve got to build resilience in our athletes and our young people today don’t have it. And moms and dads have created that. They’ve given our young people most things without having to work too hard for it. We give everybody a wee prize on, everyone has to play and everyone gets a wee prize whether they want to lose. And we’re actually doing, I think more damage there. We’ve got to build people that are strong enough to be able to cope with adversity. And I think it’s why personal development programmes are so important in sporting organisations. And I would hesitate to say that businesses need to do them as well, because whenever the finished product, if you think you’re the finished product, back your bags up and go home, it’s all over.

You’ll stop getting better and you won’t perform. So that’s how we used to do it. A lot of people will talk about what your weaknesses are, and that used to really agitate me, tell me what you’re good at and go and practice that. Now, if you’ve got a weakness, okay, well let’s just pick one of them and you can practice that one thing, but do the six things you’re really good at, because what gives you the confidence to go and be you? And that’s why we’ve picked you. And I think when we focus on all the negatives, we take away that confidence.

Alyssa Healy (35:57):
We had this trier leading into the T 20 World Cup at home. It was going to be the biggest event ever. We’re going to make the final, we’re going to sell out the MCG and all this pressure expectation on our group, on us as individuals. I had an absolute stinker of a trier. I had a poor summer, couldn’t make a run, was getting out in some really fun and exciting new ways that I didn’t know what to fix, how to do it. So of course, you opened the newspaper. I don’t read the paper, but you see it, you read it, you feel that negativity around your spot in the side. And all I wanted to do was play in that World Cup. So how dare they write that? But at the end of the day, for me, I actually flipped it around and I thought, this is a really positive thing.

People genuinely care about our side. They care about our sport and they care about whether we’re going to win or lose. So for them to write that I’m underperforming means that they’re taking our sport seriously. They’re taking our team seriously, and they want to see someone better in there, which I’ve somehow found a positive out of that and thought, well, if I keep underperforming, someone will come in and do the job better than me. But I knew that as soon as we got to the World Cup, I’d be fine. I just needed to get there and play in a big tournament on the big stage that I would be okay and I’d switch on. I have a tendency to switch off a lot. I’d switch on and I’d be completely fine. It was just getting there and leaving that all behind and that negativity behind. So actually flipping it into a positive works for me. And I feel like I’m naturally a fairly resilient human being. I think aspects of my life have shaped me into that person. So I was completely fine with that. But it’s a real task, I think for a lot of young people in that they’re built up has been the next big thing in sport. You have a couple of bad games and someone’s writing that, no, they shouldn’t be in there. How do you bounce back from that? I dunno.

Tim Brown (37:55):
Yeah, you learn. I think you just learn. You find out. I think Steve’s words and Alyssa’s words resonate with me a great deal. I also think it’s a lot about understanding yourself. And I had a big moment I think, where I understood myself a little bit when I retired from sport and I was in London and I’d gone back to university to study, and I kind of thought I’d leave sport behind and I’d leave my anxiety behind around setting high standards and performing and was going to just, my plan was I was just going to lead a life of just sort of bliss and relaxation and just kind of zen calm.

And then along the way, I realised the pressure that I needed some element of that in my life, and that if I was running the corner store, I’d want it to be the best damn corner store in the whole neighbourhood. And there was an element of that that’s just part of your DNA. And I think that’s really helped me to understand, and again, reframe that sense of wanting to compete and that need for a little bit of pressure is actually, it’s part of your makeup. And so I think that’s been really helpful for me and starting to see that a little bit as a privilege. When I retired from sport, all of a sudden no one wanted to be your friend anymore. No one wanted to call you, no one wanted to email you, and you actually missed some of that pressure. And so I think just reminding yourself that the pressure has usually come because you’re trying to do something different or trying to succeed and lead something forward.

Sir Steve Hansen (39:30):
You touched on something that was really important. I think the external expectations are massive. However, in the All Blacks, we saw it also as a privilege. And we thought, well, if people care that much that they want to make a comment like that, which is nothing, comment about a nothing thing, but it means a lot to them, then we’re doing okay. However, those external expectations have to be met internally. And internally. If you can have higher expectations than the external ones, it makes it so much easier to deal with the external ones. Well, yeah, well, we expect that too, but we actually got higher expectations of ourselves than that. And then I think Tim talked about the pressure. People in high performance doesn’t matter if they’re doctors, lawyers or whatever it is, athletes, if they’re high performers, they’ll be operating up around about 85 to a hundred percent.

