The Goodes oil on culture, leadership & winning

You can’t create a winning team by just signing up the most highly skilled people you can afford.

Instead you bind talented individuals together with a set of winning behaviours, according to former Sydney Swans captain Adam Goodes.

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Goodes should know. He was in the team that broke the longest premiership drought in AFL history – 72 years – when the Swans defeated the West Coast Eagles by four points in 2005.

"Ultimately, behaviour is what culture is made up of and we wanted the best team culture.”  -Adam Goodes 

Speaking at the ANZ APEX 2017 ‘The Power of Commitment’ event in May, Goodes said the 2005 victory was a huge moment and brought about by reinventing the team culture.

Goodes spoke at the event with Paralympian Kurt Fearnley and addressed financial advisers on the issue of remaining resilient, optimistic and focused in the face of change and adversity.

Goodes said when Paul Roos became the official coach of the Swans in 2003 he involved the team in setting values and behaviours – which were called “Premiership Behaviours”.

Focus & control

“It was during this time that we had to vote for our very first leadership team – players who would lead the team by example, support and mentor the others and guide the direction for that season,” Goodes said. “There were 11 players voted in. And I didn’t get a vote.”

Goodes decided to focus on becoming more of a leader, working with assistant coach John Longmire and Roos on a plan.

“It was, surprisingly, the simple things like building a greater level of consistency,” he said. “At this point in my career I was quite inconsistent on the field and it was about being more consistent off the field as well.”

Goodes worked to balance all his commitments and dedicate time to things he valued which also kept him grounded.

“Having a bigger voice was really important,” he said. “I was quite shy in groups and it came across like I wasn’t a supporter of the team.”

Working on his leadership development gave Goodes a sense of focus and control and became a major turning point in his career.

“It helped me stay in the moment, on and off the field, break down my actions, focus on what was in front of me and stick to my plans,” he said. “When I did these things, I was more successful and more confident.

“The change of approach and focus really paid off that year. I had an awesome season of football and, by the end of the 2003 season, I won the class best-and-fairest player and received my first Brownlow Medal ... and I was voted into the leadership group.”

Knuckles on concrete

For the next few years the team focused on its Premiership Behaviours and individual roles.

Behaviours included ‘Take no shortcuts’ and ‘I will always support and challenge my teammates on and off the field”. These built the trust needed to give and receive feedback.

“We knew these would be the keys to our success that season,” Goodes said. “Ultimately, behaviour is what culture is made up of and we wanted the best team culture.”

“Everyone bought into those team behaviours. If even one person was just a few minutes late for a meeting we would all end up paying the price, going down to the beach at 6am, in the middle of winter, to do knuckle push ups on the concrete.

“This wasn’t punishment but reinforcement that we are a team and if one person breaks the behaviour, we are all in it together.”

Goodes said the right behaviours were honoured almost more than the skill level of any player.

“If we had a player who showed the effort and intention and commitment to upholding the Premiership Behaviours, we would do everything to support them to increase their technical skills,” he said.

“Our philosophy was that if the mindset and the behaviours were right, we could work around anything.”

Goodes, like everyone else, has his bad days so he devised three steps to pull himself back up:

• It was his choice how the day was going to play out. Every action and reaction has its own consequences.

• Self talk: “I genuinely believe you can talk yourself in and out of any situation.”

• Do little things and do them well. Goodes would fight negativity by doing a few things that made him feel good, perhaps having an extra ice bath or doing some extra meditation.

Most importantly, if he wasn’t feeling well, he would let his team mates know and allow them to help.

“These things helped me change my mindset. If I just got my head right, I knew I could do it, no matter how I felt that day.”

Team focus

In the end, winning came down to the weight of numbers on the day, he said.

“If we had 90 per cent of people in the team playing to their trademark strengths, they would win,” Goodes said. “We just had to focus on our game and our individual roles, trademarks, and Premiership Behaviours.”

When the day did not go their way, the Sydney Swans did not fixate on the other team.

“It is easy to get sucked in and talk about the other team and why they won, why it was tough on us. The reality is, we can’t really predict or change how well other teams play,” he said.

“We can only focus on our game and improving our roles, so that is what we did.”

Fiona Smith is a freelance journalist who writes on leadership, specialising in careers, management and company culture.

Adam Goodes is a Adnyamathanha and Narungga man, chief executive officer of Indigenous Defence Consortium and co-founder of the The Goodes-O’Loughlin Foundation.

This story originally appeared on ANZ APEX Insights.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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