by Joshua Guest
The release of Amazon's recent docuseries 'all or nothing' was something I had been looking forward to for some time. Having always been passionate about sport I was excited to take a look 'under the hood' of some of the worlds most elite clubs and understand what makes them tick. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the programme, it has been created to give fans unprecedented access to the daily goings on within teams at the pinnacle of their respective sports. Current Premier League Champions Manchester City, the renowned New Zealand All Blacks and the 'America's Team' (The Dallas Cowboys) are the three main features.
Initially, my interest lay solely with Manchester City. I was born and raised in the North West and have been obsessed with football since I can remember so the chance to see Guardiola's magic up close was too good to miss. As the series progressed though, I began to view the programme through educational eyes rather than purely as a source of entertainment and I jumped enthusiastically from Manchester to Dallas via Auckland, devouring episode after episode in order to learn more about coaching and mentoring styles within this elite environment as well as how I could transfer these to my day job.
Broadly speaking, the settings were similar. The squad sizes were large, they included a broad mix of individual player personalities, ages and ability levels (including some of the best players in the world at that particular time) and the pressure was high. You would think, therefore, that the coaches and coaching styles involved would reflect this - this could not be further from the truth.
Pep Guardiola (PG), Steve Hansen (SH) and Jason Garrett (JG) are all very different men from different parts of the world at different phases in their lives and careers. They approach their positions with varying levels of enthusiasm and attention to detail and as such, treat their players and staff very differently. Pep Guardiola’s unrelenting energy and obsession with detail (not magic, as I had once thought) juxtaposed starkly with Steve Hansen’s relaxed, more intuitive approach which in turn contrasted with Jason Garrett’s (slightly blunt) ‘just win more games’ mentality, however what I learned as I discovered more about the sports these men participated in, the teams that they coached and the countries that they lived was that each was an expert in their own world. I also picked up one other important point – that each coach had certain traits that did overlap, starting with an unrelenting obsession with winning.
This made me really think what makes a great leader? I believe that this is a very difficult question and the answer is impossible to truly define as there are so many variables involved, but the three men under the microscope are a good place to start and this is what I found having watched them operate over the course of a full season:
An entire sporting season is a grueling affair. Players and coaches spend a lot of time travelling, working and living in unfamiliar surroundings away from their family and friends. Aside from placing a lot of strain on everyone involved, I would imagine that this would quickly become exhausting. Therefore, it would seem natural, as the season progresses, to take a 'foot off the gas' (especially if - like the coaches in question - your teams win regularly and convincingly). This was not the case with PG, SH and JG. They were the hardest workers in the room. Always thinking, always analysing, always communicating, always motivating. Week after week, month after month.
After all 'the secret is in the dirt'.
Not everything goes your way - even at the top. New Zealand's 'draw' with the British and Irish Lions, Manchester City's pummelling at the hands of Liverpool in the Champions League or Dallas's failure to make the playoffs show that every team is fallible. When these situations arise everybody looks to the person that 'calls the plays' for answers and in sport - as in business - it rings true that you can delegate, but you can't abdicate. Watching Guardiola, Hansen and Garrett confront these situations full on, taking the majority of the criticism and deflecting the scrutiny away from their players was powerful and undoubtedly inspired real loyalty within their teams (see 'Jose Mourinho' for how not to do this).
Accountability also swings the other way too. Holding players accountable for the success and failure of the team and being clear (see below) regarding expectations, meant that everybody knew their job, and knew the consequences if they failed to contribute.
We define what we do next.
Clear targets, clear responsibilities, clear consequences. Know your job, do your job. This one is simple. The three coaches involved were all clear as crystal with their squad as to what they expected and no coach shirked their responsibility if a player didn't match up to expectations.
Whilst at times these men could seem obsessed, pedantic and even slightly maniacal, it was clear that they all had a burning passion for both the sport that they compete within and being the very best team within the sport that they compete within. They love what they do and their passion was infectious and powerful.
All of the above qualities are very important but, arguably, are also very intense. Injecting enjoyment into a competitive environment can work wonders and, whilst gestures do not have to be grand they can have profound effects (Jason Garretts daily target practice with starting QB Dak Prescott or Manchester City's Teqball competitions).
Of course, there are many other qualities that go into coaching (and management more broadly) and each of the three coaches in question displayed many other traits that worked well (and some that didn't work very well) over the course of the programme but it was those listed here that seemed most relevant to my world and I am looking forward to implementing them with my team as we approach the tail end of our 2018 'season'.