Leadership tips from Lawrence Dallaglio

The rugby star captained England and Wasps. Here are his thoughts on motivating teams and coping with failure.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 12 May 2017

MT’s always been a bit sceptical about the supposed similarities between sports and business. The life of a professional athlete is much more intensive than that of a typical office drone. And it’s a lot easier to motivate people when they have the potential to win the World Cup or the Ashes, rather than just achieve a 10% uptick in widget sales.

Nonetheless anyone who’s had to perform at a high level knows a thing or two about what it takes to lead a team, deal with pressure and bounce back from failure. To that end MT had a chat with Lawrence Dallaglio, the former England and Wasps rugby union captain, about what he learned about leading during his career.

Lawrence Dallaglio on being promoted at a young age...

Dallaglio was made captain of Wasps after several of the team’s top players abruptly departed for Newcastle. ‘Suddenly there was this vacuum of leadership within the ground and the coach very kindly entrusted a young 22-year old Lawrence Dallaglio to be the captain, which I gratefully accepted,’ he says.

It was daunting at first, he admits. ‘You've got to tell people who are a little bit older and wiser than you what to do, which initially takes a bit of time, but I wasn’t left on my own. There were a lot of people who were quick to gather around and give a tremendous amount of support. When you're successful it’s never usually down to one person, and when you fail it's never usually down to one person.’

On the importance of being a doer, not just a teller...

‘I know it gets said a lot but I like to think some of the best leaders are the people who are the best operators – at actually doing what they do. Not just at playing rugby but also the values you stand by. It’s important that you’re someone that people look up to and the best way of doing that is actually going out there and doing your job very well.’

On stepping up to the plate...

‘You find out a lot about people when things aren’t going according to plan. It’s easy to lead in the good times, because everyone does their job, everyone’s happy, results are going as or better than expected and everyone’s giving each other a pat on the back. When things aren’t going well, that for me is when true leaders step forward and take responsibility. They are willing to take responsibility, to make those decisions under pressure, accept that, embrace it and turn things around.’

On getting the best out of your team...

‘Not everyone is made up the same way emotionally, so you have to recognise that we are all different and have to celebrate that difference,’ he says. ‘Empowerment is important – giving others responsibility. The pressure should not all rest on one person. It’s all about sharing that responsibility and pressure, and sharing in success as well – recognising that everyone within a team has a role to play.’

On the importance of consistency...

‘Like in any high-performance team you’ve got short- medium- and long-term goals and objectives. At the beginning of every year you want to play for the [British and Irish] Lions or England. But if you strip all of that back, the best way of doing that is by performing week in, week out on a consistent basis. Not getting ahead of yourself is key – success is about building foundations and having that consistent level of performance.’

On bouncing back...

Dallaglio’s career has been frustrated by setbacks – both on the pitch and off. In 1999 he was accused by the New of the World of having previously sold drugs in his youth. He has always denied the allegations but had to resign as England captain as a result.

‘Not everything happens in a straight line. You want it to but occasionally you have a setback, you get beaten, whatever it might be. It’s about taking stock, learning, having honest conversations and making sure that those things don’t happen again.’

A last-minute Welsh try denied England the Five Nations championship in 1999. Four years later and faced with a similar situation in the World Cup Final against Australia, England triumphed. ‘I wouldn’t like to credit Wales for helping us win the World Cup, but it certainly didn’t hurt.’

Lawrence Dallaglio was speaking at a British and Irish Lions Team Behind the Team event for QBE Insurance Group 

Image: zoonabar/Flickr

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