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What Wayne Bennett taught me about business

  • by kaibizzen
  • Mar 12, 2020
  • Blog
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My husband, business coach Rob Caughey, is so excited because it’s only a few more sleeps until the start of 2020 NRL season.  As an old league boy himself, carrying the scars and war wounds from his younger days, he’s chomping at the bit to get back to following his favourite sport. 

Even if you are not a league tragic like Rob, you’ve likely heard of Wayne Bennett.  Love or hate him, even his staunchest enemies call him the Super Coach.  His motivation and drive to innovate rugby is the reason he is known as one of the greatest coaches the game has ever seen.    As an acknowledgement of his dedication to the game, in 2012, he was inducted into the Australian Sport Hall of Fame.  He is the longest serving coach of a single club in the history of NRL in Australia and has one of the best winning percentages in the game. 

I regularly use sport as an analogy for business, and so at the beginning of the 2020 NRL season, I’d like to share with you the 6 top learnings I gleaned from Wayne Bennett about business. 

1. Dance to the beat of you own drum 

Wayne Bennett has a reputation of being difficult with reporters as they question him before and after games.  Some people call him arrogant and cold.   

Peter Kelly started his career as a television sports journalist in 1988, the year the Brisbane Broncos started.  Wayne was their first coach (who by the way took them to 6 premierships in the years he coached them).  As a young journalist Peter cut his teeth interviewing Wayne.  He claims that he very quickly understood that Wayne was simply working his agenda, not the reporters.  He was able to spot a leading question, such as “would you say that …”, to only receive Wayne’s short answer “no”.  

Peter also claims in his article “What I learned about Media Training from Wayne Bennett” that Wayne was not interested in being friendly with the media.  He would be accommodating and pleasant.  He understood better than anyone that his primary audience was not all rugby league fans, but his 17 players taking the field.  He knew that to say something complimentary about the opposition team (his secondary audience) may build their confidence and to say nothing complimentary may motivate them.  Wayne virtually always said nothing. 

When he did have something to say, in many cases he didn’t wait for the questions, he spoke about how the game was administered, effectively ignoring the questions being asked, and again, running his own agenda. 

To me, Wayne Bennett is extremely astute.  He is always prepared.  He knows his key message and he sticks to it.   

Being a business owner is no different.  In every situation we face, whether it be at a Directors meeting, a performance improvement planning meeting, or a client meeting we must be prepared.   

One of the greatest skills we need to learn as leaders is to ask the questions that give us the answers we are looking for.   

I can tell you until I’m pink in the face, and you’ll disagree, ignore or argue with me.  If, however, I ask you the question and the answer comes from your own lips, you will never disagree with yourself. 

2. Attract and look after your team members 

Wayne has the reputation for being the master man manager.  In his article “Why players run through walls for Wayne Bennett” Michael Chammas quotes various players’ accounts of what Wayne did for them. 

In 2014 Alex McKinnon was seriously injured and consequently unable to walk. (Wayne was the coach of Alex’s team at the time).  Alex likens Wayne to his father.  When he came out of hospital, Alex was at his lowest.  He was in a dark place, and he tells how Wayne never stopped treating him like he was before he was injured.  Alex was given a kick up the backside when he needed it and Wayne mentored Alex to look for actions he could take in his life rather than feeling sorry for himself.   He asked him to always strive for greatness.  Alex says of Wayne, he is “genuinely a player’s coach…. He’s got a real art of making people feel special…. Sometimes he knew me better than I knew myself.  There’s only one Wayne Bennett, that’s why he is who he is”. 

Wayne never ever takes an excuse from his players.  Why?  Because he never gives them either.  In fact, the extreme opposite of making and allowing excuses is taking ownership for everything. Wayne is the master of taking ownership for everything that happens in his team’s performance.  He wears the scrutiny and the backlash. Obviously, he’s not the one playing the game, his team is.  No matter whether they’ve played good, bad or indifferent, he absorbs it all.  

The aspect of this I find most intriguing though is HOW he does it.  In his article Chammas recalls the night that the Newcastle Knights (Wayne was their coach) were humiliated at their home stadium.  All the players were glum.  Wayne tramped into the sheds and sat next to the team.  For 15 minutes they looked at Wayne, for 15 minutes he just sat there, not speaking a word.  Then he stood up and left.  One of the players, recalls “I’ll never forget that day.  It’s one of the most effective post-game sprays I’ve seen”.  Wayne’s words are powerful, and just as powerful are his lack of them! 

Chammas recollects an example of Wayne’s ability to get the best out of his men.  Jamie Soward played the same position as one of the all time greats in that position, Jonathan Thurston, who played for a different team at the same time.  Wayne was able to tap into Jamie’s skill in such a way that the team broke a 31-year drought and won the premiership.  Soward recalls how Wayne never compared him to Jonathan.  He always reviewed his performance.  One week Wayne rated Soward a 5-10.  Wayne wrote Soward this message “I don’t know who the imposter in the No 6 jersey is, but when Jamie Soward comes back let me know”.  

