#177: Leadership lessons (from Siya Kolisi)

Dear Friends

First off, please take a moment to congratulate Cape Town author, CA Davids, whose intelligent, life-complicating, and therefore enriching and expanding book, How To Be a Revolutionary, this week won one of South Africa’s most prestigious literary awards, the University of Johannesburg’s prize for Writing in English (You can read more about her book here).

/ strategy

By now many of you will have seen this clip of South African rugby captain, Siya Kolisi speaking about his teammate Manie Libbok. Kolisi is responding to a question about Libbok’s goal-kicking – Libbok missed a few attempts in their Rugby World Cup match against Scotland.

Kolisi’s response captured the attention of global media and thousands of social media accounts.


Because the world intuitively understood that this is great leadership. I thought worth pausing to pay attention to what Kolisi taught us.

The first thing he does is remind the press conference of the things that Libbok did well on the day.

Kolisi knows that “Positive attention is thirty times more powerful than negative attention in creating high performance on a team” (Buckingham and Goodall, “Nine Lies About Work”).

Then, he doesn’t hide from the poor kicking performance. He acknowledges it wasn’t good. But he also does two other things. He locates it in time – Libbok’s kicking wasn’t good ‘on the day’. And he points to the other members of the team that can kick. He affirms that the team’s depth of talent and that they back each other, knowing that they too will have an off day in some aspect of their game. He says, “sometimes you lack somewhere, that’s why we work together, we don’t stress about it…we work as a group”.

Then, in the ultimate act of leadership, he points to the times that he has struggled.

He says “When someone’s lacking somewhere, somebody else takes over. It’s the same as me. Sometimes I don’t know what to call in the game, so Duane (Vermeulen) will call, Eben (Etzebeth) will call or Manie makes a call.”

He shows humility.

It is the best 80 second leadership lesson you’ll ever see.

Ironically, the model of the shouting, swearing, short-tempered leader still has some sway, but it is worse than useless.

Jim Collins and Bill Lazier, in their classic business-building book, Beyond Entrepreneurship, make it clear “If you want mediocrity, take people for granted, show no appreciation, and treat them like peons.”  

In his book Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic notes that the research shows time and again “effective leaders work to make other people shine and especially get people working together as a high-performing team”. That’s Kolisi.

Chamorro-Premuzic goes on to say that effective leaders inspire employees, communicate, and implement the vision well, act as role models and walk the talk, are sensitive to the organisation’s cultural norms, recognize employees for their accomplishments, give credit where it is due, use emotional communication effectively, are good at identifying and nurturing potential and are self-aware.

(You can read more about Kolisi’s journey here.)

// self

I got a lot of messages saying that many of you appreciated the journaling thoughts in last week’s newsletter.

If you’d like to experiment with a daily journaling practice, these 5 prompts from the 5 Minute Journal are useful.

Start your day with these three:

  • I am grateful for… (You can read more about the Power of Gratitude here.)
  • What would make today great?
  • An affirmation. I am…

And end it with these two:

  • Three amazing things that happened today…
  • How could I have made today better?

I like to add:

  • Who am I grateful to?
  • Whose excellence did I notice today?

It’s a good way for leaders to remain connected to their team.

/// soul

In her essay Upstream, the poet Mary Oliver points us to another leadership attribute (not that she would’ve said it in that way), the power of attention.

She writes “One tree is like another tree, but not too much. One tulip is like the next tulip, but not altogether. More or less like people—a general outline, then the stunning individual strokes” and ends with these famous words “Attention is the beginning of devotion”.

Who would have thought that a rugby captain and a poet could live alongside one another, but they do.

They tell us that caring attention is how we build teams, and life, and meaning.


PS: If you’re interested in what it would be like to work with me you can book a no-charge discovery session here.

Strategy, Soul and Self

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