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#48 What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life, with James Kerr, Part 2

Proudly brought to you in association with S A Partners, a world-leading business transformation consultancy.


Welcome to episode 48 What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life. We are really pleased to have James Kerr back on the show with us today. Last week we explored the principles of what makes a team great. We explored the shift the All-Blacks made in their leadership approach, pass the ball, as they call it to shift ownership to the team. We explored the the teamwork journey the All-Blacks went on. Their focus on playing with purpose and creating a learning environment. It is such a privilege to be exploring this with James Kerr, author of the book Legacy, today. Let's get into the episode.

Let's talk ANZAC values and culture.

ANZAC, one of the most famous histories in the military. For such a minimal force, they did extraordinary things. And it's about mateship, massive ownership. What they went through and what they did was immense. But now, even in our home countries of New Zealand and Australia, can we have that in our workplace culture? It seems like a lot of organisations still have more of a dominant autocratic type of culture driving down from the top rather than remembering our ANZAC roots. Why is that?

James thinks the larger the organisation becomes, and the longer it goes on for it, the more the momentum is systemised. It's a kind of calcification that goes on a lot of the time. Organisations can be dynamic, meritocratic, egalitarian, and have mateship, to begin with. But they grow old and pale and stale. It's easy to cop out. It's easy to go right; we'll tell people what to do. And they'll do it, and that can work for a short time but doesn't tend to become an environment in which people thrive. And you must pay people more to stay, and the cracks start to appear. Leaders know it, but they're just there for a short time and a good time and a well-paid time. The incentives necessarily to reboot those cultures are unnecessarily strong.

James thinks there's something in the air now around that kind of climate, particularly with different generations coming in with different expectations. If you get the conditions in which people operate right, it is that force multiplier; you can do better. If people are just going through the motions about something they don't really care about, and they're just clocking in and clocking out. And the frontline knows the decisions are not very good. But they don't care enough to fight back. We can see that level of dysfunction in many organisations.

Australia's changing of culture from mateship to the individual

James thinks there's been something interesting happening in Australia around the move away from mateship to a more individualistic culture. That the Aussie culture is aspiring to or modelled on the US rather than the European model.

Just to be provocative now - let's talk about sport. The cultural change to the individual hasn't necessarily worked out that well. Australian sport in the last decade or two used to be the world champion of world champions. The Wallabies were on fire. Had the Kangaroos have ever been beaten? Now in the pool, that was extraordinary. Tennis was going berserk. Olympic medals were just there for the taking. America's Cup anyone else?

Where are the Wallabies now? No offence. Have there been a lot of medals in the pool? Olympic results have gone down. In cricket, there's been ball-tampering.

What's gone on in Australia? It could be a reflection of a few things. A little bit less funding going into the Institute of Sport. Inevitable ebbs and wanes, but there must be a cultural element to that.

How has New Zealand turned to a more inclusive way?

James talks in big generalisations here but thinks there's been an embracing of the intrinsic DNA, and fundamental values. Look at the evolution of the Haka within the All Blacks when it embraced cultural expression. The Maori language te reo as a second language. The genuine embracing of indigenous, and a real sense of pride and belonging. It is compelling. The values that are brought about and the coming together around shared values has been extraordinary.

We aren't individuals; no man is an island, etc. That idea of don't ask what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country is central to that relationship between personal meaning and public purpose, or collective purpose. Individuals and leaders, and organisations that get that balance right can thrive because that's the balance we humans need. Spiritually, socially, emotionally, we feel that need, but we also need to feel that we are masters of our own destiny. We're part of something bigger than ourselves.

So the big question for leaders is how you can create that healthy dynamic between those two opposites?

