Lessons in leadership – what every finance professional can learn from England’s early exit from RWC2015

Firstly, I have to say sorry if this is a slight indulgence on my view about England’s World Cup performance and I will try hard to not let this be a rant of a frustrated Englishman! So here goes…..

And so it’s over for England Rugby. Plenty of column inches have been attributed to England’s woeful, utterly ridiculous Rugby World Cup, and quite rightly too. The reasons for the early exit for the host nation have been wide and varied; there are plenty of items for England management to address.

If the finance team were on a rugby team, they would figuratively comprise the back row.  The back row needs to work in total partnership with the forwards (sales, marketing, business developers – who make all the scores) and midfield. Finance become a lynch pin to successful partnerships and connecting departments.

It's over for England in the Rugby World Cup, not even reaching the Quarter finals
It’s over for England in the Rugby World Cup, not even reaching the Quarter finals

As we’ve seen over the course of the RWC, England were out-thought, out-maneouvered and out-fought in every single department. Two lacklustre and meaningless wins against Fiji and Uruguay won’t cover for the lack of leadership against Wales and haphazard play against Australia. In the case of the latter, it was the biggest loss suffered by the hosts at the home of English Rugby by Australia. The sardonic icing on the cake.

So the post-mortem has started. We have no divine right for easy passage, but we have the largest pool of players in the world to choose from and on our day we do (or should) have 15 world-class players. And that’s where the similarities with Finance depts everywhere really echo. Leadership comes from across the department; taking accountability for your role and your priorities. Yes, the Captain (CFO/Finance Director) is the manager’s appointed representative on the pitch, and so they must take the big calls. For instance, the penalty at the end of the Wales match. Chris Robshaw took the call because he didn’t think George Ford or Owen Farrell could have kicked it. His leadership failed because he didn’t believe in his side. The wrong call was made, and it left a mountain of a task against the Aussies (and a draw against Wales would have seen us qualify for the quarter-finals as it turned out.)

Stuart Lancaster, the England head coach looks on
Stuart Lancaster, the England head coach looks on

It’s what efficient Finance teams do day-in, day-out. They are often unsung heroes, doing the dirty work, rolling their sleeves up, encouraging, and being there for one another. They ensure possession and take the advantage (invoicing, profitability, chasing debts) for the greater importance of the business at large. As in business, take your finance team for granted, and you will find yourself, chasing lost balls and quickly looking for the ground to open up and eat you up (a new role).

Here’s some tips and observations from MRK on the value of a respected, efficient finance team:

  • Empowerment for the finance function should come down from the MD to the CFO and down through the team. Everyone can’t do everything so it’s about the teamwork. Without it the dream won’t work.
  • Leadership is demonstrated in many ways but one key area is creating a stable environment for your team to flourish. Leadership is not constantly changing people’s roles. This was Stuart Lancaster’s second worst trait at this year’s tournament. Having spent 12 months playing Ford at 10 and playing an attacking style of rugby, Lancaster lost his bottle and went back to Farrell at 10 looking to not lose the game. It didn’t work.
  • Perhaps the most critical part of leadership is creating the right team with the right talent in the right places. Allow people to flourish through their understanding of their role which builds confidence in their own ability and what they’re doing. This is undoubtedly Lancaster’s biggest failing. Selections were poor before the World Cup with the initial squad (Burgess for Burrell as one example) and they continued to be wrong on the team sheet for individual games (even the Uruguay game – why was it Farrell and Slade rather than Slade and Joseph in the centres?)
  • Leadership shows belief. Mistakes will happen, we’re all human. But learn from them, but have faith in your operatives.
  • There’s been talk of England needing one “uber” superstar player. Such recruitment of such an employee in the business environment will upset the carefully grown culture and upset the equilibrium. If someone has a special talent, it should be nurtured and not be put on a pedestal.
  • Decisions are made, and should be respected. However, they should be made with all the information. Chris Robshaw didn’t trust his No 10’s to kick against Wales when he should have. He was too cavalier going for the win. Truthfully, the lack of leadership earlier in the game when England were twice ahead by 10 points meant this was when the match was lost. The pressure was on to kick to rescue a draw. Foresight by leaders in the finance department means planning and executing, that doesn’t lead to extra pressure.
  • Retain to develop or execute to recruit? Decisions must not be made out of the team structure. Stuart Lancaster’s role as Head Coach of England is under serious threat, and will be discussed by the board of England Rugby. What direction should they turn? They could remove Stuart Lancaster and replace him, but will they be back to square one? Or retain, empower and show leadership to ensure England move forward having understood, learnt and developed from the disappointment as hosts of RWC2015?

If you find yourself in a maul similar to this in the work environment, do get in touch.

Enjoy the rest of the Rugby World Cup, if you can!


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