You may be asking yourself, “What the ruck can my business learn from a rugby coach?” And what can it learn from the way Rassie Erasmus coached the Springbks to a record fourth Rugby World Cup triumph on Saturday?
The parallels are more than you would think and the lessons to be learnt more than you can count. From managing teams to tackling traditions, there are many lessons from the field that the boardrooms of South Africa could benefit from applying.
So, put down the spreadsheets and pull up a chair.
Lessons from the coach’s box
If you are new to the field, Rassie Erasmus was director of Springbok rugby during its triumphant 2023 Rugby World Cup campaign, and head coach when he led the Springboks to victory at the 2019 Rugby World Cup, against all odds.
He is known for his brilliantly disruptive and innovative approach to rugby, both on the pitch and online.
So, what is the secret to Rassie’s success? Many things. How much time do you have?
The core of Rassie’s success could be theorised to be that, while Rassie is driven by the job he has to do, he is driven even more by why he is doing it. Now, being “why” led is not a new concept to businesses, we have seen the TED Talks, listened to the podcasts and put it in the PowerPoints. The difference is, with Rassie and the Springboks, their purpose does not exist in the abstract, it exists in their actions, their passion and their performance. From every tackle to every lyric of the national anthem, you can see everyone in the green and gold knows why they are there.
Rassie has given many interviews to the press about this “why” and how their pioneering performance is guided by the gratitude of the privilege to do so. In a country where hope is as much a necessity as water and electricity, rugby is a conduit that provides much-needed unity and light to its people.
So, what does this mean for CEOs and Excos?
It means they have the power to champion success by simply and constantly reinforcing why success matters so much to a company and, more importantly, to its people.
In every presentation, every email and every meeting that could’ve been an email, reinforce your purpose to your people. Why did they get up today and brave the loadshedding-locked traffic? Why do the numbers on that Excel matter so much? Why do you actually care about how their weekend was? Why. Why. Why.
Sam Clarke and Taylea du Toit from Skynamo
Captaining purposeful innovations and tackling traditions
When we think innovation, we think of global giants, inventors of computers, phones, cars and social media platforms. How many would put forward a rugby coach? It just isn’t the type of role typically associated with innovation in business. However, if you look at how Rassie innovates in the game, it is fundamentally different to how we would typically think of it. Maybe it’s time to try this different approach to game-changing innovations.
We find ourselves in a cultural zeitgeist where it could be argued that businesses innovate for innovations sake, for the new and not always the better. Some traditions exist for a reason and sometimes you have to break traditions that ain’t broke, just to fix them in a better way. Some traditions call for innovation more than others, depending on where on the continuum of brokenness they are, and no one understands this better than Rassie. He doesn’t just colour outside the lines, he draws something entirely new, because he understands the bigger picture.
Some of the more notable recent innovations that have broken more than just Rugby Twitter, include a coaching box light display that Eskom could only dream of, and changing the narrative of being “on the bench” to being a good thing (aka Bomb Squad.
Rassie braais innovation for breakfast. So how can we, in business, fire up some of the same thinking?
You may ask, are there any new ideas left in the business space?
Increasing competition for creativity and crowded marketplaces for attention, make it feel like “new” is a thing of the past. We can look at Rassie’s “lighting display” example to challenge this perception that new technology is the only way to innovate. He uses colourful lights to signal different calls to the staff and players on the field from the coaching box in the stands. These lights are not powered by AI and the blockchain and brought to you by solar power; they’re just lights!
Old tech, solving an old problem, in a new and innovative way! Standing out, confusing the opposition, and drawing media attention is just an added bonus.
The lesson for business is that sometimes there are simple solutions to the most complex problems. Sometimes we don’t need to reinvent the wheel to make it roll faster, sometimes we just need to try a steeper hill.
It all comes down to the bottom line and the try line.
As brilliant as each Bok player is, one alone cannot win a game. The power in unity is what converts to results. In business, we can apply this thinking; the power of one to impact the many and the power of the many to impact the one.
Rassie exemplifies the importance of a “one team, one dream, one why” mentality. It comes down to simply knowing the game you are playing, and why you are playing it. Because much like rugby, business is a game of wins and losses and, if you win more than you lose, you get to play the game another day.