Those of you that know me understand that I am a massive sporting buff. I love sport; playing it and watching it. I believe that sport teaches people so many lessons for business and life; lessons of how to work as a team, have fun, deal with failure, respect others and perform under pressure. I often marvel at the role of coaches and admire how they can galvanise a group of individuals and get them to leave their egos at the door and work towards a shared goal. Coaches like Vince Lombardi, Sir Alec Ferguson, Phil Jackson and Wayne Bennett are renowned as master people managers and their lessons are often repeated in boardrooms globally. However, it was an interview with a lesser known coach that made me sit up and take notice recently and I would like to share the major points with you all.

Recently, I was channel surfing and ended up watching the TV show “Sterlo”, hosted by one of my all-time favourites, former Parramatta, NSW and Australian halfback Peter Sterling. Now Peter Sterling is one of the few rugby league journalists who has managed to enhance his reputation since his stellar football career. He is particularly insightful and fair and is able to comment intelligently on the game and the people who play it. This night he was interviewing Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson, a low profile, successful coach of one of the most high-profile clubs in the league.

Trent Robinson is an interesting choice to be a first-grade rugby league coach, let alone the coach of the high-flying Roosters. He played a few games of first grade in Sydney before heading to people-management-strategyFrance to continue his rugby league career. When he retired, he coached in France before becoming an assistant in the NRL before becoming a head coach on France again. When the Roosters underperformed in 2012, they made the bold choice to hire Robinson, a relatively young and unproven coach as their head coach and he then delivered two minor premierships and a premiership in his first three years with the Roosters; a remarkable feat for someone so young.

Sterling asked Robinson a number of pointed questions about his success and what he felt was important as a coach. He highlighted a few simple points that I think are extremely relevant for all of us leading teams in business:

  • Be open to learning. Robinson spoke about the fact that he learns every day and encourages others to do the same. The experiences gained in France where he learnt languages, cultures and experienced things that he never expected gave him the skill to read people even if they weren’t speaking to him. Recently, he has had to deal with a team that was winless after six games with their captain in a Thailand rehabilitation centre to deal with alcohol addiction. He took the positives from this situation and believes that it will make his club stronger and improve him as a coach.
  • Leave it at the door. Robinson went out of his way to explain that everyone has things to deal with in their personal lives. “People are people” was his exact quote and people have lives. As such, sometimes they will be happy; sometimes they will be down. The challenge for people is that when they come to work to be able to leave their stresses at the door. They have a job to do and this job requires focus and commitment.
  • Sterling asked him about work-life balance and how he winds down after work. Interestingly, Robinson debunked the whole work-life balance concept. His view was simple and clear; after work, he focused on his family and friends. His work took his total focus for 11 months of the year and what energy was remaining was to be spent with his loved ones and chosen friends. He knew that to be successful, he had to be disciplined and ensure that he was across all facets of the game and his team. He needed to study harder than others if he was to expect his players to do the same. He needed to lead from the front and lead by example as opposed to looking for an excuse such as work-life balance. It was his responsibility to ensure that he had his life balanced and it was his responsibility to ensure that he gave himself the best chance to be successful. He took responsibility and was accountable for his performance.
  • Finally, and perhaps most pointedly, Sterling asked a series of questions to Robinson in the tradition of the famed television show “In The Actors Studio” hosted by James Lipton. His final question to Robinson was “what is your favourite word?”. Robinson pondered the question for some time before answering “connection”. For me, this summed him up perfectly. Robinson has been successful because he understands the importance of connecting with his players, his supporters, his sponsors and the game in general. His efforts to continually connect means that he understands his stakeholders and can predict their needs and how to get the best out of them.

Leadership is an art form and you find inspirational leaders in all walks of life. I was shocked to find myself glued to the television when I saw Trent Robinson interviewed. I would never have thought that he was such a clear thinking and powerful leader. However, he managed to convert me to a fan (of him, not of the Roosters) after a 15-minute interview. I am certain that he will be a leader in sport and any other path he chooses to pursue in life.

Brad McMahon – Managing Director

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