Leadership Lessons from the Rugby Pitch

I suppose for everyone there are a few choice words, when found together, that will make them stop what they are doing and have a closer look.  I came across that today in the Wall Street Journal’s “Lessons in Leadership”section.  Andrew Cosslett, CEO of InterContinental Hotels Group, shared his thoughts on leadership and says he learned more on the rugby pitch about the value of everyone on the team than in any other part of his life.  In America, sports like baseball, basketball and football get the lions share of leadership analogies as well they should; they are our most watched sports.

Having played rugby for twenty-some years, my favorite organizational lesson is the “blind pass.”  In basketball, Magic Johnson made famous the “no-look pass”, but in rugby we call it a blind pass.  It is a beautiful sequence of advancing the ball down the field by passing (imagine a football option pass) to a spot where you just know your teammate will be.  In American football, the option play is rather scripted but in rugby, the “blind pass” only works when there is ultimate trust in your mate.  Trust that has grown from weeks, months and years of working together with a joint understanding of taking what the defense is giving you.

The blind pass is just as beautiful when it occurs in the workplace.  There have certainly been times when a colleague finished your thought and you both just knew the next step was the right step.  Or perhaps you left some detail unattended and one of your teammates filled in the gaps.  Blind passes are effective when there is a common understanding and belief in the objective and a willingness to share the glory.

Score!

Quick editorial note.  The Journal referred to a rugby field rather than a pitch which rather surprised me given the Australian roots of Rupert Murdoch.

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