Submitted by SmartBrief Insights and Harvard Business Review Contributor: Baron Christopher Hanson
In 2010, the Wall Street Journal featured the magnanimous headline “Rugby Star Gets General Motors Out of a Scrum”. This must-read article explains how CFO Christopher Liddell prepared a $23 billion offering spanning three continents, 35 underwriting banks, and 90 promotional meetings to satisfy GM’s largest shareholder — the U.S. government.
I am not surprised. Christopher Liddell is a lifelong Rugby player.
Liddell left the CFO desk at Microsoft in January of 2010 to turnaround the ailing Detroit automaker. A distinctive quote from the WSJ article invites the thesis: “One of the disciplines Liddell learned as a Rugby player was the level of preparation you need to accomplish something great,” explains James Lee, vice chairman of underwriter J.P. Morgan Chase.
Hailing from New Zealand, Liddell holds a degree in engineering from the University of Auckland, and a master of philosophy from Oxford. Liddell served as Chairman of one of New Zealand's leading environmental protection groups, and was governor of the New Zealand Sports Foundation and director of the New Zealand Rugby Union. Liddell also completed the IronMan.
In my experience growing small and middle-market companies, CEOs and HR recruiters are now placing more emphasis on proven experience and durable character when hiring (or partnering with) top talent –– well beyond degrees and resumes alone. Workforce cultures today require diverse staff at all levels to “man-up” and face economic futures with less trepidation and more acceleration. The athletic culture and character of Rugby offers a fascinating lens to consider inside any workplace.
QUICK RUGBY PRIMER:
Adapted entrepreneurially from soccer in England in 1823, the sport’s popularity and gladiator-like training benefits spread like wildfire via military, diplomatic, and elite private school colonialism. Rugby did not begin gaining critical mass in America until the 1970s, around the time “the try heard round the world” was televised stateside.
Today most U.S. cities and universities have male and female Rugby teams.
Nearly the same field design as gridiron football, Rugby is a non-stop battle for possession of a live ball, which can never be passed or fumbled forward. The only way to advance the Rugby ball is to run or kick forward, passing laterally. Once tackled to the ground, players must release the ball so others on their feet can legally play on. The live ball designates a moving line of scrimmage parallel to each goal line, which helps govern visually chaotic Rugby matches for players and spectators.
Not unlike Lance Armstrong, Sully Sullenberger, Annika Sörenstam and Nelson Mandela, Rugby is becoming a brand for endurance, courage under pressure, dedication –– and forgiving animosity. Clint Eastwood's film "Invictus" is a must-see, especially during Rugby World Cup season.
Here’s how the culture of Rugby parlays into business, workplace and hiring character:
RUGBY IS DIVERSE:
The sport welcomes international men and women of all ages, backgrounds and races –– especially at top MBA, law, and military school teams worldwide. Contrary to popular belief, there is a position for every body style on a Rugby team. Similar to the way corporate cultures must diversify globally, Rugby brings ex-patriots and natives together to break down workplace barriers and speak a new athletic language anywhere.
RUGBY IS EXTREMELY CHALLENGING:
In today’s macro and micro workplaces, sheepishness and indecision financially set economies back millions by the minute. Beyond the obvious physical strength and stamina required, the mental intensity of Rugby trains players to fearlessly focus under extreme pressure, welcome any challenge, and see goals through to completion.
RUGBY REQUIRES SELF-CONTROL:
The rules of Rugby are somewhat complex by design. Lack of composure and discipline in the trenches can result in possession or points awarded to your opponent. The mental and physical control required on the job is considerable. At work, fatigue late in the game can be expensive to both customer and employer.
RUGBY REQUIRES THE WEARING OF MANY HATS:
Rugby has no time-outs, coaches calling in plays, or rested teams coming off/on/off the field. Offense, defense, and everything in between are 100% delegated to the players to decide for themselves on the pitch. The fifteen players (plus 3-4 injury reserves) taking the field must perform, communicate, and think as a tightly-knit unit for eighty raucous minutes.
RUGBY PLAYERS ARE UNAFRAID OF TACKLING ANY OPPORTUNITY:
When Chris Liddell considered leaving Microsoft for the GM position, 50% of the people he consulted first thought he was crazy. Liddell states: “Obviously a risky career move, taking the ailing automaker from going through bankruptcy towards one of the most interesting turnarounds of all time? You can’t ask for a better opportunity than that” (WSJ). If your company is looking to tackle new opportunities going forward, hire a Rugby player.
RUGBY PLAYERS CANNOT DEPEND ON BLOCKERS:
Unlike American football, blocking is illegal in Rugby. There are no players ahead of you clearing opponents out of the road. Rugby players must go man-to-man against their opponent, look them square in the eye, and listen for teammates behind them in support to carry the ball forward. It’s every Rugby player’s job to lead their team into new (market) space, pass the ball effectively under fire, then recycle themselves back into the fray after being tackled aggressively –– again and again and again and again.
RUGBY PLAYERS MUST EARN THEIR POSITION EACH WEEK:
Uncertainty is both uncomfortable and motivating. Ask any sales professional today. Rugby players know their selection to the first XV team each week depends on coach/captain assessments of their previous performance/stats and level of physical and mental fitness. There are no excuses. Only positive results can be parlayed. Salespeople and business owners understand this full well. They wake up everyday unemployed until face-to-face with customers, equipment, and new goals. Each week, Rugby players are out of a job unless they perform well each and every game day.
RUGBY PLAYERS KNOW THEIR POSITION COULD CHANGE AT ANYTIME:
Rugby players may be assigned to different positions at a moment’s notice, especially if a teammate is injured. Prima donnas are cut from the squad quickly. Cross training for multiple roles is mandatory in Rugby, as it should be inside every company. Start-ups, distressed turnarounds, and hiring managers looking to develop a multiple "hat-wearing" staff should remain on the lookout for resumes and CVs that include Rugby-playing and coaching experience.
RUGBY PLAYERS DO NOT HOLD GRUDGES:
Every locker room, workplace, political campaign, and boardroom has its trials, tribulations and tensions. Throughout the world, cultural differences and historical bad blood run long and deeply. The culture of Rugby offers an insightful solution for governments and leaders to parlay globally: After every Rugby match, opposing teams (often dressed in tie and blazer) have dinner and a few beers together, to shake hands as gentlemen and ladies.
Why? All bad blood from the match is left on the field. Rugby players embrace their rivals and competitors, and actually thank them for the match. In fact, opposing players often become great friends and career associates. Unheard of in soccer and football cultures, Rugby's sportsmanlike rituals are a major reason the culture and character of the sport is emerging mainstream in the United States.
RUGBY PLAYERS ARE BOTH HUMBLE AND PATRIOTIC:
Christopher Liddell likely cringed at the headline referring to him as a Rugby star. ”Not for glory nor for riches but for honor alone” is a popular banner waved at Rugby matches. In New Zealand, "the legacy you face is more intimidating than any opponent" is the All Black mantra. Akin to military units, Rugby players protect their mates on their right and their left.
Yet there is still something more. Being selected to play First XV or VII for your country is the ultimate accomplishment and honor for Rugby players. The jubilation is indescribable. It is no wonder then, for all these reasons above, when international rugby teams line up shoulder-to-shoulder to belt out their national anthems together, the look in their eyes and the raw passion in their hearts is indicative of the physical and mental preparation parlayed into their careers off the field.
If your organization is looking to tackle new opportunities and grow successfully going forward, consider sponsoring a Rugby team and hiring Rugby players.
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