Eddie Jones' success can teach business leaders a lesson or two

 
Atif Sheikh
Australia v England
Source: Getty

The failings of the 2015 Rugby World Cup will be remembered as the nadir of English rugby.

The originators of “the game they play in heaven”, booed off the hallowed Twickenham turf and dumped out of their own World Cup in the group stages. Fast-forward two years, and England’s turmoil seems a distant memory. Having equalled New Zealand’s 18-match winning streak and clinched two successive Six Nations titles, Eddie Jones has propelled his England team back to the summit and restored national pride in the sport.

So what lessons can business leaders learn from the Eddie Jones renaissance?

No celebration without evaluation

It’s important, after years of relentless hard work, to celebrate success.

However, if celebrations aren’t counter-balanced with evaluation of what drove that success, leaders will end up on a slippery slope to complacency. It may not be popular, and as the leader you may be too tired to go there yourself. But make no mistake: the key to becoming world class is getting that balance right.

Be clear what lines you won’t cross

When scandal breaks, we often focus on the ethical issues at hand. Outraged by the behaviour of those involved and discussing how to prevent it reoccurring, what comes next is often unreported.

The aftermath of every scandal brings an inevitable drain of talent, often those with the intellect, strength of character to get results in the right way and sustainably. Whether assessing England’s 2011 World Cup debacle or Uber’s unrestrained working culture, leaders must know which behaviours will hamper the business and ensure everyone knows that results achieved in that way will be judged as harshly as failure.

You’re only as good as you are under pressure

It’s a classic trope – leaders blame bad luck when things go wrong, but attribute successes to their own genius. The truth is that a leader, a team, an employee is only as good as they are on a bad day.

When judging performance, great leaders consider the macro context. They remain loyal, protect and promote those that deliver when the chips are down.

If this year’s last-minute heroics at the Millennium Stadium taught us anything, it’s that Jones has created a culture where his team can win, even when second best.

Constructively move the goalposts

People hate having the goalposts moved. But the best leaders are deliberate about when and how much they move the bar up. They never stop thinking about when it will be time to do so again. Better results only come from raising standards and then recruiting, developing (and yes, removing) people according to those new higher standards.

Eddie Jones seems to have found a real tension between loyalty to those that have executed his renaissance on the field and a desire to constantly raise the bar. You need only look at the case of much-maligned Dylan Hartley. Having captained the side so admirably during England’s come back, Jones now looks set to bring through the next in line to the throne.

Succession is the incumbent’s job

When Sir Clive Woodward retired in 2004, he was jumping before the ship went down. This problem is familiar in business: a brilliant leader departs only to leave behind someone infinitely less capable and a culture that begins to crumble.

This can only be avoided if a leader has the headset that true success isn’t defined by their own results, but by growing leaders who are just as, if not more, capable.

Atif Sheikh is chief executive of Business 3.0

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