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The Alchemy of Leadership Blog

Leadership lessons from two Scottish sporting stalwarts

DS JB

Two Scottish captains, two differing eras, what can today’s business leaders learn from two Scottish Rugby greats?

With the experience of 118 international rugby caps between them, John Barclay and David Sole OBE came together on behalf of TLT LLP to discuss the lessons learned from their respective times in post, Scotland’s new golden generation of talent and what cultural values could be transferred to business from rugby.

 

Authenticity
John and David both spoke of how being thrust into a leadership role can be incredibly daunting in both sport and business, stating it is crucial for your leadership traits and personality to be at the forefront of how you manage people as you ultimately must be true to yourself. John Barclay spoke of having to consciously step away from how his predecessor Greig Laidlaw led the Scottish team, putting his own stamp on the captaincy to ensure he was authentic in how he delivered his messages to the team.

 

Get the right people in the room
From 1990 to 2018 there has been a lot of change within the sport and, despite the move to professionalism, the Calcutta Cup match between Scotland vs England remains as fiercely contested as ever. Couple that with renewed public optimism rarely seen since 1990, expectation on the Scottish team had never been so high, building into the 2018 edition of the fixture.

John Barclay discussed the importance of having good leaders around him, enabling the team to flourish on the day. He referenced Finn Russell, epitomising that team performance is only really tested when under intense pressure. Barclay, Russell and his team thrived, giving Scottish Rugby one of its most famous victories. Delving into the business world, David aligned this to an individual being able to recognise personal weaknesses, picking great deputies as leaders and delegating decision-making authority to them.

 

Adaptability is the simple secret of survival
High performing teams in both business and sport recognise the need for meticulous planning and preparation as a prerequisite for an organisation's success. Aligned to that is the ability to communicate those plans to the rest of the organisation and stakeholders. Barclay looked at his relationship with current Head Coach Gregor Townsend, stating his ability to continually learn from other sports is accelerating the growth of the team. David echoed this, stressing leaders must be inquisitive and have the capacity to work around change. This is even more apparent in the fast-paced technological world we now live in.

 

It’s been 28 years since the Grand Slam in 1990 and although rugby has changed significantly, it is clear listening to David and John that many of the cogs integral to the success of their respective teams are the same. Buzz words like culture, teamwork and leadership are naturally banded around both sport and business. It is noticeable that both captains embodied the culture of their teams, leading in collaboration with others and with humility. A lesson to be taken on this, regardless of the setting in sport or business is that culture cannot be forced, it must be lived by everyone in it.

 

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