Eddie Jones reveals his secrets to successful leadership
The head coach of the England rugby union team talks all things leadership and how his mentoring mindset has evolved over the years
“I always wanted to win,” says Eddie Jones, looking back on his early experiences as a rugby union player at club and state level in Australia. “So if the team wasn’t doing as well as I thought they could, I would assume some sort of leadership role.”
Assuming some sort of leadership role is what he’s been doing ever since – first as a teacher after his playing days ended and, subsequently, over the last nearly three decades as a coach. He’s led the national teams of Australia, Japan and England and, in 2016 and 2017, he helped the latter to consecutive Six Nations Championships.
Jones has also written a book on leadership, which was published last November. In it, he draws on lessons from his own career as well as the wisdom of other successful coaches, such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger. The book garnered plenty of publicity thanks to Jones’s typically honest, no-nonsense appraisals of some “entitled” players. This tended to distract from the fact that it offers a fascinating glimpse inside the bubble of a high-performance sporting environment, while also delivering thoughtful and inspiring advice that’s as applicable to business as it is to sport.
The book is called Leadership, but it could equally well have been titled ‘Winning’, because the will to win drips off every page. And it’s not hard to discover where some of that will to win comes from. Every morning, Jones speaks to his 96-year-old mother. The one thing she always says to him? “I hope you’re preparing the team to win.”
In the recent past, results haven’t always gone the way Jones would have liked. But when he isn’t winning, he hopes he’s at least “losing well”.
“It means you accept responsibility for your defeat,” he says, speaking a few days after England’s loss to a resurgent Scotland side in this year’s Six Nations. “Rather than saying it was bad luck or you didn’t have the right people or the referee was bad, you accept that you weren’t quite right and there are things you need to fix. You have to see adversity as an opportunity for the team to get a little bit better and learn a new way of doing something.”
Asked what advice he has for business leaders on forming an effective team, Jones doesn’t miss a beat. “Know where you want to go and always have the end in mind,” comes the swift reply. “Then find the right people – not the best people, but the right people.”
That means character, as well as talent, is a factor, he says. And it’s important to have diversity.
I probably haven’t always been the most empathetic leader
“The one thing every team has is conflict. And conflict is an important part of success. Diversity helps to bring different views and different ideas, so from that conflict you can then get much more creative solutions to problems. You don’t want people who all think the same way.”
Jones cites former Australian cricket captain Ian Chappell and erstwhile Prime Minister Bob Hawke as the two historical figures he most admires for their leadership qualities. He particularly likes the way that Chappell was able to impose his personality on a failing team, with remarkable results. “It’s a difficult balancing act,” he says. “I want my team to be hard and to play with a sense of adventure, but I also want the players’ individual personalities to shine through.”
With Hawke, it’s his panache and charisma that Jones is drawn to. “People like leaders who have got something that makes them stand out,” he says, adding that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson comes into this category: “I’m not a massive fan, but he’s got something about him.”
It’s fair to say that neither Chappell nor Hawke suffered fools gladly. But times are changing. During the pandemic, many business leaders have learned to lead in a more empathetic way, and it’s something that the straight-talking Jones has also been coming to terms with.
“I probably haven’t always been the most empathetic leader,” he laughs. “I was always quite driven, quite task-orientated, but the longer I’ve coached, the more I’ve understood that empathy, especially with the younger players coming through, is so important. It’s something I’ve had to work really hard on. I’ve used a psychologist over the last 12 months to help myself and the coaching team get better in that area.
“When I first started coaching, the coach would stand in front of the room and tell the players what to do and they’d say, ‘Yes, sir, how high do you want me to jump?’ But now it’s about saying, ‘Right, we’ve got a problem here that we have to solve, so let’s have a think about how we can solve it together.’ The leader’s role is really important in that – sometimes they have to direct but a lot of times now they have to guide.”
When the Six Nations comes to a close, Jones hopes to spend some downtime in Japan, where his wife’s family live. It’s a place he knows well and he’s happy to offer High Life readers a few words of advice if they’re planning a trip.
“Tokyo is obviously the place to go, and it’s a great city. But, if you get the chance, go up to Hokkaido. The natural landscape there is fantastic. The real beauty of Japan is the old, rural Japan. Even from Tokyo you can go an hour and a half up into the mountains and find the most beautiful places.”
But before that, of course, he’s got some more winning to take care of. Or at least losing well.
British Airways is a Proud Partner of England Rugby. Leadership: Lessons From My Life In Rugby by Eddie Jones is published by Macmillan
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