One of the first questions that you get asked when you coach a football team is, “How many games do you think you will win?”
The follow up questions, depending on what team you are coaching, generally go like this;
Do you think you can make the finals?
Do you think you can win the Premiership?
The industry is incredibly outcome focused and presents the greatest challenge to the coach. The art of great leadership is not focusing on the outcome but focusing on the process.
Certainly you need goals and you need to understand where you are heading but the main focus of your role is the HOW.
When I first took over at the Sydney Swans the club had not won a Premiership since 1933, the longest Premiership draught in the AFL. However, the immediate concern was how we were going to play on a consistent basis in order to win games of football.
I had to have a clear plan of how my team was going to play and sell it to the players daily.
Too many times I go to speak at conferences and when I walk away I get the feeling that the company is so focused on the long-term budget that they have no idea of the process of how to get there.
As a coach, my role was to create a clear game plan with KPI’s that the players could aspire to and carry out weekly.
There is an incredible amount of statistics and the truth is that most of them mean very little when it comes to winning and losing.
A leaders job is to clearly articulate to his staff what makes a good day/week in the office.
It is fairly simple if you have enough good days, you have enough good weeks then at the end of the year you make budget. AFL football is no different if I could get the players to buy into the weekly habits than we would win enough games to make finals.
This is often where the expertise and the resilience of a leader is tested
My game plan came through many years of experience and I was very clear in how I saw the game. You have to back yourself and don’t go into a position of leadership unless you do have a very clear plan for your staff.
Not everyone wants to or is equipped to be a leader. Leaders will always be tested as it is very rare that everything goes smoothly all the time.
My first test was in my first full year of coaching Round 5, 2003. We were one win and three losses and 10 points down at three quarter time.
Many thoughts were swirling around in my head but ultimately I had to reassure the players that our game plan would work if we stuck to it. We kicked 10 goals in the last quarter and the players came away from that game with a great sense of belief.
The second and most public test came in the middle of season 2005 when the CEO of the AFL publicly questioned our plan. It is these moments that your knowledge, confidence and resilience is put to the test. I was confident in what we were doing and equally confident in all my staff.
Poor leaders will buckle and change the message completely. The staff will become confused and the team will become filled with doubt.
I couldn’t suddenly focus on the outcome and succumb to other people’s beliefs of what we should be doing. These challenges as hard as they seem can be some of the most powerful and beneficial to the organization.
While at the time it seems as if the weight of the world is on your shoulders by sticking to your clearly articulated plan, you can build a wonderful and long standing trust within your team.
Ultimately we went on that year to win the 2005 AFL Premiership because:
- We had a clear plan.
- We didn’t waiver when the outcome was not what we would have preferred.
- We kept working at our plan harder, smarter and held each other accountable to it.
- We trusted each other and leant on each other.
- WE SUCCEEDED BECAUSE WE STUCK TO THE PROCESS.