by Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
The U.S. military has two centuries of knowledge and experience in the area of creating leaders. Its belief is that leadership is based on action, not theory. I have always admired organizations, like the military, who value strong leadership.
One of my former employers, Harlequins of London, valued strong leadership and appointed Jason Leonard as team captain. Leonard, the legendary England prop, was the captain of Harlequins during my second professional season at the Stoop. Jason was already well established at the club and international level, yet he only occasionally exercised his voice with the team while he was the captain.
More often, I would experience Jason captaining the team through his actions on the training paddock, or the things he did not say. It was his approach to leadership that provided many other experienced players opportunities to contribute, and therefore experience leading the team. Very seldom would we have players talking just for the sake of it. In fact, a lot of communication during hard-fought matches was not even audible, but rather a look in the eye or a gesture at a stoppage in play. Now, don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of very plainly spoken words in the changing room at half time of some of our matches. Usually, it was players sorting through tactical issues and devising a technical fix with the coaching staff. The result of how Jason captained was that the team was led by the majority, not just himself, over the course of the ten-month Premiership campaign.
At this point I think it is important to circle back and offer my definition of leadership. There are likely hundreds of variations when defining leadership, and successful coaches know how critical having leadership clearly defined is to their team.
Leadership; the ability to make those around you better and more productive.
It has been my experience that leadership is a learned trait. Irrespective of personality characteristics, first-team performances or tenure, everyone is capable of contributing to the leadership of the team. Even the most junior member of the team can contribute, often times by simply not becoming a distraction.
Military units and sport teams are two entirely different organizations with dramatically contrasting missions, but both require strong leadership to be to be successful.
Tom Billups began his rugby career in 1984 and has spent time as a player in New Zealand, the U.S. and England for domestic teams as well as representing the U.S.A. at international tournaments with the Eagles. After hanging up his boots, Billups got into coaching leading the Eagles and now with University of California – Berkeley. Read the entire bio of Tom Billups as well as Billups first column My Rugby Path and then check out what Billups is saying about the game of rugby in The Billups Column on Rugby Rugby.
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