Now you want your doctor operating on your knee at a hundred. Don’t. You don’t want to go in there that day, him having a day off or her having a day off. However, all of us feel pressure. I was arrogant enough to think early on in my coaching career, oh, I didn’t feel pressure. I didn’t feel pressure. Well, it was bullshit because I did, and everybody else saw it except me. So once I learned that and admitted to myself that I did feel it, then the easy thing was to go right, well, what causes me the pressure? And if it’s A, B and E, okay, when A, B and E are going to happen, what am I going to do to reflect that pressure away and actually stay able to do the job I need to do? And once I had a plan for it, it becomes so much easier to live in that walk.

You can actually enjoy it. It doesn’t become a burden. It actually is. And I know I was lucky enough to be coaching internationally for about 19 years, and lucky enough to have a record that says we won the most games in a row. However, I’ve also got the record where we lost the most games in a row. So I was a shit coach and a good coach, and it was so good because the shit coach came first. So I finished on a high note. However, what it taught me was resilience. I was one game away from being sacked, didn’t tell anybody about it. The CEO came in and he said, right, he couldn’t even tell me I was going to be sicked. I just sat for him. And then I said, right, well, what am I going to do? Am I going to go and tell everybody here, or am I just going to keep believing in what I’m doing and see if we can get where we need to get to? Well, that’s what we did, and we managed to win the game, and the rest was history. But having the strength of understanding and the resilience to know that just because you weren’t successful today doesn’t mean to say you can’t be tomorrow just means you’ve got to work a bit harder and you work smarter and be open to new and flexible ideas.

Alyssa Healy (42:51):
I think being okay with disappointment too, that’s one for me. It’s not encouraging disappointment and not encouraging that negative side of disappointment, but actually being okay with being really disappointed in how you went or how your team went means you really care and what you’re doing, whether it’s your job, whether it’s your sport, whether it’s your life, something in life, being disappointed means you really care about that and you want to do it better. And I think encouraging those times, not the negativity, but encouraging those moments, I think is a good thing.

Sir Steve Hansen (43:23):
Just can’t stay there for too long.

Ed Cowan (43:24):
Yeah, that’s right. To give context. Elise’s an opening batter, and if you have a great season, you have about three great days in the year. So dealing with failure and disappointment has to be part of your DNA

Sir Steve Hansen (43:37):
One of the things that is non-negotiable for me is the team has to come first and then the individual comes Second, doesn’t mean say you don’t care and have any empathy for the individual, and you don’t want ’em to be all the little A’s or all the little B’s. You want ’em to be different and you want ’em to be individual, but we have a higher focus than you. And that higher focus is the team. So then I look back and say, righto. Well, how do I need to speak to this person? Now? In the old days, there was no discussions. You just got told. Young people today want to know why.

It is the first thing we say when we’re about two. Why? If you’ve been a parent, you’ll know that word really, really well. So I think it’s about, again, understanding your athlete, understand their past. Some of those millenniums will have a lot of resilience. They’ll come from homes that aren’t great, and there’ll be physical abuse. Others will have come from homes that they’ve been so spoiled. That’s not even funny. But understanding that gives you tools to be able to deal with them. And you’ve got to remember, as a leader, it’s a privilege. And I always believe in this. I think that your role is you have so much influence on the effect of their trajectory as a human being that you’ve got to take the time and effort to do it right. So don’t start firing bullets when you maybe shouldn’t be. Make sure that everything you know about the person that you’re dealing with is spot on, and then just try and help them. But if you have a greater cause and self, then I think everyone will go in the same direction and they get excited about it. They want the same things like when we went through the process of, everyone used to talk about legacy in the obl to the point that one day I asked the leadership group, I said, well, what is it? And no one could answer it.

You’re talking about this thing all the time, you blokes, but not one of you can sit there and give it to me. You can’t define it for me. I said, don’t you think we should do that? So we did. We challenged ourselves to do that. Or we spoke to about 150 X all blacks. We spoke to everybody that had played in the team that year, and we defined what we believe was the identity of the All Blacks and their legacies, and the millenniums bought into that just as much as the old guys do. So I think the higher being creates a level playing field, but as ACEO or a coach, you just have to talk to them different.

About the Author

Ed’s dedication to high performance and passion for business are a perfect fit with TDM’s culture. Having travelled the world playing professional cricket for over 15 years, Ed knows more than most the dedication required to build long-term success.

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