Leadership key to team success

HARARE - As a staunch (possibly borderline addictive) rugby man this past weekend's showing in Hong Kong by our national sevens rugby team was satisfying, impressive and heartbreaking right to the death!

Satisfying because I work with them and see the effort they put into their training and the relentless beating they put their bodies through just to be better than yesterday and do their country proud.

Impressive because they do it for nothing, no money, no endorsements, no sponsorship, little recognition and very little support yet they produce those results at that level!

Heartbreaking because in extra time of the big final the biggest reward of their and Zimbabwe's rugby careers was stolen from them by a Russian.

A win would have changed the face of the game in Zimbabwe, a loss was back to the drawing board.

Sport is an oxymoron as it's so bitter sweet in every outcome. Someone wins and someone loses.

What impresses me about this team is the leadership. Both the individual and the collective leadership.

Every successful sports team through the decades have had strong leaders and the importance of this role is evident in their achievements both on and off the field.

The leader’s contribution to the effectiveness of a team’s performance is highly influential. For example: Richie McCaw and The All Blacks, Paul McGinley and the European Ryder Cup Team, Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers, Sachin Tendulkar and India Cricket.

Highly influential leaders both on and off the field. Leadership may be considered as a behavioural process that influences individuals and groups towards a common goal.

The qualities of an effective leader include Ambition, Vision, Empathy, Experience, Charisma, Respect and Motivation. It is not often that leaders display all of these qualities, but in the case of our Sevens Rugby Team we have a leader that is exemplary both on and off the field.

Jacques Leitao personifies leadership. His greatest quality is that of Experience and as such he leads by example. His warrior like approach to representing his country has set the standard for Zimbabwean sports people.

Everything about his team matters to him, and it matters with an internal emotion that he portrays with physical dominance and mental guile on the field all the while leading his charges in the right direction from the trenches.

The greater the pressure the better he becomes. As spectators you only get to see his on field leadership yet his ability to lead off the field is equally as impressive.

A community man, a family man, a religious man and a hard working member of Zimbabwean society has helped develop his leadership off the field and players he engages respect his way of living.

The great head coach of the NFL Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi once said "Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile." 

It's not easy to be an effective leader, it takes hard work to gain the confidence of the team and understand the motivational dynamics of each player.

Whilst I agree in large to his comment I will add that great leaders possess an inherent ability to lead, it is the nurturing of this leadership through their career and their environmental experiences and lessons that develop their leadership further.

Fortunately, there are some simple rules that apply to all leadership situations, including sports:

* Treat players with respect to earn their respect.

* Try to understand each player on the team well enough to be able to identify their specific strengths and weaknesses.
* Lead by example.

* Share strategy with players. It is much easier for players to support a strategy if they understand it.

* Remain decisive and confident. A Captain's confidence can be contagious.  If the players know a captain believes in them, they might start believing in themselves too.

* Finally, lead players in a positive manner.

The athlete, coaches and team staff of today’s sporting world are significantly different than that of one, two and even three decade ago.

This is due to a number of factors, but most significantly the culture of their times, changing dynamics of parental, sibling and friendship role models and the explosion of easily accessible information.

Zimbabwe needs leaders in sport. Every Zimbabwean has a passion for some sport either as a spectator or participant and the respective leaders will provide the direction particularly for our youth. This and the next generation should look up to leaders like Jacques.

*Ex-Zimbabwe rugby international Grant Mitchell is High Performance Director at Innovate High Performance Centre in Harare and a top strength and conditioning coach.

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