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  • Writer's pictureNick Turner

"Old School" leadership doesn't deliver

Updated: Oct 12, 2022

At the risk of letting the personal bleed into the professional, I was somewhat stunned yesterday to see England Rugby coach Eddie Jones highlighted in the Financial Times "How to Lead" section. First, let me put my cards on the table. I am a passionate England rugby fan and long-time, Barbour-wearing, Twickenham debenture holder (yup, one of them). Secondly, I am not a natural supporter of Eddie Jones. Thirdly, I actually read his autobiography and I am even less of a fan as a result.

So, trying to put my personal biases aside, why my surprise at the FT article? Jones is not devoid of talent, some people even like and respect him but he is not a paragon of modern leadership. Eddie represents the old school; he oozes “command and control” from his every pore. His overriding mantra seems to be “my way or the highway”. This certainly doesn’t encourage creative challenge or opposing points of view. One only has to look at the highly talented players that have been discarded to see the consequence of not agreeing with Eddie.

This lack of flexibility also dominates the style of England’s play. Historically under Jones, England only have “plan A”. If that doesn’t work (remember the 2019 World Cup Final), then it’s “plan A, just harder”. In modern rugby you undoubtably need a game plan, but you also need to encourage players to play what’s in front of them, adapt, pivot, use their God-given talent. That’s not Jones’ way. He also typically selects leaders who will do his bidding, unquestioned. England captain Owen Farrell has his strengths, but flexibility, thinking on his feet, (keeping his temper) and adapting to what’s happening mid-game are not amongst them.

By contrast, as part of some background research into supporting Be the Business, this week, I also listened to a podcast with their chairman, Charlie Mayfield (former chair of John Lewis), articulating his views on leadership. Here are some his lessons I would like to pass on to Mr Jones:

1. Admit you don’t know everything. This is a sign of strength not weakness. We can all learn from each other.

2. Work on your business, not just in it. Take the time to step back, see the bigger picture, reflect on how to innovate faster, respond to how the environment is changing. Many leaders are so busy with the frenetic day-to-day, they fail to be more strategic and think longer-term. (N.B. I have yet to meet Sir Charlie, but he is a big advocate of scenario planning as a way to better prepare for an uncertain future, so I am sure I will like him immensely).

3. Create a framework (or playing field) that allows your team to flourish. If you have hired (picked) the right players they don’t need to be spoon-fed to deliver their best work.

4. Performance is everyone’s responsibility. Holding yourself and others to account is a fundamental principle in creating a high-performance team.

I thoroughly enjoyed England’s three wins in the recent Autumn internationals. But if we are honest, one was against a 3rd tier nation, the second against tired and sub-par opposition and third, against the world champions South Africa, could have gone either way as it went to the wire.

Jones has always said, “judge me on the world cup”. We didn’t win last time and with an unchanged Jones at the helm, I (with deep regret) predict we won’t win again in 2023.

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