I want to paint a picture of what teamwork, leadership, and trust looks like.
It was 2am on a hot and balmy summers night and only a few days into the new year. While most people were recovering and relaxing during the festive season, the St.George Illawarra Dragons were conducting a grueling pre-season training camp, aptly named ‘Operation Dragon’.
23 hours into the camp with no sleep, one slice of bread, and a can of baked beans to share among 12 people, whilst carrying up to 300kg of equipment through the bowels of an isolated property littered with snakes, eels, and spiders in southern NSW, something really unusual sparked my attention.
The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights. – Muhammad Ali –
The players were given a tarp, told to design a shelter, and get some rest; little did they know, they would be woken an hour later for another grueling 18 hours of intense training.
Before they fell asleep, I informed the leaders from each of the three sections that someone from each section must stand guard, go without sleep, and protect the stores and equipment (heavy tractor tyres, full water jerries, stretchers, sandbags, battle ropes, medicine balls, and anything else that made their 21km walk to date more difficult) from being stolen. Mind you, we were deep in the bush and no one within miles of our location.
The alternative was that everyone could sleep, while a 50kg weighted dummy called Wendall stood guard and protected the equipment for them, no strings attached.
What happened next completely surprised me and, right then and there, I knew I was dealing with a very special group of players: They told me that they didn’t want Wendall to protect the equipment and, instead, they would all sacrifice sleep and protect the equipment themselves.
“So, you’re telling me that you guys are satisfied going without sleep, just to protect the equipment,” I said. “Why is that?” I asked.
“The dummy isn’t one of us. We don’t know the dummy and we don’t trust the dummy. We trust each other and we are happy to sacrifice sleep together, as a team.”
Let’s not forget that these players were on the brink of exhaustion and physically, mentally and emotionally fatigued.
So, why do these players have such an altruistic and selfless attitude?
Why were they willing to put each other first and disregarded the easier option?
It all comes down to the culture and environment they work and play in.
What is it that creates this level of cooperation and camaraderie?
It all lies in two words: trust and loyalty. These aspects, in turn, breed a sense of belonging, almost akin to family.
Having spent a quarter of my life in the army and having witnessed firsthand some of the most heroic men and women serving their country, I have always asked myself, “What does a leader look like?”
A great many of the people whom I served with would collectively reserve the term “leader” for select individuals. The term “leader” is defended for those who act in the face of adversity while showing courage; they do what is morally correct despite peer pressure. A leader is defined by his or her choices and actions, not by chance or circumstances that arise. A teams attitude reflects it’s leadership.
We all have a unique talent and skill set. What the world needs is leaders who could make extraordinary things happen in the environment in which they live in.
These players’ environment is their football club.
So, I will ask you this question: How do we build trust and loyalty and a better team environment?
Start leading by example and putting other people first. You build a great team by playing for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back.
The commitment from this group of players continues to be reflected in the way they are playing football – an attitude that is clearly reflected in their leadership and their position on the NRL ladder.
*Looking at building a great team culture where everyone in your team is dedicated to putting others interests before their own? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss what outcomes your looking to achieve.
Have a great week ahead.