Gordon Tredgold’s Rugby Experience Lead to Leadership Success-Part II


Gordon Tredgold (Del Ray Beach, FL, USA) definitely has the ability to motivate others. He discussed what drives his passion to do so and how it stemmed from his rugby playing days, such as starting up a whole new team at Leicester. Tredgold utilized examples from rugby to demonstrate his FAST leadership principles (Focus, Accountability, Simplicity and Transparency).

FOCUS: This is described by Tredgold as, “You need to know what you’re trying to achieve and what success looks like. You need to have that image of victory.”

When Tredgold played on a team that had only won two to three games the prior season, and they only had two of the best players left on the team, they did not see success as winning every game, but about being in business at the end of the season. “Sometimes you need to redefine what success is,” said Tredgold.

One of Tredgold’s favourite quotes is, “Revenue is vanity and profit is sanity.” A lot of businesses focus on revenue, but they should really be focused on profit. Tredgold explained, the common saying, “Practice makes perfect,” but in New Zealand and Australia rugby they say “Perfect practice makes perfect.”

When New Zealand had the longest winning streak, Tredgold said, “they executed everything to such a high standard, they didn’t make an errors. What England did to try to immitate that, in order to cut down on mistakes, they didn’t focus on execution, but focused on eliminating risks.” This meant they were playing dull, predictable games, with no no flair or risks. “They should have been focusing on attractive, risky, error-free football. We need to know what our focus is, because if we get it wrong and we think we’re right, it can send us down the wrong path, “explained Tredgold.

ACCOUNTABILITY: Relating this principle to rugby, Tredgold said, “Everyone needs to know what their role is and it needs to be communicated to them. If they don’t know what their role is, then you’re going to end up with a lot of gaps on the field.”

There are two sides to accountability: 1) Good job, keep going. 2) What can I do to help you…when we are clearly not achieving what we strive to? This encourages transparency and dialogue.

It is imperative when things are not going as well as planned for people to come to you and say something at a point in which the leader is able to do something about it, rather than wait until it’s too late. Tredgold is very supportive in this instance, but if someone comes to him after the ship has already sunk, when it’s too late to do anything about it, he says he “may not be as polite. At that point the person is just admitting failure, rather than seeking guidance and support.”

In an example of a rugby coach and a rugby player, Tredgold explains, “the player would tell the coach, “my leg is gone, please substitute me” rather than limping off and telling the coach at halftime. The player knew he needed to be substituted and he let the coach know, and in doing this, he is putting the team over everybody else.”

People with a rugby background can become great leaders, like Tredgold has. Although he was team captain, he says “it does not matter if a player was captain or not” in order to have a chance to become a good leader in the corporate world.

Putting rugby experience and leadership into perspective, utilising Tredgold’s life experience, he “played rugby for 30 years, was captain for about 4 of those years, but was a leader for all 30.” Tredgold was one of the smaller players and he “made a decision that he wasn’t going to take a backwards step.” He commented that “if it got ugly, it’s only 30 minutes and “you can survive these things.”” With this mindset, he was a role model and set an example to everyone else. When England won the World Cup, they had multiple leaders, which set the example.

SIMPLICITY: It’s difficult to focus when things are complicated. Tredgold said, “Keep it simple so people can follow and implement. For the majority of teams, if they do simple things well, they will be successful.”

The year that England won the World Cup, they were playing New Zealand, and were winning by two to three points. There was a scrum on England’s try line, and England managed to hold down. During the interview after the game with the captain, Martin Johnson, they asked him, “What did you tell the players?” He replied, “Push.” Just one word gave the team enough motivation and drive to prevent a try by New Zealand. “Lead by example, and when you do that, people will follow,” said Tredgold.

TRANSPARENCY: You need to know what’s involved. “It’s very to easy to see the third of the iceberg above the water, but you need to see the whole iceberg.”

Tredgold has an article on his website, “My leadership beginnings” (bit.ly/1xuac29), where he wrote about how his first leadership experience was while playing rugby. With much pride, he showed me a picture of his first rugby team when he was 9 years old. This was the start of not only his rugby experiences, but unbeknownst to him at the time, his leadership began then.

Finishing at the middle of the table, the first rugby team that he played for was an average team. They were a city centre team and they had a lot of African and Carribean Islands players, who had difficulty with the cool weather. Despite this cultural and climatic challenge, they made it through to the Cup final.

The opposition was expecting that they would have prepared as a league team, but they saw themselves as a Cup team. Warm up before the game was for 20 minutes. Tredgold played in the forwards as a prop and his coach told him, “You’re not fast. You’re not creative. Don’t do anything else other than focus on flatenning their best player. Everything runs through him, so you stand opposite him, and if he gets it, I want you him to wake up with you on top of him. If you do that, you’ll be man of the match.”

Transparency was demonstrated in this example, where Tredgold had very clear instructions on what he needed to do. He didn’t do anything else in the game, except focus on that assignment. Tredgold’s team ended up beating them 6-3.
Afterwards when they came off the field, the coach pulled Tredgold aside and said to him, “Fantastic job, you are Man of the Match; Outstanding performance.”

The team had a meet-up about 20 years later. Tredgold was saying how he was surprised to be Man of the Match. Apparently the coach had told each of the players that “if they do this” then they would be man of the match. That is what gave Tredgold that insight into leadership; “If we can give a team a plan, give them confidence and belief, they will outperform and exceed what they are capable of.”

New Zealand has such a tradition of winning and there is an expectation to win. New Zealander’s know a rugby game lasts 80 minutes and make every minute count, with the weight of expectation. The All Blacks often score in the last minutes of the game and can come back from defeat.

Looking back to his rugby league days, Tredgold realised the concept that, “We have so much data available to us now, we should be looking to get accurate information about the data,” said Tredgold. His coach came to the team from Australia and he introduced the concept of tackle count.

They were winning about 50% of their games, then they started counting the tackles. There were statistics for what the coach expected for each positions and the coach communicated those. Tredgold explained, “At the end of the game, there’d be a “naming and faming” and a wall of shame.” When they did that, they noticed that the amount of tackles increased for every single player. This meant that they didn’t win any more games, but they just lost by fewer points. “Then they started to count missed tackles. It’s the missed tackles that cost them tries,” said Tredgold.

Tredgold went on to explain, “It was the people who were making the most tackles that were actually missing the most tackles. It was evident that the insistence on the people not making enough tackles was not actually the root cause of our defeats, so focusing on increasing the tackle counts didn’t solve the problem.

They then introduced more tackling technique into training for those players who were missing tackles. This brought them a little closer to winning, but without a really significant effect.

Then the coach started counting the tackles made and tackles missed in a 10 minute period. Some were making twenty tackles and missing five, but the five missed were in the last 10 minutes of every half.” This meant it was down to player conditioning and not technique. “We had been focused on the wrong things,” said Tredgold.

To improve their chance of success, Tredgold described, “the choices were: Substitute after 30 minutes or improve their conditioning.” Therefore, by adding that transparency into their performance, they were able to see what the real problems were, do something about it, and then they were able to see real improvement, winning 75-80% of their games. “Understand what’s involved and what you need to do to change it,” he said.

Rugby is a fast game, which form the backbone to which Tredgold’s FAST leadership principles emerged. In addition to these principles, from Tredgold’s rugby examples, it is evident that enjoyment and positivity are also important characteristics cultivated from rugby and leadership corporate roles greatly benefit from their integration.

To be continued in Part III.

Go back to Part I here.


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