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Culture’s Breakfast, Taking Ownership and Useless Acronyms




“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  

  

Man, I love South Africa. We get sh*t done even despite ourselves. Except our politicians. The liberators became the bosses, and man have they gone sideways in terms of moral fibre. But they have plans. Oh, glorious plans with names like RDP, GEAR and NDP. These strategies promise much and deliver little. And why? Because the underlying political culture is bankrupt, so the strategies come to nought.  

  

Without a strong culture of accountability, you are on a hiding to nothing. But with a strong culture, you can get a lot done hey. Pretty soon we will have the sequel to Chasing the Sun, the glorious repeat of Springbok glory documented by Supersport. Once again we can relive the incredible few weeks that led to a historic 4th World Cup victory. And I’m pretty sure they will talk about the wonderful marriage of sustainable and strong culture, the importance of strong leadership and the many innovations that became the hallmark of this effort.  

  

That culture was built on Ownership. From the very first (significant) game, the home test against the English, Rassie and Co fostered a culture of individual ownership and collective commitment. As Jacques Nienaber put it: “We need a superior discontent, so as to never give up". Each player owned their role. But even more so, they cared about the collective culture. And that’s the magic trick that took them from no-hopers to world champs.   

  

Stephen Covey first made me aware of this principle, way back in 2000, when I first read about the First Habit in his seminal work: Be Proactive. And I, for one, am aware that it’s a daily struggle. To not blame. To claim. Claim your privilege, claim your problems, claim your rights, claim your duties. But it’s a fight worth fighting. I liked the book – and the man – so much, that I thought he should also visit Rassie in his dreams in my new book, Bomb Squad OS. Here’s an excerpt:  



It was the same rugby pitch. Something was different, though. The giant mountain that seemed to loom over them.  

  

“It’s Mount Fuji, the tallest mountain in Japan,” said a bald man with a mischievous look in his eye. He wore a crisp grey suit and a red tie.  

  

“Who are you?” asked The Coach. “And where’s Steve?”  

  

“He asked me to stand in on this one. My name’s Stephen. And yes, I too am no longer alive.”  

  

Stephen was also American. The Coach didn’t recognize him, though. But he felt like this guy might be important, too.   

  

“So, Stephen, are you here to also convince me to do something? I already took the job. And I’m looking at a disaster. These are good players. Many strong, experienced leaders. But they just don’t gel as a team.”  

  

The American smiled. “So there’s a lot of leadership? What about the younger players? How do they fit in?”  

  

The Coach replied: “They are intimidated. Part of the problem is the hierarchy. The senior guys start to feel entitled. The younger guys resent the way things are handled. But there’s no culture of speaking out, of talking truth to power.”  

  

“And you would know something about that, wouldn’t you?” suggested Stephen.  

“Hell yeah. As a player, I thought the world owed me. I was very good. They even offered me the captaincy. But I had no respect. And I was a bit of a troublemaker, too. I suppose I didn’t speak truth to power… the coach, in my case. But I did make his life hell by a lot of stirring up trouble with the rest of the players. When young guys came in that made me feel threatened, I did my best to undermine them.” The Coach sighed. “I wouldn’t want to coach me then today.”  

  

Stephen nodded. “Well, if you had to? Coach you then today? What would you do?”  

  

“I would tell this entitled kid to take ownership. To make it about the team. To stay humble. To work as hard every day as if it was his first day. And if he didn’t change his behaviour, if he didn’t stop the troublemaking and the chatting, I would drop him out of the team, no matter how good or senior he was.”  

  

“How do you think he would take it?”  

  

The Coach thought about it. “I wish the coach had said that to me, you know. I cared a lot about the jersey. I still do. I care about what it means, I care about what we can do. Not just winning… how we can make a difference. So yeah… he… me… would have shaped up, because for sure I wouldn’t have wanted to be shipped out.”  

  

“So then you know what to do,” smiled Stephen. “You have good players… now you just need to remind them that it’s not about leadership.”  

  

The bald man faded away, and the Coach woke with a start.  

  

But his final words echoed in the night: “It’s about ownership.”  




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