My first guest on the Courage to Be podcast is Pat Lam – Director of Rugby for the Bristol Bears.

A Samoan international during his playing days, Pat won the 1997-98 Premiership with Newcastle Falcons and the 2000 Heineken Cup as captain of Northampton Saints. He spent five years as head coach of Auckland and four years as Head Coach of Blues Super Rugby. 

While Pat’s background is in professional rugby, he offers up some valuable insights for leaders of all industries, as well individuals who are passionate about improving their performance and raising their game.

It doesn’t take long in Pat’s company to see how much his previous calling as school teacher has influenced his current career and success within professional rugby – a natural contributor and leader.

Some key take-aways from the interview:

  • Pat was brought up in New Zealand and sport has always been a big part of his life – “realising that self-esteem is built from when you’re successful at things” Pat got a lot of his recognition and self-esteem through sport.
  • Pat has grabbed hold of John Wooden’s philosophy “success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable”. 
    • Allowing others to determine our success is risky, instead we must establish our own yardstick for success – internal validation is key.
    • “I got away from outcome focus and really started to talk about process and what I can control and what I can do as a person, as a player and certainly as a coach and partner”.
  • Pat asks himself these two questions in everything he does “what have I done well and what can I do better?”
  • Good times will never change your character.
  • Life will keep throwing us similar challenges until we learn from them.
  • Tough times can be painful but if we can see the opportunity for growth in every situation it enables us to accept or move through that pain more easily.
  • Sport can conjure up the most unlikely of fairytales and Pat certainly has one to tell…
    • In 2012, after 4 years in Super Rugby, Pat was sacked as head coach of the Blues in his home town of Auckland.
    • Getting sacked from Auckland was a major marker of growth for Pat  – he got to join some of the coaches he aspired to be because all of them have lost their jobs at some stage.
    • This was the year that Pat made the biggest growth as a coach and the year that gave him absolute clarity for moving forward driving his new philosophy based around clarity of vision, leadership and culture – three pillars which played a huge role in Pat success with Connaught Rugby when he joined the club in 2013
    • Pat quickly rebuilt his reputation by taking charge of Ireland’s traditional underdog battlers.
    • Connaught became Pro12 champions to secure their first major trophy for 112 years.
    • Whenever Pat is approached about a job, his first question is “what the vision is” as this is the foundation from which Pat operates.
  • Pat’s equation that works in sport or business:
    • the vision drives the leadership – leadership drives the culture – culture drives the performance. 
  • Before signing players Pat looks not only at their rugby ability but their character, their coach-ability and their hunger to succeed based on a dream. It has to be more than a job and this outlook is relevant across all industries.
  • The most difficult part of the job is moving people on and player selection, but all of these decisions are made easier when linked by to the vision – it is not personal – the focus is performance. 
  • Pat places a huge emphasis on relationships – genuine relationship building forms the foundation of any team – not just sports teams.
    • It underpins a players capacity to perform on the field under pressure as well as their willingness to engage in the decision making process and their capacity to solicit feedback.
  • Pat talks to the strategies he uses to facilitate feedback and to help players have a voice – for example allowing the larger group to break away into smaller groups as people are more likely to share a “group opinion” than an individual opinion.
  • Stepping in to “do the right thing” could have a big impact on someone lives.
  • A big turning point for Pat was “having that courage of accepting who I am, and knowing that I am someone who can make a positive difference”.
  • Only 8% of what we worry about comes true.
  • Pat advice is “you are special – there is no one else out there like you”.
  • Pat shares an interesting exercise on “focus”  – explaining that what we focus on has a profound effect on how we show up:
    • When you focus on negative comments you can’t achieve and you can’t move forward
    •  Focus on the people that love and support – this is the energy that’s needed to move us forward and drive performance.
  • There’s enough negativity out there  – you can’t change that but you can change what you focus on.

I do hope enjoy this conversation as much as I did.

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