Japan’s Brave Blossoms: lessons in leadership

I was almost certainly not alone in experiencing absolute awe as the Japanese Cherry Blossoms – or Brave Blossoms as they are now known – took down the South African Springboks over the weekend. With Alex Ferguson’s latest autobiographical offering, Leading, fresh from the publishers this week, this sporting upset is a worthy and fascinating subject.

Born in South Africa, at heart I remain a ‘Boks supporter, so those final nail-biting four minutes were riveting to watch. But, as the miraculous game drew to a close I couldn’t help but be left with another – less strictly patriotic – impression. Behind a game described as the ultimate triumph of the underdog is a striking triumph of leadership. In this case, the leadership of coach Eddie Jones.

Jones’s career involves illustrious coaching appointments with both Australia and South Africa, which makes it all the more remarkable that this single triumph made World Cup history. Eddie Jones’s role in disrupting the sporting world is in many respects analogous with leadership appointments in all sectors. At The MBS Group, our definition of talent encapsulates precisely the tenacity, strategic expertise and courage of a coach like Jones: the ability to bring a team from seemingly inescapable mediocrity to global recognition. And, if the barrage of twitter responses and exuberant news articles still flooding in are anything to go by, Jones has achieved this with aplomb. The victory also draws attention to another central priority of great leadership: identifying potential. In Jones’s case, this may well be demonstrated in the recall of fullback Ayumu Goromaru.

Last year, I discussed the remarkable effects of Ferguson’s ‘untouchable’ influence on the recent management decisions of Manchester United. Now, Leading looks set to focus more closely on the less industry-specific aspects of Ferguson’s success, and the brand of individual charisma that goes with it. Almost certainly the same key characteristics that came to my attention whilst perusing the varied analyses of Japan’s literally game-changing performance. The book’s co-writer Michael Moritz recently revealed that his interest in collaborating with Ferguson was born out of the lessons the sporting giant could provide for the venture capital firm, Sequoia Capital, and their value for the many young companies in which the firm invest.

I am always on the look out for examples of great leadership, and nothing seems to capture the public imagination quite like a surprise sporting win (however one’s loyalties lie). The continued success of Ferguson’s career-based publications befits this already-famous destabilising of World Cup hierarchy.

Can you think of any other pertinent overlaps between sporting success and business leadership? Let me know at moira@thembsgroup.co.uk, and have a lovely weekend!