Leadership Lessons From A Premiership Coach

posted by Darren Mitchell October 5, 2016 0 comments


Being a avid AFL fan, I, along with millions of others have been following the Western Bulldogs over the last 4 weeks as they embarked on a unlikely journey which culminated in the ultimate prize on Saturday, the 2016 AFL Premiership. How they have achieved this sensational outcome will go down in history as one of the best finals campaigns ever, having rewritten a number of records and set new benchmarks in performance and achievement. For example, no team since the introduction of the final 8 system has ever made it through to the Grand Final from 7th position, let alone win. And no team has been able to win 4 finals games in a row (and gruelling games at that) to raise the Premiership Cup.

For long suffering Bulldogs fans who have had to wait 62 years to taste the sweet nectar of a Premiership, it is sensational. And the way the club went about it has demonstrated that through astute planning, meticulous recruiting and incredible coaching, not to mention a talented playing list, anything is possible. The Bulldogs have now set a blueprint for others to follow. Whether you are an AFL fan or not, what the team has been able to achieve can teach us many lessons, and from a leadership perspective, there is so much we can learn from what Luke Beveridge has been able to achieve.

So whether you are currently in a leadership role, or aspire to become a leader, let’s explore a number of lessons that we can learn from a Premiership coach :

  1. Anything is possible – From the moment Luke Beverage became the Bulldogs coach, the conversation was not around limitations or shortcomings. It was always ‘glass half full’, where literally anything was possible. Luke’s ability to instil this belief into his players created an environment and culture that no matter how dire the circumstances, no matter what the scoreboard was showing, they could capitalise and win. During the season, the team suffered significant injuries to a number of players, really placing pressure on the depth of their playing list. However, even with these injuries, the mantra was still that ‘anything is possible’. This allowed the players to play with a freedom uncommon in the AFL, where taking risks and backing yourself was the minimum standard. And on Saturday, the team showed that anything is possible. What could you and your team achieve if anything was possible?
  2. He created a vision – We hear all the time the importance of creating a vision and aligning everyone to that vision. It is how you get everyone on the same page and marching in the one direction. Luke’s moment to crystallise that vision and galvanise the team came in Perth late in the 2015 season. Coming off a loss, Luke noticed that the 2015 Premiership Cup was on display in the Perth Airport, so he took the opportunity to get his players and coaching staff together and have them visualise winning the cup, and what it would mean to them. At that moment the vision was set and it marked the beginning of the Premiership assault. What is your vision for your team? Is it clear, is every member of your team on board – are they committed to achieving it? This is critical.
  3. He created clarity – It is one thing to create a vision that everyone aligns with, it is another thing entirely to provide a level of clarity where everyone on the team and within the club, is crystal clear on their role. Luke did this brilliantly, which meant that regardless of whether you were the #1 player on the list, or the 45th player, the role was clear, which meant that every player who represented the jumper each week, knew exactly what was expected of them. This allowed Luke and his coaching staff to focus on the game plan, knowing that the players would follow the blueprint. Because of this clarity, and consistency of message, it meant that when the team was confronted with a challenge, they knew exactly what was expected of them, so their focus was purely on the execution of the game plan, rather than questioning their role. Is your team crystal clear on what is expected of them? Do they have a clear and concise blueprint/game plan to follow?
  4. He created a “Handball Club” – this may sound strange that a senior AFL coach set up a ‘club’ to help his players improve their skill set, however, Luke recognised that elite performance requires elite skill set, especially executed under immense pressure. Luke’s gameplay was built on speed and rapid ball movement, so the ‘handball club’ was an excellent way to encourage the players to continue to hone their ball movement skills on a daily basis. What can you introduce into your team that would enable them to improve their skill set?
  5. He utilised everything – a great coach has the ability to utilise any event or circumstance to their advantage. Coming into the role, Luke knew that the Bulldogs had not contested a Grand Final since 1961 and at the time of his appointment, the previous coach had been sacked, and the club captain had left. From the outside at least, the club looked in disarray. However, Luke used this perception as a driving force, to galvanise the players, and since the beginning of 2015, he has been the most accessible coach in the AFL, and his club the most accessible. He understood that emotion can be a driving force, and at no stage during this Finals Series, has he or the club ‘put a lid’ on the emotion, or downplayed their progress. Where other clubs were ‘taking it one week at a time’, Luke and the Bulldogs were daring to dream, and verbalising the fact that they were in the Final Series to win the Premiership, not to simply make up the numbers. This approach, together with a super optimistic attitude, mixed with obvious talent, steely resolve and mental toughness, allowed the team to ride the wave of emotion and secure the ultimate prize. What can you utilise within your team that will be able to propel them forward to greatness?
  6. He set the standard – from a pure leadership perspective, Luke sets the highest standard. He knows more than anyone that leadership is about his team and not himself. Whenever he is asked how he has been able to achieve what he has in a very short period of time, he deflects to his team, to his support staff and to the club. Winning premierships is not an individual accolade as it takes a strong and united club to achieve such a massive outcome. However, Luke has set the example. He actively displays one of the greatest and most effective leadership attributes, selflessness. This was best displayed on Grand Final Day by 3 specific acts: 1) he handed his premiership medal to injured captain Robert Murphy, a man who bleeds red, white & blue, and who was cruelly robbed of a chance to be a playing part of the 2016 campaign when he injured his knee earlier in the season, 2) he allowed Robert and stand in captain, Easton Wood to raise the Premiership Cup (tradition says this is done by the coach and captain), and 3) when the team photo was taken celebrating the win, Luke was off to the side, again allowing all of the focus to be on the players. What standards are you setting for your team? Do you have the tendency to make it about you, or is it all about the team? Make it all about them and watch what happens.

There is so much to be learned from Luke Beverage and the Western Bulldogs – they have rewritten the script, a script which no doubt other teams will attempt to follow in years to come as they attempt to achieve the ultimate success. What does your script look like? Take some of the key points shared above, implement them, and it won’t be long before you and your team will create the opportunity to win your ultimate prize.

To your continued sales leadership success.


If you want to know how you can better lead your sales team, send me an email at darren@darrenmitchell.com.au

If we haven’t already connected via LinkedIn, I would love to connect. Please click this link to send me an invitation.

Also, be sure to download a FREE copy of my e-Book “Lead With Influence – The 7 Strategic Keys to Unleash Your Sales Leadership Potential”. Click on the link to the right of this page to download a copy.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post – I greatly appreciate it, and welcome comments and feedback. Please feel free to comment below, to follow me on LinkedIn, or to connect via Twitter, or Facebook.

Darren specialises in working with Sales Leaders to create, implement & embed a sales leadership game plan that will deliver outstanding and sustainable sales & revenue results. He is also the founder of the Australian Sales Leadership Network, a LinkedIn Group for sales leaders to share insights, strategies, resources and best practices, in order to build high quality, engaged and successful sales teams, delivering profitable and sustainable sales results. To apply to join, please click this link.

*Image courtesy of afl.com.au*

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