15 Lessons about leadership. All Blacks can teach us about sport and business management.

Chapter 1. Character

“You are never too important to do the little things that must be done.”

“Good leaders balance pride and humility: an absolute pride in performance; a complete humility in front of the magnitude of the task.”

“The challenge is always to improve, always move forward, even when you are the best. Especially when you are the best.”

“A handful of talented individuals without personal discipline will lead to final failure. Character triumphs over talent.”

“If you establish a culture of effort higher than your opponent, you win.”

“Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is a nightmare.”

“Our values determine our character. Our character decides our worth.” 

“The impressive success of the All Blacks in the field comes from a particular way of behaving outside it. Your role is to leave the shirt in a better place.”

“A culture of asking and questioning fundamental questions leaves out useless beliefs, and helps to achieve a clearer execution of your goal. Humility allows us to ask ourselves a very simple question: how can we do this better?”

“The better the questions, the more valuable the answers.”

“Humility is a fundamental part of a balanced character. And it is something essential in the mana, the maori and polynesian word which encompasses so many qualities: authority, status, personal power, personal attitude, charisma, and according to the New Zealand dictionary, great character and personal prestige. Humility is not weakness, it is just the opposite.”

“Select your players based on their character, above their talent.”


Chapter 2. Adaptation

“We sought to create and environment that would stimulate players and make them want to be part of it.”

“Leaders create leaders.”

“The military has an acronym, VUCA: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. It describes a world of changing interrelations that has to undergo sudden changes of uncertain consequences; a difficult world to decipher and impossible to predict.”

“Teams that will thrive in this VUCA world will be those that act quickly and decisively to take advantage of the competitive circumstances; those that are adjusted and readjusted during the process. Either you adapt, or you lose. A sustained competitive advantage is achieved by developing a spirit that does not stop adjusting itself. Adaptation is not a reaction but a continuous action. So, plan to give a good answer.”

“Organizational decline is inevitable, unless leaders prepare for change, even when they are on the cups of success.”



Chapter 3. Purpose

«The emotional binder of every culture (be it a religion, a nation or a team) is a feeling of identity and purpose», says Owen Eastwood. What we identify with are the things we recognize as important to us, for our deepest values… This way of making sense has the emotional power to modify behaviour.”

“It is more important how we feel about something than what we think of it.”

“If you have people who believe in what you believe, they will work for you with blood, sweat and tears.”

“Nutrition, Physical, Technical, Practical, Equipment and Mental. They are the six pillars on which excellence and success are built. «It’s funny: when the team isn’t working well, you look at the base stones and you find the reason”, says McCaw.”

«My army won because I knew why I was fighting, and what they knew they liked», said Oliver Cromwell. For that tribe of warriors in New Zealand, it was the first step to become a team.”


Chapter 4. Responsibility 

“By passing responsibility, by creating a sense of belonging, solvency and trust, leaders generate leaders.”

“Shared responsibility means shared ownership. A feeling of inclusion allows individuals to feel more willing to surrender to the common cause.”

“By giving their team an intention, leaders allow their people to respond adequately to a changing context without losing sight of the tactical imperative.”

“Wise leaders delegate responsibility in order to create players committed to the team and able to adapt to meet what is expected of them. By creating a delegated leadership structure, leaders create belonging autonomy and initiative. They offer their people a purpose and are able to visualize the final result, to outline the plan, to offer the right results and to trust what their people will fulfill. The result is a team of individuals prepared to cope at a time when it is necessary to do so, a team of leaders in the field.”



Chapter 5. Learning

“Be the best you can be. Success is a modest improvement carried out continuously.”

“Excellent companies and teams do not believe in excellence, they only believe in constant improvement and constant change. Its success is the result of a long-term commitment to improve excellence, the result of a series of small steps that produce a powerful leap.”

“Wise leaders favor a structured system that promotes team development, combined with a custom-made map for individual development.”