These are only a few of the examples of Wayne’s leadership. How would you overlay these ideas on your own leadership style? 

3. Don’t die with music inside you  

This actually is the title of one of the books that Wayne has written.  

With this one, I would like to just to apply this idea to the journey of business ownership.   

Over the last 17 years as a business coach I’ve come across so many business owners who have died with the music inside them.  These people went into business with a passion to be the best in their field, to be in control of their own destiny, to have more time to spend with their family and to make more money than they have before.  What I’ve found though is the day to day cogitations of business have taken all those dreams away.  So many business owners are drowning and trapped in their business.  Every time they see a light at the end of the tunnel, they find it’s just another train coming the other way. 

At Kaibizzen our philosophy is that your business is the tool to give you the lifestyle that you want.  It is possible to reignite your passion, your dreams and your goals.   

My invitation to you is “don’t die with the music inside you”. Give us a call. We’ll show you how to do it. 

4. Be in control of your emotions 

Again, watching Wayne’s interviews and flashes of him sitting in the coach’s box at games, I cannot help but be impressed at his ability to be in control of his emotions.  He rarely gets excited (or even smiles) when his team is playing well and he rarely, if ever, shows his impatience, anger or anything else when things aren’t going so well.  

Obviously, Wayne is a different personality to many other coaches and it’s possible this comes a little easier for him than others.   

The reason why I raised this learning though is to quote the words of Warren Buffet (one of the world’s wealthiest men), who said “if you can’t control your emotions you can’t control your money”.  What did Warren Buffett mean? 

I see so many business owners who in times of cash difficulties go to pieces.  They are constantly stressing about their bank balance, they are worried about paying creditors.  Their energy becomes so sapped that they can’t even think straight.   

Yes. I know exactly what it feels like to have to go to my team and say “sorry guys I can’t pay you today… as soon as some money clears in the bank you’ll get paid”.  Yes, I’ve had my share of dark cash flow days.  I’m extremely grateful for them.  I had to learn to work through my emotions, so that I was free to think about and take action on what was going to fix the problem, rather than focusing on the problem itself.  Poor cashflow is a symptom, it’s not the problem.  I believe that Warren Buffett is saying, focus on fixing the problem, not the symptom. 

Conversely, we’ve all heard the stories of people who win the lotto and then a few short years later they are worse off than what they were before.  In these cases, the winners were elated about the amount of money they’d won. To them, it seemed like such a large amount, they didn’t think they needed to be careful with how they spent it. That’s why I believe Warren Buffet is saying being elated about money is extremely dangerous.  When it comes to handling money, every business owner must keep their emotions in check. 

5. Age is just a number 

Wayne was born on the 1st January, 1950.  He began his coaching career in 1976 as a 26-year old.  Today, as a fit and energetic 70-year old he is still doing what he loves the most – coaching the sport he loves. In Chammas’ article, he recalls a time when Wayne was asked when he was going to retire.  Wayne referred to a College football coach in the US who was still going in his 80’s.  “I’m aiming to beat that”. 

Wayne reminds me of Colonel Sanders who was living on social security and was in his 60s before he made his money doing what loved most – cooking chicken using his secret herbs and spices. 

Confucius said, “Choose ajob you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”. Dr John De Martini says, “retirement is only for those who don’t have a purpose.  

Are you doing what you love?  If not, I can only imagine that your business is a drudgery for you and you’re seriously considering getting out of it.  I just want you to know that it’s possible to turn things around. With the right support, (like we gave Nat Kington [link to Nat video]), you can regain the passion and joy you once had for your business.  

6. Focus on the right numbers 

Another observation from watching Wayne Bennett’s interviews after a game.  Wayne never focusses on the score.  His focus is on what happened during the game.  He talks about the number of penalties given away, the state of defence or offence, the tackles missed and so on.   

As a great coach, Wayne knows that games are won or lost based on how all the components of the game are played.  He knows the final score is just a reflection of what his team has or hasn’t done. 

Business is no different.  The income the business generates, the profit it makes, its cash position, the number of sales made are your business final scores.  These scores are just a reflection of what we have or haven’t been doing.  

Every business has its own set of “impactor scores”, which we MUST know.  We then need to determine the best way to track them, report on them and analyse what those numbers tell us.  I can guarantee that Wayne uses his analysis of each game in training the next week.   

If we don’t know our business “impactor” numbers, we cannot improve them and our final score most likely will continue to take us away from winning our premiership – the lifestyle that we really want (without compromise). 

Wayne Bennet continues to be an inspiration to both me and Rob. The way he’s able to bring out the best in his players is the same skill I see in both Rob and I as we bring out the best in our business owners. 

If you’d like to explore how business coaching can get the best from you and your team, reach out. We’d love to help you achieve the business and the lifestyle you’ve always wanted. 

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