Leadership is all around you and nowhere is it better magnified than by the media. And, in the last few days there have been some great insights into leadership and decision making.

Firstly, let's examine Warren Gatland, head coach of the British & Irish Lions Rugby team.

Gatland, together with his coaching team (in business language you would call them his senior management team – SMT) made the decision to drop the iconic Brian O'Driscoll (BOD). He was a talisman, a great leader on the field but he had not been performing well for some time. Others were performing much better. Brave Gatland and his SMT put 'winning' ahead of emotion and the romantic notion of one final performance from a star player who was no longer the force of old. Gatland and his SMT foresaw and spoke about the backlash but none of them forecast the avalanche of vitriol that waited from former players, journalists and armchair pundits.

After making the decision, admirably, the first thing Gatland did was to meet BOD and inform him of the decision. By all accounts the meeting was an emotional one but Gatland explained his reasons. Gatland then informed the team then the world media.

Immediately, all and sundry were queuing up to pour scorn on the wisdom of the selection.

Now let's stop and think about what was going on at that moment in time. I argue that there has to be grudging respect for Gatland, the leader and his 'Top Team' (the coaches) for daring to do the unthinkable. How often in business are sacred cows left alone? In leadership it is important to see beyond the obvious and take a contrary view and occasionally be willing to become unpopular because of your views and decisions. Sometimes, tough decisions need to be taken and it is the role of senior leaders to make such decisions - that's what they are paid to do! Gatland did not dodge the responsibility and I applaud him for the leadership he shown.

We now have the benefit of knowing the result and of course his decision was vindicated and indeed his other selection decisions were vindicated along with his tactics for the game.

BOD's leadership must also be congratulated. He went to his replacement and asked, "How can I help you?" and indeed spent extra time with him on the training pitch. In the match, his replacement scored the winning try. Also, his former playing partner who played in his position created an important try. Moreover, BOD's smile was as wide as Sydney Harbour Bridge at the end of the match. The Lions had won their first series for 16 years and their first in Australia for 24 years.

After the match, Gatland was very humble in victory. He did not say "I told you so". I believe humbleness is a great leadership value.

Gatland's decision now ranks alongside Alf Ramsey dropping Jimmy Greaves for the 1966 football World Cup final as an exemplar of an unpopular decision that came good.

Again there is the lesson of making the right decision in the case of Andy Murray winning Wimbledon. Murray famously dropped the coach who had taken him to the brink of greatness and took on steely Ivan Lendl who has improved Murray's mental toughness and coached Murray to believe in himself. Self-confidence is another important quality. As with Gatland's dropping of O'Driscoll, eyebrows were raised when Murray made the move. Vindication resulted with grand slam wins at the US Open, Wimbledon and gold at the Olympics.

Jack Welch who was voted Business Leader of the 20th century famously said, "At the end of the day, it's all about performance" and interestingly one of his books is called "Winning".

Leadership is not about making the popular decisions; it's about making the right decisions; right for the team. A leader's job is not to be liked. Respect, yes. Gatland based his decision on how he saw the team should play (vision), and based his selection on form and what was right for how he saw the game would go (developing a strategy, aligning objectives and developing tactics to realise the vision). The needs of now are more important than the unlikely possibility of re-enacting past successes.

There is no doubt in my mind that your decision making will define what people think of your leadership.

So, how do you make decisions? Do you go for easy or right? Think through some recent decisions you have made, and think about how you reached those decisions, what was your thought process, and how did you reach your outcome?

Back to the blog

Tags