All Black legend turns ambassador for the next generation of leaders
As the 2023 Rugby World Cup goes into the finals, it's worth pausing to think about what happens to rugby players when they hang up their boots. In 2020 Dan Carter made the gut-wrenching decision to retire from professional rugby. Thanks to the pandemic, his retirement at age 37 was taken out of his own hands.
But it wasn’t easy to just stop when he had led such a structured life. In our Author Access interview and in his new book "The Art of Winning" Dan admitted he struggled with his identity, leading to anxiety, self-doubt, and feeling rudderless.
So, instead of “retiring” he began a process of repurposing – where he established his own set of values and beliefs.
He asked himself, “What exactly is it that you love about this game and want to take into the next chapter of your life?”
He listed out:
· Strong work ethic
· The teamwork and team ethos.
· Giving back to the community.
· The spirit of rugby (going to “war” for 80 minutes and building friendships after the game).
· The social diversity.
· The impact he’d had on the next generation.
As a result, Dan Carter has launched his new career as an ambassador for the next generation of leaders. The Penguin-published book "The Art of Winning" is jam-packed with insights and experiences that can positively impact businesses, leaders, and people going through a change in their life or seeking self-improvement.
Here is a very brief overview of insights from his interview and book:
Dan Carter’s purpose (his ‘why’) was to be an 'All Black great.' His guiding mantra (his ‘how’) and one of our favourite quotes from Dan is was “What would an All Black great do?” In other words, what actions would bring his purpose to life? By breaking down his purpose into manageable pieces he would strive towards achieving certain goals every single day. Dan spends every Sunday planning out the week ahead, setting goals he wants to achieve for the week. For teams, he recommends discovering your shared, collective purpose.
Dan says the past can teach us, and help to establish, the core values and guideposts to continue and enhance that legacy. In New Zealand this is called whakapapa. Dan says it is a powerful task for any organisation with a history to look back and examine what the past may teach or inspire its people into the future. His own “repurposing” journey meant he found what he loved about his past and built it into his future. “I was effectively asking myself, “Who am I?”, he says. 'What are your key values?' 'What legacy do you want to leave behind?'
‘No individual is bigger than the team’ is an All Black value. Dan says he believes it’s a Kiwi value too. For an organisation’s culture to thrive, he says, this also must play out. So, it’s crucial to recruit on character, not just talent. It requires good onboarding, and reiterating that a simple mantra is always kept in mind: “What’s best for the team?” Dan points to the most famous of the 15 All Blacks mantras of ‘Sweep the sheds’ which means pulling your weight on and off the field. Working together, all striving towards excellence, focusing on the important issues – these are what’s best for the team.
4. Mind Management
At one low point in Dan’s career, he turned to the team’s mental skills coach and learned techniques to manage and calm his mind, and (just as powerfully) that it was okay to ask for help. Dan began to turn to his mental skills coach in good times as well as bad, to maintain his wellbeing, hold himself accountable and ensure he wasn’t becoming complacent. One key technique was learning to live in the present. Instead of ruminating about the past, ask “What needs to be done now?" And focus on that task.
5. Pressure is a privilege
All of the most successful people in the world live with pressure every day, says Dan. Being focused on the 'here and now' is the state you want to be in for any pressure environment, as it’s the one where you are best able to make the right decisions and execute your skills effectively. The All Blacks call this keeping a “blue head” (clearer, calmer) instead of a “red head” (not in control, making poor decisions). Start to recognise how you react to pressure situations. Do you tend to fight, fright, or freeze? Dan's red-head response is to freeze, and in rugby games he would slap himself on the leg to remind himself to keep a blue head. Dan says you need a process to focus on and help you deal with the pressure when in that moment. Try scenario planning by asking “What if?” questions.
Dan says he wouldn’t be the man he is today if it wasn’t for difficulties and setbacks along the way. Allowing yourself time to grieve and deal with your difficult feelings after a setback means you’re building towards coming to terms with it. However, after a time, he says, you need to move on and decide if you should “park it, dump it, or deal with it.” Return to your personal purpose to give you direction and reset your goals according to the new reality. Focus on what you can control and throw all your energy into that. Find the opportunities for growth.
7. Make yourself heard
Leadership is a skill that can be learned and developed, and in any strong organisation you need leaders “all over the team.” Dan says that he had to practise and train to be a better communicator; clear, precise and direct. He also learned to demand excellence from others, and have the uncomfortable conversations that this entails. With the “no individual is bigger than the team” as a core value, he did this in the best interests of the team. He also stresses that it all starts with listening – really tuning into what’s being said.
8. Staying ahead of the competition
Dan says if you’re not evolving you’re standing still. And, if you’re standing still, the competition can catch you up. Key to successfully scaling your next peak in an ability to embrace a beginner's mindset, to be humble enough to accept that you’re beginning again and you need to learn new skills and start over. You also need to have a growth mindset – to see opportunities when circumstances and challenges come along. Dan says for teams and organisations, consistent success means ensuring you have the people and attributes to get you where you want to go – not just those that have got you this far.
In this chapter, Dan counsels leaders to develop their own leadership style and make it unique to them. Be authentic (your real self not your ideal self). “Never forgetting where you came from is about staying true to your key values, who you are deep down,” he says. What are your advantages? Are you able to identify them and be grateful for them? Are you maximising them to unlock your true potential?
Dan kicks off his final chapter with the words: “Do what’s right when no-one’s looking.” He says he always prided himself on the work he did behind closed doors – doing what’s right when no-one’s looking. “If you’re serious about pushing yourself and achieving big goals, there is definitely going to be some sacrifice,” he says. Dan says it may mean saying no to things in your life that are going to potentially get in the way of achieving your main goals. And, on the journey to great, remember to celebrate your successes on the way.
Dan says that if “The Art of Winning” is about anything, it’s about being able to win those battles with your mind. It’s about being able to strive for something where success is never guaranteed, where pressure and doubt come with the territory. He says it’s about chasing victory when defeat is a very real risk. And, it’s about striving to get that little big better every day, without becoming overwhelmed by the outcome.
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