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Innovation, Rassie Erasmus and the Eisenhower Matrix

Don’t you love it when the script gets flipped?

I’m talking about the Rugby World Cup, of course. I’m 49 years old, and for most of my years on this planet, I have loved but often loathed our beloved national team. Mostly because, for many of those years, they would get in their own way, do silly and self-damaging things on and off the field. Often, much like that really silly rabbit that got outsmarted by the tortoise or supersmart yet self-sabotaging Jamie Dutton in Yellowstone, my beloved Springboks would self-destruct in predictable ways.

Until Rassie. Until the last five years. In the last five years, we don’t just complain about bad refereeing. We do something about it. In the last five years, we don’t get caught off guard by innovations from other teams. We are the innovators. In the last five years, we don’t sacrifice the big goals for short-term gains – we mark key results, and we align systems and people and planning to achieve those.

The greatest challenge for leaders is to drown out the noise. It’s to keep your head when everyone else is losing theirs, and it’s to stay focused on your key goals even when the pressure to change goals is unrelenting.

In South Africa, the job of being the coach of the national team has always been a poisoned chalice. Because, in addition to shouldering the massive public expectation of NEVER LOSING while managing a bunch of millionaire athletes that get told by EVERYBODY how amazing they are, you need to navigate a political agenda that wants you to PRIORITISE INCLUSIVITY OVER RESULTS and defend against the media who WANTS ENTERTAINMENT SO DON’T PLAY BORING OR WE WILL FIND ANOTHER STORY. Hell, it’s a big ask.

So, what did Rassie do?

Well, first, let me share my riff on the Eisenhower Matrix. It’s that amazing tool from the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People as written by Stephen Covey. There are URGENT things. And then there are IMPORTANT things. The trick is to act on your priorities so that the IMPORTANT never becomes URGENT.

Let me give you an example. It’s important to rest a key player. But it’s urgent to win the next game (it’s a minor matchup, but you lost the last one, so you need a win). So you play the key player, you win the minor game… but he gets injured or gets overplayed and he is not match-fit when the big game on the big stage rolls around the following week. Now you have both overtaxed him and not developed a suitable replacement resource, so you go into the game that matters under-resourced and you get a hiding. You let the IMPORTANT (having a fit player with a suitable backup) collide with the URGENT, and you came up short.

I use this matrix in my executive time management training. Here’s what my version looks like:

Leaders, like Rassie, find ways to delegate or minimize the noise (admittedly, in Rassie’s case, his Twitter behaviour might contradict me a bit here).

Leaders ignore or delegate e-mails and interruptions and bad meetings and procrastination activities, and they spend their time doing the important things, according to their key priorities. Build momentum. Enable an awesome team. Achieve important milestones. Keep your eyes on the prize. Engage stakeholders.

Let me take you through the top five in the playbook for Rassie:

1. Strategic Planning

Rassie’s five-year plan on TAKING THE JOB to this World Cup is a clear example of this. What games do we need to win? What games can we afford to lose? And what do we need to get there?

2. Talent Development

Canan Moodie? Kurt-Lee Arendse? Makazole Mapimpi? Cheslin Kobe? Siya Kolisi? Jacques Nienaber? Nuff said. Read his book, he has been working on putting this team together for a decade.

3. Innovation

6-2 and now 7-1 Bomb Squad splits on the bench. The “move”. Traffic lights. Four scrumhalves in a team. And the list goes on…give that man a bells, he sure as hell is keeping everyone guessing and entertained.

4. Financial Management

A pre-game against the All Blacks at Twickenham? A career opener against Wales in the USA? The money side is not necessary in Rassie’s wheelhouse, but he sure knows how to work the system to generate extra cash for the team and the country.

5. Building Relationships

I worried that Rassie had gone too far with the refs. But it now looks obvious that his efforts have opened up a constructive dialogue with his captain and the officials. He keeps the politicians happy with his selections, he leans heavily on his support team especially Jacques Nienaber to share the load, he enables a leadership core and culture in the team that is working and he keeps the public and the press entertained. I haven’t seen this much positive spin on the coach in a World Cup… well, ever. Not even Kitch had this much of an easy ride going in. But then again, Rassie isn’t the coach. More genius, isn’t it? Level Five Leadership, buddy.

In the immortal words of the Gladiator Maximus: “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED???!!!”

We sure are, Rassie. We sure are.


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