While it’s awesome that the New Zealand All Blacks basically cleaned up the annual awards again following their amazing feat of winning the Rugby World Cup 2015, being the first team in history to win three times and even more remarkably to win back to back World Cups, I am gutted for Steve Hansen for missing out on the Coach of the Year award. I don’t want to take anything away from the winner, but from a leadership perspective I think Steve epitomises leadership at the very highest level – he really is a leadership legend in our midst.
Some may cough and splutter about it only being a sport, but in today’s professional era a sports brand is every much an equal to any other enterprise across the globe. In the case of the All Blacks brand it would rival most corporate brands, and whether Steve likes it or not the Head Coach, in my opinion, is the organisations CEO/President. Some may say that is the Captain’s role but anyone who holds a leadership position understands who the real leader is. Of course Ritchie McCaw is an amazing leader in his own right, but even he would admit if asked, he gets a lot of his inspiration from his leader, Steve Hansen.
Let me attempt to unpack Steve Hansen from my perspective. Not only is a he great head coach which the results speak for themselves, he is what I call a level 5 leader. This clearly comes through in what he considers are his priorities. Things like culture; values; public and private arenas of his players; the need for fun and enjoyment; vision and goals; strategy and process; team; respect for the opposition; humility; quiet determination and confidence. I could go on and on, but you get the picture. I think a hallmark of this Rugby World Cup has been the relationship he has fostered with the media, and that is one of two windows from which I get to see a glimpse of who this man is. He has been relaxed and courteous; careful and funny; considerate of others at the table like ensuring Ian Foster gets to share from his significant experience as a key member of the coaching regime. The other window is the players when they are in front of the media. They ooze the same relaxed, confident, and grounded attributes as evident in their leader.
Of particular note has been Steve’s humility at the end of each match, particularly the last two games, where he personally shook the hand of, and in some cases consoled, each opposition player and coach. Then, as a matter of course, the first remarks at the post match press conference went to the acknowledgement and honouring of the team he had beaten, before talking about his own team. Steve is the sort of leader who will be asked to speak and input into other leaders for the rest of his life and all kudos to him, he deserves it, because he is a great leader and I believe the best coach and leader in the world of Rugby by a million miles. There are other great coaches, but nothing compares to Steve Hansen, in my humble opinion.
And here is what will make him even more of a legend having missed out on this years Coach of the Year award. He won’t sulk with deserved disappointment, and he won’t make some stupid remarks in media interviews over the next few hours and days. No, he was or will be one of the first to congratulate the winner and his achievements. He will diffuse the rhetoric that he is really the best and should have won, by saying it’s not about him. He’ll probably be prepared to throw a cheeky wink at the camera and say, “but we wear the gold medals, still have the title world champions, and have locked the cup away for another four years, haven’t we?
You are a leaders leader mate. You inspire the people you lead and look what you’ve done. You convincingly—and I stress convincingly—won the most coveted trophy in world rugby. You have written history as the leader who took the current World Champion All Blacks team to Rugby World Cup 2015 to earn the right to bring the trophy back to New Zealand until 2019, and you did just that.
You did it with a smile on your face, yip we saw it in your eyes, and the odd Hansen grin we have come to appreciate. You did it with a calm confidence that left all of us here in NZ confident we would win. You didn’t trash the opposition, well except for a couple of comic references which we all loved back home. You didn’t show off by over inflating the fact that the All Blacks are the best team in the world. You did it with humility and purpose. You did it with planned and determined resolve. You invested in new talent; you inspired the senior players; you took a couple of risks; you shared the limelight with others; and most of all, you knocked the bugger off.
As a student of leadership of some thirty odd years I saw in you a leader of great magnitude and a role model for any aspiring leader. Although you are only 4 years older than me, when I grow up, I want to be a leader just like you.
You should and will be honoured for your leadership. I call on any leadership body around the globe to do one better than the World Rugby Awards evening did today, and acknowledge you as the great leader you are, and deserve. Has any leader, anywhere on the globe, done more leadership-wise than you Steve? I would be hard pressed to find someone—given your task and cause—to lead like you have.
I watched your press conference video this morning about mid-stream leadership change. I agree with your theory and sentiment, but one thing a leader must do is determine when it’s the right time. It’s probably the most difficult leadership decision you’ll have to make and I fully appreciate what you will have to do in making that decision.
Steve, I think you have been a game changer in leading the All Blacks, not from a performance perspective, rather from a leadership perspective. We have seen similar things in leaders of recent times. Like Barack Obama in the lead up of him becoming President of the US, and Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio after he became Pope Francis, and even our own John Key as Prime Minister. You have brought a new leadership competence that I believe needs more than two more years to be permanently infused into the culture of New Zealand Rugby. For what it’s worth, I would ask that you to seriously consider staying at the helm for another six years, and bring on the next leader in 2017 (if he or she is not already in the leadership team) and become the mentor you already are for many of us who hold the responsibility of leadership in our corner of the world. I recognise the cost that might be for you and your family, and they must be part of that decision, but you have a calling to this level of leadership and I encourage you to give us more.
I’m not one for pushing the idea of knighthoods and all that title hoop-la, because it somehow diminishes what one has yet to do in being a great kiwi. In my opinion are you are too young to retire with the knighthood title under your arm. I think there are more great things yet to happen for you mate, and when you are knighted everything you will have done will be acknowledged at its rightful time. That’s why I love it when older people, or even people who have already passed on, are awarded those types of accolades.
Steve, I hope you get to read this letter, not for my ego—although it won’t do it any harm—but rather from one leader to another, hearing a genuine and sincere, good on ya mate, you’re a legend and a great leader, and will for a long time to come be an inspiration for those who want to coach and lead the mighty All Blacks in the future. And for those, like me, who couldn’t do that particular job, you will be an inspiration for those of us called to the honour of leading others, to do it to the best of our ability.
Have a great summer and we all look forward to seeing you in 2016.
Student of Leadership
Avid fan of the All Blacks
Observer of Great Leaders Among Us
 For a description of what a level 5 leader is read Jim Collins. 2001. Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t. New York, NY: HarperCollins.