What can we Learn about Business Leadership from Irish Rugby?

Irish Rugby

“The margins at the moment between people at high levels in sport or high levels in business are just getting smaller and smaller and smaller.” – Rob Kearney

For anyone who leads a team, learning the principles that makes a team world-class perform on the field in a high pressure competitive environment is key to getting your team to perform at the highest level in your industry. While the context for a sports coach is different than a business coach, the principles remain the same. Who better to learn from than Joe Schmidt?

His coaching and educational philosophy emphasises the importance of learning from pressure situations, and quotes Aristotle: ‘We are what we repeatedly do; excellence is not an act, but a habit.’ Schmidt says, “You need a solid set of values and behaviours as your foundation. Once that foundation is strong, then you can take the steps to achieve your goal.”

When recruiting, besides observing a player’s game, Schmidt studies the player’s attitude too. He said that a player’s game can be improved by the right training but a player’s attitude or DNA cannot be changed. It is not about provinces, it is not about red or white jerseys – his foremost task is to pick the 15 best Irishmen who should represent ‘the green jersey’.

“Individual leaders such as Paul O Connell, Brian O Driscoll and Johnny Sexton lead through their behaviour not their words.”

According to Schmidt, a player can lead his team by being emotionally intelligent and unselfish enough to drive younger players – qualities that Paul O’Connell possessed which is why it is difficult to find a worthy replacement.

Leadership can be about rallying those around you, but it can also be about rallying yourself to a crescendo and as O’Driscoll recalls about Paul O’Connell, “he drove that standard to another level all together. What set him apart was his constant need to get better every single year, year on year. Always trying to hone his own skills, his physical attributes, his diet; he was such a stickler for that”.

Schmidt emphasizes the importance of investing in who the players are by giving constant feedback. “Feedback is fuel for a team; both positive and negative.” Team members feel assured that they are being noticed and that the leader is invested in them that yields better results.

Schmidt draws on his experiences as a post-primary teacher, principal and coach, identifying 4 criteria for achieving success:

  1. Be adaptable – as change is inevitable
  2. Embrace challenge as opportunity – all business arises from an unsolved problem
  3. Lead from within – leadership is a mindset not a position
  4. Predict change – so you can adapt before it happens

For the Irish Rugby Team winning matches and ultimately winning trophies means success, what it is for your business?

To learn how to build and lead a high-performance winning team and achieve success in your field, join us at one of our upcoming complimentary workshops with ManagementWorks.


Paul Fagan is Managing Director of Business Coaching Ireland, which is part of the largest business coaching, mentoring and training franchise company in the world, ActionCOACH Business Coaching. Business Coaching Ireland are providers of the ManagementWorks Business Growth Programme and Business Leadership Programme.