“Leaders are learners”

“Alfred Chandler, the business world historian who won the Pulitzer Prize, once wrote that the structure follows the strategy. The new organizational are the result of strategic imperatives. It follows that you can have all the will in the world, but if you don’t have the right structure, your strategy will not be successful. Moreover, a wrong structure leads, de facto, to a wrong strategy.”

“Marginal improvements: one hundred things done one percent better to gain a competitive advantage.”

“Melee coach Mike Cron is also a sports scholar. In the Samoa Times, he said: «A part of my contract with New Zealand allows me to go anywhere in the world to improve my knowledge. I’ve been watching sumo or judo in Japan, with the New York Knicks, with the Yankees and with the Giants, and in a Florida football field… Everything to get ideas.»”

“Leaders who achieve more success go beyond their own field to discover new points of view, learn best practices and push the boundaries. Then they communicate what they have learned.”

“The first step of learning is silence; The second step is to listen.”


Chapter 6. Any stupid

“A flock of birds draws an elegant V in the dawn sky. One of the birds is in the lead, the other follows, another takes command, in a endless system of mutual support. It is very similar to a squat of professional cyclist (…) Ornithologists say that flying in this way is 70% more efficient than doing it alone. If a bird leaves the formation, notice the wind resistance and rejoin the flock. If one of them lags behind, others wait for him until he can recover his rhythm. No bird is left behind.”

«Everything is in the team, to be honest», says the legendary Andrew Mehrthens of the All Blacks. It’s about thinking about the interest of the group rather than your own… If something is not good for the team, don’t say it and don’t do it.”

«Respect, as a value, is a diffuse concept», says Eastwood, «but it will have an impact when players decide that means not to take a phone during meetings, not to step on the conversations of others, etc. Values alone run the risk of becoming an ornament and of having no meaning. But defining and applying those standards must be done from below (…) They are young boys, they are on television, they have a lot of money, everything is new, people follow them -explains Anton Oliver- ; but, if you don’t reflect on the team’s culture… those guys are going to fuck you”


“It is better to have a thousand enemies outside the tent than one inside.”


“If a disaffected or selfish individual infects the group, he must be expelled. Then the group will join and heal.”

“You are an All Black twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.”


“No one is bigger than the team.”


“If you insist on doing only the best, you often get it.”


Chapter 7. Expectations

The key is to understand that there is an abysmal difference between being afraid of criticism or failure, and mastering that fear to produce a positive effect.

“«The history of the All Blacks in rugby has been such a success that the expectation in New Zealand is that we win all the friendly test matches»”, says Graham Henry, «and I think this is good for the team. If that expectation did not exist, I am sure that we would not reach the level we reached».”

We have a quote –explains Fitzpatrick–: «Don’t be a good All Black. Be a great All Black. Don’t settle for reaching your goals. Aim higher».”

Daniel Kahneman reminds us that the statements do not need to respond to the truth. A message, unless it is immediately rejected as a lie, will have the same effect on our associations system regardless of whether it responds to reality (…) The fact that the story is true or credible matters little or nothing.


Chapter 8. Preparation

“«Training and wise decision making should be more difficult than the game», says Wayne Smith. “Therefore, you try to throw problems at them, unexpected events, to force them to solve problems.”

“The Department of Surgery at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a university hospital in New York City, has developed something called the trigger for laparoscopic skills, an intensity-based video game for surgeon training. The laparoscopic surgeons who trained for three hours a week with that video, managed to lower their errors by a third. And they carried out their performance 25% faster that those who did not train. Training with intensity accelerates personal growth.”

“Acting under pressure requires knowing what to do. In Brosnahan’s words, «allow yourself to win by following the process instead of getting caught in the results».”

“Most organizations do not focus on a mental strength training program. They tend to focus on exceptional achievements, which is unrealistic: a training session, a day out, an inspiring talk, but nothing continuous and progressive. Few organizations focus on long-term development, on an improvement program.”

