When confronted with team members that aren’t the right fit – be it in a high-performing rugby organisation like New Zealand Rugby or a successful financial planning practice – the biggest mistake a leader can make is to delay action according to Steven Tew.
The respected ex-chief executive of New Zealand Rugby says that when it comes to weeding out bad apples, you can never act too quickly.
“I can never recall once when I regretted acting too fast, but I’ve regretted too slow,” he says.
Tew took over at NZR in 2007 and led a business that operates several entities including the All Blacks – who won two rugby world cups during his tenure – as well as the Black Ferns, New Zealand Maori and five Super Rugby franchises.
The ex-chief finished his role at NZR in December last year and doing some project work while deciding on his future path post-rugby. He will join Conexus Financial CEO Colin Tate on stage in a leadership keynote called In These Extraordinary Times to open the Professional Planner Best Practice Forum Online Digital Conference on August 4.
There are a lot of similarities between sport and other enterprises, he says, especially when it comes to picking the right team.
“If you’re talking about a sports team one of the most underrated skills of a good coach is being able to select,” he explains. “Government is no different in that sense. Business is the same thing; your board, senior managers, the leaders underneath that group… you have to have the right people.”
Of course, he notes, the operational framework around a rugby team is “a bit different” to that of a financial planning practice.
“You’ve got to follow a due process because [rugby team selection] is not employment law,” he says. “You can leave the seven out that you don’t think fit the bill, but once you employ someone it’s a very different set of circumstances.”
Tew says the broader team at NZR talked a lot about having a shared vision, or a “North star”, which helped to amalgamate the thinking of stakeholders and unify the direction of stakeholders, whether it be players on the field or administration staff in the head office. Key in that paradigm is the need for everyone to know their specific role.
The parallels to financial planning practice operations are obvious; clearly defined roles and a sense of unified purpose are universal drivers of success in any organisation.
“Leadership is about the people involved in a team or an organisation, one person isn’t the crux of it,” he says. “Everyone needs to know their role and the benefit that function brings to the unit as a whole.”
“You have to have good people that are capable of doing the job they have at a high level, the right people in the right seat on the bus,” Tew continues. “There is a saying in Te Reo Maori; ‘He Tangata, He Tangata, He Tangata’. It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.”
Communication is also a critical tool for a leader, he says “but it’s no good having that if you have poor judgement”.
He cites New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern as a good example of an “authentic leader”, noting both her empathy in dealing with tragedies like terrorist attacks and her decision-making during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“She’s dealt with stuff we would have all preferred not happen and she’s got great capacity to do that,” he says.