Australian Cricket Legend Steve Waugh's Top 5 Leadership Tips

Steve Waugh has some great advice on leadership. Photo: Getty / Bryn Lennon

Great leaders say great things.

This is no coincidence. The inspiring way they speak is part of what makes them great leaders. Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs, Anita Roddick and Richard Branson are examples of this.

Steve Waugh is a legendary cricketer and captained the Australian team from 1999 to 2004. He’s shown great leadership off the field too, particularly as a philanthropist and the author of 13 books.

He’s on the National Trust’s list of 100 Australian Living Treasures and received an Order of Australia and the Australian Sports Medal.

I’ve been working with Steve recently on his one-day leadership event in Sydney on October 16, where I’ll be moderator.

So I picked his brain on his top five leadership messages. Here they are.

5: Don’t get bitter, get better

I’ve always believed you get better results when you focus your energies correctly. You don’t want to waste energy on things that don’t move you or the team forward.

I’m competitive and have a drive to beat the other team – and sometimes beat individuals personally in competition, but when I see people getting bitter or angry, I always ask whether it’s focused energy or wasted energy.

So in cricket, when frustrating things happened and when there was heated rivalry between teams, I liked to refocus the team on getting better (not bitter). It helps them to focus their energy on winning next time.

4: Why can’t we win every game?

I’m is a big believer in having realistic leadership expectations.

If people don’t believe the goal a leader has set is achievable, then energy dissipates. In fact, personally, as a batsman, I would set the smallest goal to ensure I was focused on the ball in front of me. For example, in my first game for Australia, my goal was not to get 100, it was simply ‘don’t get a duck’. That was the goal. It was a realistic expectation to build from.

But a leader also sets the vision and one day, after looking at our form I posed the question to the team: ‘Why can’t we win every game in this tour? Let’s think about this for a minute. Here’s how good we are. Here’s our strategy, here’s our opposition. Why can’t we win every game?’

And we did. The question crystallised in every player’s mind that it was possible. We looked at it objectively and decided we could. It absolutely focused us on achieving a previously unheard of goal. And it led to the longest winning streak in Australian cricket history.”

3: If you’re going to make a mistake, I’ll make it an original one, not somebody else’s.

A leader ultimately has to trust his gut and have a personal vision for the success of the team. This involves going out on a limb, and it involves risk, but it’s something a leader must do.

Of course, you need to listen to other people’s opinions, but ultimately you have to make the call and sometimes that means following your instincts. It takes courage. And you should expect to make mistakes, but at least if they’re your mistakes you’ll learn from them.

Early on as captain of the Australian Cricket team, I followed the advice of the team manager at the time. It turned out to be a mistake. And, of course, everybody makes mistakes, but I thought at the time; ‘How dumb was that! Not only was it a mistake, but it wasn’t my judgement, so I didn’t learn the lesson and integrate that into my thinking.’

Another example is in publishing.

My most recent book was self-published. My contacts in publishing said this would be a huge risk to self-publish but we looked at it closely and took the risk. That book, The Meaning of Luck, sold a huge number of copies, broke a Guinness World Record for book signings and made a greater profit than if we’d signed to a publisher.

We were also able to price the book at nearly half what similar books sell for in bookstores, offering big savings to readers. That decision could quite easily have been a mistake. The end-result was a great success.

2: Assume nothing

Winning leads to complacency. It’s just human nature. So you need to be constantly aware that this is going to happen. It can be a trap.

You can’t rely on past success and so you must go forward facing the truth head-on. What I mean by this is that sometimes it’s necessary to make hard or unpopular decisions that ultimately benefit the team (or the organisation). Even when these truths are things that you don’t want to hear, that you don’t want to believe. Like cutting a popular player from the next Test series.

Assuming nothing also means that you don’t have to continue to follow a path or direction that’s no longer working. It’s never too late to review and re-focus.

For example, after six years, we realised at the Steve Waugh Foundation that we had to narrow our message because it was getting lost amongst the many charities.

By narrowing the focus dramatically to 1) assist kids with rare illnesses, and 2) by reducing the number of events to just one big event per year, we’ve been able to raise more money and help kids, who up until recently, have had virtually no support.

1: Develop a leadership team around you

When I started as Captain it was in an era when a lot of cricketers had left the Australian team or retired. I made a conscious decision to develop new leaders within the team.

Yes, it’s true that some people just show up as leaders, but if you’re a Captain, CEO or a leader of any kind, you’ve got to create an environment and make specific statements that allow people to demonstrate their leadership qualities.

In a nutshell, no matter how good you are, if you don’t have effective leaders around you to support the vision and drive accountability, you won’t achieve your goal. A leader is nothing without the team.”

There’s a lot to learn from Steve Waugh’s pragmatic and no-nonsense approach to leadership. His leadership messages have helped him motivate a varied team and get great results. These leadership messages help build a team culture where everyone has the attitude and the appetite to do the extra one percent.


▪ If you’d like to learn about the leadership behaviours that get results in addition to messaging, check out the Steve Waugh one-day Leadership event at The Mint in Sydney and receive a personalised signed copy of Steve Waugh’s book, The Meaning of Luck, or a limited edition bat signed by Steve Waugh for a table of 10.
▪ If you’d like to learn how to get vivid messages into your presentations and conversations, consider the MASTERCLASS with Cam Barber in Melbourne and Perth.

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