“When Smithy talks about intensity and precision we are talking about a process of clarity, playing with intensity and precision, which would be the opposite of “Shit, I have to win this game. Look at the score, it’s 8-8: it’s a disaster!” and the you get paralyzed and you drown, you go overboard, you don’t trust your partners and all that.”

“Mastery in any activity (a sport, a skill, an art, a business) is achieved through practice. The practice improves with intensity. Many studies have shown that our mind and our body respond positively to an accelerated and intense learning diet, which provides us with a drastic improvement and a great competitive advantage. The All Blacks accept the power of training intensity to win. And they work with random scenarios and unexpected challenges to gauge the tolerance of players in situations under pressure. The goal is to gain clarity and precision in stressful circumstances, as well as improve the ability to direct attention to the present and the task. Wise leaders use intensity to challenge themselves and their teams; to increase competition and capacity. Just as physical exercises are basic to physical fitness, psychological training is essential for building strength and mental resilience.”


Chapter 9. Pressure

“«A single minute decides the end of a battle» –wrote Suvorovz–; «One hour, the outcome of a campaign, one day, the fate of empires».”

“«Most athletes who do not belong to the elite identify themselves with the fact that, at the critical moment, it is when they are most likely to fail», says Matthew Syed. It may be before a vital job interview, or when you are about to talk to the woman of your dreams…, and that happened to me. Suddenly, I was unable to do what I had been training for a lifetime. Bad decisions do not come because of a lack of skill or an innate bad judgment: they respond to the inability to handle pressure at the crucial moment.”

“It works as follows: where we direct our mind is where our thoughts take us; our thoughts provoke and emotion; emotion defines our behavior; our behavior defines our performance. So, simply if we are able to control our attention and, therefore, our thoughts, we can manage our emotions and improve our performance.”

Warm Head: Tension, inhibition, results-oriented, anxious, aggressive, excessive compensation, desperate.
Cold Head: Relaxed, expressive, in the moment, calm, clear, precise, in the task.”

“Controlling our attention means returning to the present.

Instead of «What if we run out of resources?», we should ask to ourselves: «What is the best way to use our resources?». Instead of «What if I don’t get the contract?», we should ask to ourselves: «What can I do to get the contract?».” 

“Fight pressure with pressure, that is, instead of feeling it, we can apply it. By controlling our attention, we control our performance; by controlling our performance, we control the game.”


Chapter 10. Knowing onself

“Gilbert Enoka uses the analogy of a bridge that is safe because it is made of different boards: a personal skills, friends, family, being one of the All Blacks. If the only board you have is rugby, you will fall apart.”

“«I think leadership begins and ends with authenticity. It’s about being yourself, being the person you should be. Adopting the style of other leaders is the opposite of being authentic».”

“«I think that at the beginning we did not handle defeat very well –explains Anton Oliver–. He pointed a lot with his finger, everyone was very isolated. That changed a lot when the team became more collective and assumed the weight of defeat together and shared».”

“Authenticity – according to Lance Secretan – is the alignment of head, mouth, heart and feet: think, say and do the same in a coherent way. That builds confidence. And people love leaders they can trust.”

“Honesty = Integrity = Authenticity = Resilience = Performance”


Chapter 11. Sacrifice

“«It was at the hotel –says Benson Stanley, a young man who is about to debut with the All Blacks– where one of the veterans approached, tapped me on the shoulder and asked me two questions to think about… First, what do I have to offer for the team? And, second, what am I willing to sacrifice? They are very important questions».”

“Champions do more.”

“«It is not the crowd that runs one kilometer more». says an ancient quote. In the extra km. we are alone: only us and the empty road, only us and the challenge we have set. It is the work that we do behind closed doors that makes the difference in the field where we compete, and doesn’t matter if we are in a team or if we lead a business or if we run our life.”

“Two weeks after winning the World Cup, Ben brought a coach from the United States. «These are the things I need to work; These are my weaknesses», was the first thing he said.”

“«What does it mean for you to sacrifice yourself?» It’s something Andrew Mehrtens asks the teams he trains. In a team there is everything, get out of your comfort zone, do more, do more than what you are asked for, or do more than another will do. «Train yourself more than a non-All Black” we used to say».”