Sweep the sheds - Intentional leadership

This lead story in Legacy is of an All-Blacks leader getting down and sweeping the shed after the rugby games are finished, rather than leaving it for the cleaner. James chose that as the lead story because it illustrates the idea of arrogance, and individualism which is the enemy of high performance. It's not a coincidence that the British SOS, in their ethos, talk about having humility and a sense of humour. The Navy SEALs, have their Trident, the badge of belonging. On it, the American Eagle has its head bowed in humility. Because they know that, if you get ahead of yourself, you get shot, same as on a rugby field, same in a boardroom.

Confidence. It's not arrogance, but quiet confidence and humility to know what you know, and what you don't know and to, and to get better every day. That's a real basis for things, and it creates the right climate. There's nothing worse than somebody big-noting themselves.

Gregg Popovich from the San Antonio Spurs has been on record saying that he looks when he selects, he looks for people who have gotten over themselves. It's not about me, me, me. It's about we, we, we.

Phil Jackson, of the Chicago Bulls, famously told Michael Jordan if he could exchange them me for the we, he could have as many championship rings as he wanted. Jordan left with six, and Phil Jackson is 13 or something, maybe more now? Yeah.

Selfless service is quite selfish. If you can give credit away, you tend to do better. In one of his books, Jim Collins talks about level five leadership: you're serving a cause and serving something bigger than yourself.

Spiritually and psychologically, that's an extraordinarily healthy place to stand anyway. People read your intention as a leader instinctively. It's been shown in four-year-old kids that they can recognise a leader. Intentional leadership, purposeful leadership of making a contribution, being useful, leaving your mark, leaving the jersey in a better place, cultivating an environment in which others can thrive. Are they giving to the group? Yes.

We're all leaders in our own life. So, what can we learn from outstanding leadership about making the decisions and being on the case in our own personal practice?

That was what's so powerful in James’s book, Legacy. You can take a lot from it for your life as well as for business and leadership. James jokes that it's like a self-help book. He learned very quickly that working on myself is uncool, but elite athletes and elite performers are unashamed about that. It's about getting better every day. At heart, we read to learn, to give us insight into what it is to be alive. James wanted to try to universalise some of the messages from, being, this is what you must do to succeed in business to the underlying principles for success in any domain. What is success? James believes it is doing what you love with people you love.

Recent insight - Self Regulation


James is working on a couple of books now. One is a follow up to Legacy, the workbook. The other one is a story of Gurkhas and Sherpas are going up Everest and the country getting back on its feet after the 2015 Everest earthquake. He spent a month in Basecamp. At Everest base camp, you're at 50% oxygen compared with sea level. Your breath becomes very important. If you have oxygen debt, chances are the atmosphere doesn't have enough oxygen in it to pay you back. So, you die. So, you must be very present, and you must slow down.

And then he realised that there are many caves up at that kind of altitude. Buddha lived in a cave for many years. The recluse or wise man going up into the hills and living in a cave to discover the secret of life is one of the greatest stories. James realised there's not much to do up there except being with the breath and the atmosphere. The same route in Hindi is atman, which is around the spirit. So, of course, the spirit of life is breathing.

Who I am being in this situation?

From a leadership point of view, coming into that area about who am I being in this moment? Am I being of a leader? Coming back to fundamentals like mindfulness, but more than that, of being present to your breath. Breath awareness is a form of self-regulation, as breathing, in the right way, brings the heart rate down. Breathing in the spirit frames self-regulation, self-control, and self-management. Organisations change when the influential individual changes.

It's very easy to react. When we're sparked or triggered, something happens, and we go off on our patterns, on our scripts. But if we can create a gap between reaction and response, and own our response, and then give a more considered response, then that's a much more powerful way of being a leader.

Good leaders can work on widening that gap. Or at least holding that gap. And what does that take? Well, it takes resilience and balance. And it takes work. It takes presence and being. It all comes back to that. Who are you being when you're being a leader?

Think of the wobbly chair analogy - are you sitting securely? A chair has four legs: a professional leg, an emotional leg, a physical leg, and a spiritual leg. A lot of the time, when we're busy, we throw everything onto one leg. If that leg goes, we're in trouble. What's going to hold you up?

