I have had the opportunity to work with the Cronulla Sharks over the past six years and was delighted to see them raise the Provan-Summons trophy at the Grand Final. My experience has provided me with some interesting insights and valuable lessons in leadership that are equally relevant to the business community. They can be summarised as:
- Clear vision
- Growth mindset
- Set and deliver high standards
- A ‘no blame’ culture
- Transfer responsibility
- Lead through experience
- Support to win
1. Clear vision
Shane Flanagan, the Head Coach, always had a clear vision of how he wanted everyone in the team to operate including all of the players as well as the coaching and support staff. He constantly communicated and reinforced this vision and what was possible for the Cronulla Sharks.
2. Growth mindset
Something that always impressed me with Shane, was that he personally adopted a growth mindset. He was comfortable to make mistakes, learn from those around him and educate himself by bringing in other experts to provide advice. He was happy to recruit people when he recognised he had a talent gap and this is a valuable lesson for any business leader.
Shane was also mindful of ensuring his existing staff were developed, so as well as recruiting new people he was a strong advocate of continual learning and professional development. It is important for any business to get this balance right, as well as being aware that any new recruit must support the set vision and help to make it a reality.
3. Set and deliver high standards
Shane set and delivered really high standards and outlined clear expectations at all levels of the football department. A simple but important lesson.
4. A ‘no blame’ culture
Shane strived for a culture of being solutions focused, so that the team would assume responsibility and make good decisions under pressure. Instead of being fixated with what went wrong, the team worked on what they could do right.
The player leadership group created an environment of player empowerment. They allowed the younger team members, in particular, to make mistakes and learn from them. They recognised how much each individual would grow from this ‘tough love’ approach, ultimately turning them into better players and men.
5. Transfer responsibility
Shane ensured he gave his young players responsibility right from the start and set these expectations very clearly. This supported them to both play and develop as players. Senior leaders in the business world would be wise to adopt a similar approach by empowering their junior people, giving them the choice and control to successfully fulfil their roles.
6. Lead through experience
Without doubt Shane backed his old dogs. He knew their experience was invaluable and kept this experience in the team.
Leaders in business should welcome having experienced people around them, particularly those with the right sort of experience. Shane for example, did not just recruit older players, he chose players who were winners in other teams, those that had experienced Grand Finals and understood how to win on the big stage. For example, Luke Lewis who won a Grand Final with Penrith, Michael Ennis who was at the Bulldogs during Grand Final times and Chris Heighington who was at the Tigers Grand Final.
7. Support to win
Shane recognised the need for community support and that this support was integral for the Sharks success. Shane, his coaching staff and the team spent considerable time understanding and engaging with the people of the Shire. Over a period of six years, Shane won over the people of Cronulla and developed a huge amount of respect for them. This is a good reminder for all businesses; understanding your customers, their values and what is really important to them is a foundation for success.