“The motto “Champions do more” refers to the effort and extra sacrifice necessary to carry out something extraordinary. Whatever we do in our lives, we are giving our lives for it; so we better make sure it’s worth it, Kill time is to commit suicide little by little. So, what are we willing to give our lives to? As leaders, what kind of life are we going to lead? That starts doing more: one more repetition, one more effort, one more race. Think of Buckminster Fuller: what is my work on the planet? What needs to be done? Something about what I know and probably won’t happen if I don’t take action on the matter. What is that extra that will make us extraordinary?”


Chapter 12. Create your own lenguage

“Leaders are storytellers. All the big organizations were born from an exciting story. This central and organizing thought helps people understand what they stand for and why they do it.”

“Three words became central to the All Blacks: Humility, Excellence and Respect.”

“The idea of humility as a core value makes the team have their feet on the ground and promotes respect, encourages curiosity and creates links that support the team during the heat of battle.”

“First we define our values; Then our values defines us.”


Chapter 13. Create a culture

“«Culture is like an organism, it is constantly changing and growing», says Owen Eastwood. It ensure that identity and purpose must always be renewed and reinterpreted to give them meaning. «This cultural environment is changing without stopping. It’s not something static» confirms Anton Oliver.

“«Building trust, helping people develop and having high-performance behaviours are tasks that never end», says Eastwood. Rituals are key to strengthening emotional cohesion. 

“Although haka is the most famous ritual, it is not the only one that the All Blacks have. When Jonah Lomu received his first black shirt, it was John Kirwan who gave it to him: an emblematic predecessor who played in his same position. «Ok, you got it», said Sean Fitzpatrick, “you’re one of the All Blacks: enjoy it.” Then Kirwan added: «But this is only the beginning. What you must do now is to be the best All Black who ever weared the eleven number».” 

“When the All Blacks dance the haka (or get up on the bus to shout on their way to Wales) they connect with something bigger than them. They are making the metaphor their own, they are connecting their personal history with the history of the team.”

“Rituals tell your story, involve your people, create a legacy. Rituals make the intangible real. Rituals work as a psychological process: a transition from one state to another. They take us to a new space of identity. A new identity for the team.”


Chapter 14. Be a good ancestor

“The shirt is not yours, you are only the body that wears that shirt at that time. Our job is to continue the legacy and make it grow every time we have the opportunity. The current All Blacks team plays for the boys who have worn the shirt before. That is tremendously important for kids now. The legacy is more intimidating than the rivals.”

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved on the stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

“In the All Blacks, in parenthood, in business, in life, it’s about leaving the shirt in a better place. And to do that it is necessary to have character.”

“«For me, life is not a short candle», wrote Bernard Shaw. It is a kind of splendid torch that I hold for the moment and I want to make it shine as brightly as possible before passing it on to future generations.”

“Great teams play for a high cause. From joining and inspiring New Zealanders to ubuntu; from semper fidelis to democratizing the car or making the world a better place for everyone or having a dream: the most inspiring leaders play a more important game.”

“Character is forged from how we respond to the challenges posed by life and business, from how we direct our lives and teams. If we value life, life values us. The leadership lies, no doubt, in the example we set. The way we lead our own life is what makes us leaders.”


Chapter 15. Legacy

“When a player reaches the All Blacks, he receives a book. It is a small black book bound in leather, very pleasant to the touch. On the first page, a shirt is drawn, that of the 1905 Originals, the team that started this long whakapapa. The next page shows another shirt, that of the Invincibles of 1924; On the next page, we see another shirt and another and another. So until today. It is a visual whakapapa full of meaning, a legacy to join. The following pages of this All Blacks manual refer to principles, heroes, values, code of honor, ethos and team character. The rest of the pages are blank. They wait to be filled.”


“It’s time to leave your mark, they say. Your contribution.

It’s time to leave a legacy. Your legacy.

Is your moment.”