Speaking with James Kerr, author of ‘Legacy – What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life – 15 lessons in leadership’
“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.”
Do you love that idea as much as we do? It was shared by James Kerr, author of ‘Legacy. We and James go back a long time. At the time of writing the book is #1 in the Amazon Bestseller list for Coaching and Mentoring and #3 for Leadership.
If your work involves culture, vision, transformation, identity – the ‘who are we, what are we really all about, and how do we live that with integrity’ sort of thing, you will love this book.
James himself is a New Zealander. And the book is based on his experience being immersed with the All Blacks, arguably the world’s most successful sports team ever.
“They’ve won 75% of their games over 100 years.” James explains. “But in 2004 they were in trouble. Their culture imploded.” It came to a head at the end of the Tri-Nations – a southern hemisphere rugby union tournament. The All Blacks for the first time came last. James continues “That night in Sun City, Springbok players were dragging famous All Black players out of the bushes from alcohol overdose. The culture and behaviours had gone very wrong. It was time to address some serious issues.”
There was a 3 day summit of the leadership team. What emerged was transformational.
‘Better People Make Better All Blacks’ became their purpose statement. There was agreement on core values – humility, excellence and respect. This led to a higher sense of purpose – creating the legacy. James explains “When you become an All Black the mission is clear – ‘To leave the jersey in a better place. To add to the legacy. To represent all the players that have come before and all the players that will come after.’ ”
James tells the story in a fabulous, easy to read way, weaving together the All Blacks story that he gained by spending time embedded with them, together with wisdoms from other coaches, leadership thought leaders, and Maori culture. He also brings his own experience from work in branding, identity and building the right reputation by doing the right things.
The story that unfolds builds a powerful bridge between two sides that often feel as though they are opposite – the competitive and the collaborative. The desire to achieve and the desire to be part of something bigger. The All Blacks story gives insight about how these actually live and work together in harmony.
And one thing that brings these together is the concept of Legacy. “For leaders that is a tremendously powerful statement – what is our role as leaders – in business and our lives?” Says James “When you become a parent the sense of legacy becomes apparent. You don’t have to tell fathers and mothers that it’s really fundamental to life choices and a life path.”
He goes on “The fact remains – the higher your purpose, the higher your performance. Legacy inspires and empowers leaders to play for a higher purpose.”
The All Blacks took a long term 75% winning record which is the best results for any sports team anywhere ever, and between 2004-11 increased it to 86%. And the basis of the culture they formed is increasing that percentage. Over the last 2 years they lost once, and not at all in 2013.
Taking this idea to the world has it’s challenges. James explains “It’s easy to be cynical about the soft stuff – story and values and vision and purpose – compared to quarterly results or shareholder returns or sales figures. And often in business the numbers people win because they have hard metrics that they can point to. And it becomes about cost cutting. And anything extraneous becomes a cost rather than an investment. The All Blacks as a case study proves that the soft stuff delivers hard results. The culture creates competitive advantage. By focussing on story and purpose and vision and the human aspects of your cultural architecture you’re able to deliver better business.”
“If you look at the kind of businesses that have proved this – Steve Jobs – highest value of any company – he was about putting a dent in the universe. He always asked ‘why?’. So purpose is fundamentally important.”
But you have to find ways to inculcate that purpose so it is lived every day. If you look at the way the All Blacks did it, they used storytelling and ritual as a very powerful way to reinvigorate and reinvent that sense of purpose every day. The best case is the Haka. They worked with a Maori wise man for more than a year, developing it to reflect the Maori heritage and the situation of all the players, with their different ancestry. So that it now includes the entire team and the issues they face as professional rugby players as New Zealanders living in this time. And core to that is the phrase ‘This is our Moment. This is our time’.”
Every time they perform the Haka they reflect, remind, reactivate and reinforce that story. They apply their core story to everything they do. Really successful businesses know and understand and apply this. At Nike every week they watch a brand flm, about ‘there’s no finishing line, and unlocking the character within. You need to keep reactivating your core story about who you are and why you are here and what your bigger purpose is.
Your journey, your time, your legacy
Our research with catalysts highlights there’s always an inner journey that matches the outer journey. If you are up to something big and transformative, knowing who you are and having the courage to live it is hugely important. In James’s words “By really understanding your true values and being open to them and connecting with others, and letting others know what you stand for you open up real opportunities that take you in the right direction and in that way is success. People put on masks and become somebody else in business situations. You can have the best of both worlds – you can really express yourself through your work, and get success as a by-product. Because if you chase success full on you compromise yourself and become a short-term player.”
The All Blacks went back to basics of who they are and who they want to be, and how to express that on the rugby field. When they go out, the mantra is not going out to win, it’s to ‘Unite and inspire the nation’. This is their moment. This is their time. The winning follows. So…Is now ‘your time’? What will your legacy be?
James and the One Leadership Project
We go back more than 10 years with James, before the Project was even a twinkle in our eyes. But the roots and common ground were there then, and what brings us back together. As James puts it “What excites me about the One Leadership Project is that resonance between our practices, particularly in terms of ‘As a leader what will you be remembered for?’ It’s about that sense of authenticity and integrity based leadership. And an understanding of the strength in vulnerability.”
James is a natural storyteller, so he shares another one: “There’s a Maori war god who is like Janus, with two faces, who is terse in battle and gentle in victory, you wouldn’t want to meet him on the battlefield but he’s a lovely bloke. It’s the epitome of Maori warrior manhood – play hard, play fair, and play with respect, and always come from a better place– that’s something I sense with you guys too.”
We’re working together with James to help people who want the lessons and wisdoms from the book to come to life in their organisations’ culture, identity and transformation.
If you up to that sort of work, or have that vision, it will be great to hear from you.
James Kerr’s book Legacy is available in all good bookstores, and of course, Amazon