IOSH 2016: Interview with Sir Clive Woodward

05 Jun 2016

Sir Clive Woodward, Former Head Coach, England Rugby Team (World Cup Winners 2003) and Director of Sport for Team GB at the London 2012 Olympics, presented a keynote speech on ‘Leading high-performance teams’ on day two at IOSH 2016. Here’s a Q&A on leadership that was published previously on the IOSH conference website…

What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership for me is about creating an environment that everyone wants to be a part of, and nobody ever wants to leave. Leading teams, be it in businesses or sport, is not easy and no one-size fits all approach. In my experience whether you’re making decisions over hard performance elements of your team, the culture of you team, or any random challenge which may arise I find this phrase is a useful compass in making the right decision.

What attributes does a successful leader need?

A successful leader needs to be trusted and respected by the people that he/she is leading. You don’t have to be friends with everyone but you must have that bond and respect. There are many things which contribute to establishing this trust but first and foremost I believe you need to be good at your own job.  Leadership isn’t something you command just because you have the right title it is something that must be earned by the quality of your actions over a sustained period of time. I also put a lot of stock on including and challenging the people you’re leading, especially the big egos. In my experience. the best people want to be involved, but they also want to be challenged and taken places they never been before - that’s what inspires them and makes them want to be a part of what you’re doing.  Ultimately leadership is about setting the standards. A successful leader should act as a role model at all times, not just in training or during your time together, but 24/7/365.

Are there any leaders who inspired you in your career? 

I was lucky to play under a coach called Jim Greenwood whilst I was at Loughborough University and he perhaps had the greatest impact on me. He isn’t renowned as one of sport’s great leaders, but as a rugby coach he was miles ahead of his time in his ‘Total Rugby Philosophy’. He was just a great man who you wanted to play for and a total visionary. I also love my football and I have always admired the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho. Not only are they hugely successful coaches who have won so much but what makes them stand out is that they sustain that success over a long period of time and built and re-built a number of teams in that period which is something that not that many leaders are able to do. 

Is there a particular aspect of leadership you concentrate on in your presentation? 

I believe that ‘great teams are made of great individuals’. It is the foundation of how I build winning teams.  In order to be able to get the best out of your teams you need to be able to get the best out of each individual within your team.  There are four criteria I have identified which I believe characterise a champion individual or team in both business and sport.  In my presentation I’ll discuss each of these criteria, and how as a leader you can coach people, and yourself into developing these skills. The ambition is create what I consider ‘Champion Individuals’ and ‘Champion Teams’.

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