The All Blacks’ Secret

The excitement is building in London this week as teams arrive for the Rugby World Cup 2015 starting on Friday. There is no doubt, the ‘kings’ of the game are the All Blacks, drawing crowds, admiration and criticism in equal measure. As a usually calm and demure expatriate New Zealander, when talk turns to these legends, I become as patriotic and proud as anyone from a small country of 4 million inhabitants setting the sports world alight with a world-class team. Genuinely, every time I see the Haka performed with the intensity and belief with which the All Blacks honour it, I am moved to tears, goosey with ancestral chills, and enveloped back into the tribe of Kiwis.

The All Blacks have been criticised as a publicity machine, but there is no denying it, regardless of the sport, there is something special about this team. Over the last 100 years – yes, dwell on that for a moment, 100 years – they have had a winning streak of 75% of their games. Over recent years, this has improved to an incredible 93% as a result of working on their mental game, to complement their supreme level of fitness.

I was curious about what the All Blacks’ ‘machine’ had to offer mere mortals in terms of leadership, business and life lessons when I came across an author who had beaten me to it. James Kerr authored Legacy, What the All Blacks Can Teach us About the Business of Life. James Kerr spent a number of months immersed in the culture of the All Blacks to understand what makes them tick; what their point of difference is.

While there are a number of the 15 lessons James Kerr identified that I’d love to write about, one in particular jumps out, and often comes up in coaching sessions – that of legacy and purpose.

To explain, James Kerr writes “There’s a fundamental Maori spiritual concept called ‘whakapapa’ – a long unbroken chain of humans standing arm in arm from the beginning of time to the end of eternity. And the sun shines for just a moment on this, our time. It’s our obligation and responsibility to add to the legacy. Our first responsibility is to be a good ancestor.”

Now do you understand why I get ancestral chills watching the Haka? When the All Blacks perform it, they are truly drawing on the strength of their ancestors, honouring what has gone before, and what they are about to do.

The team recognises they are curators of the shirt, the legend, the legacy, and the ancestral line of the All Blacks. They acknowledge their whakapapa, their ancestry, and strive with excellence in character, talent and skill to “Leave the shirt in a better place” – a higher purpose than simply their own performance, brand endorsements or bank balance. I can’t help thinking that footballers in the Premier League should get a bit of whakapapa on their side.

Whilst this is an incredibly higher purpose than most people would expect to obtain, it is nonetheless relevant to us on an everyday basis – what are you here for? What is your mission, your purpose? It is not news that Millennials are frequently contrasted to previous generations for their need for purpose in their work. For them, it is not enough to have a job that simply pays the mortgage.

One’s mission or purpose is frequently a topic of exploration during a coaching programme. Gaining clarity on it makes all other decisions flow quite easily. When complexity comes in decision-making, bringing the situation back to your mission or purpose brings clarity.

Make like an All Black – get clarity on your purpose. Let’s talk.

And for those of you like me, who can’t get enough of it, enjoy another performance of the Haka from the ABs! Go, you good things!