Earlier in the week I was invited to lunch with one of the country’s most successful business people. He is a longtime fan of the rugby league club that I Chair, the Wests Tigers. Every year at around this time I have been invited to a meeting in which he tells me in no uncertain terms how he believes the club has performed.
I am pleased to attend because I have always believed that listening is key to successful leadership. This man has been involved in the club and sport for almost as long as I have been alive and it’s important to understand where an organisation has come from while considering its future potential.
The first year was a difficult conversation. I was about a month into my tenure and he wasn’t happy with how he perceived that the club had finished the year, both on-field and off-field. It was also the first time that “his”rugby league club had had a female Chair and he was curious to understand my motivation. To be honest, I think he was skeptical. I was provided with lots of advice and direction, and he even offered one of his senior associates as a casual resource in case we needed it.
After my first full year as Chair, I was again invited to discuss the year that was. 2015 was, by all accounts, a tough year but one in which we made significant progress on our path to achieving our strategic goals. He saw beyond any of the negative media coverage and congratulated me on behalf of the board on a number of key decisions that he agreed were vital to our future success. Business people understand that the first stage in a turnaround strategy can often resemble a cha-cha dance. Although it was clear that he remained frustrated with the team’s on-field performance, he could see more clearly than most that the following year would be better.
This week’s meeting was to review the 2016 year and season. Our fan was in a buoyant mood. From the moment that he sat down, he talked about the future. He told me that for the first time in a very long time he was pleased with everything that he was hearing and reading about the club. The new ownership structure pleased him, and to say that he was extremely pleased with how the team ended the season would be an understatement. He threw a bunch of questions at me and his response each time to my answers was “very good”.
I explained to him that the job wasn’t yet done and that there were still a number of challenges ahead, but that we were able to look up and to begin thinking about a bigger future with broader possibilities than we dared imagine previously. His confidence in the club, from the board, CEO and management through to the football department and team was encouraging.
As an organisation, we are now far more self-assured and solid in the belief in our people and plans. But every now and then it doesn’t hurt to listen to smart, passionate people who may be able to identify an opportunity or indeed ensure that you are aware of how your customers, in this case our fans, perceive you and your organisation.