Unless you have that strong foundation of a balanced life, with emotional, social, spiritual, and professional aspects in check, you're not fit for purpose. And if you intend to lead and contribute or leave the jersey in a better place or write a legacy or be a good ancestor, are you fit for purpose? The climate you create around yourself and within yourself is a vital way of leading life and leading a team and leading a business.

Self-regulation and psychology

Psychology isn't necessarily a tool to fix you, but when it's applied right can be about getting the most out of life. It's about optimising your performance environment. It's about creating an optimum environment. Why wouldn't we choose some of those techniques, processes, learnings, and insights to build the right environment to make the right impact beyond ourselves? Let the ripples appear. You will have a qualitatively different and better impact than if you're a messed-up bundle of anxiety, making snap decisions because you're highly pressurised and unable to cope. Take care of yourself to take care of your people.

As we optimise ourselves as leaders, we will optimise our organisation. That's powerful.

And James, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge. And thank you so much for the books you've written and for the books you are writing. I'll be one of your first readers as soon as I see them come out. James, thank you so much. And thank you for your knowledge in and time and thank you for writing such a great book that I took so much from, and it's a real pleasure. Thanks, Brad.


05:10min Have you got a culture in which complaints really go upwards? Or does everyone just kind of smoke cigarettes in the bike shed and kind of complain about the teachers?

10.30min And it's always that balance between the freedom to have the autonomy to individuate to become everything that we want to be to be our own person, balanced with our responsibility to collective action.

16:49min Anyone who's, who has a family knows that's true. You know that idea, if you're sitting there avoiding taking the bins out, you know, getting waited on hand and foot. I mean, that team isn't going to last very long. No. But if you're there, kind of doing 100% and everyone else is doing 100%; you've got a crackingly energised, great climate and environment, and great things happen out of that. So that sense of contribution beyond yourself, I think, is incredibly important in life. You know, the other thing about leadership? We're all leading a life, you know. We're all leaders in our own lives. So, what can we learn from, you know, great leadership about making the decisions and being on the case in our own kind of personal practice, if you like?

25:16min it's very easy to react, you know, we're sparked, we're triggered, something happens, we go off on our patterns on our scripts. Yeah, right. But, if we're able to create a gap between reaction and response, and kind of own our reaction, and then give a more considered response, then that's a much more powerful way of being a leader. And so, one of the things that, that leaders, good leaders can work on and do work on is widening that gap. Or at least holding that gap. And what does that take? Well, it takes, it takes resilience takes balance. Yeah, it takes it takes work. You know, it takes presence, and presence and being and being and it comes back to that, and you go So who are you being when you're being a leader, I think becomes an important question.

Key Takeaways

1. Leaders create leaders – pass the ball.

The first takeaway is from the leaders create leaders statement James made. Right the way down to the front line in an organisation, this is a leader’s role. In James book legacy, he writes about the All Blacks Pass the Ball lesson. The job of a leader right down to front line employees is to create leaders. People who are empowered, focused on their goal, motivated and leading the way forward.

2. Sweep the sheds – humble leadership.

The second takeaway, sweep the sheds, is about humility in leadership. One of the All-Blacks lessons in leadership is that senior players and leaders sweep down the change room at the end of each game. They do not leave it to the cleaners or get the players to do it; they do it themselves. This behaviour demonstrates and creates a culture of humility, unity, and respect. It is incredible how one simple leadership behaviour can create so many positive outcomes. These are called Capstone behaviours, behaviours that have a positive flow on to many other benefits. A great approach as a leader is to think about the culture you are looking to build or improve. Think about the behaviour you and your team could focus on that you predict would have many other positive cultural flow-on effects.


Brad Jeavons:

Brad is proud to support many Australian businesses. You can find him on LinkedIn here. If you’d like to speak to him about how he can help your business, call him on 0402 448 445, or email Our website is

James Kerr:

Book: Legacy, 15 Lessons In Leadership - What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life.

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Written by Emily Jeavons

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