“Leave the jersey in a better place”

James Kerr’s book ‘Legacy, 15 lessons in Leadership’, made fascinating reading over the Christmas break.  It distils the lessons that the All Blacks, particularly in the period from 2004-2011, can teach us about leadership and business.

A central tenet of the All Blacks approach is the management technique referred to as the Socratic method – the question driven, interrogative process. It is summed up in the Maori proverb, Waiho kia patai ana, he kaha ui te kaha, meaning “Let the questioning continue; the ability of the person is in asking questions”. 

So rather than just instructing outwards, the coaches ask questions; first of themselves – how can we do this better? – and then of their players – what do you think?

Reading about this made us at Sport and Beyond think of 3 key themes that we see in good leadership: growth mindset; personal ownership; and being a multiplier.

Growth mindset

This is the phrase coined by Carol Dweck as a result of lengthy research into mindsets and their impact on success. Making a distinction between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset, Ms Dweck has shown that a belief that talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence, can help us fulfill our potential. For those interested in a more in-depth understanding of the growth mindset, this short youtube video provides a good summary.  The basic principle…..the brain is like a muscle that can be worked on and strengthened


What is the first step that the All Blacks’ coaches have taken? An openness to the fact that they can improve, and a willingness to work hard at doing so.

Personal Ownership

The All Blacks then went on ask the players “What do you think?”

They wanted the players to make their own judgements, and take ownership of the answers.  Why? To increase self-awareness, and to ensure engagement.

In a recent senior management team workshop that we ran, this was exactly the approach that the leader took: it was not for us to give the team the answers, but for them to work them out for themselves. Yes they were guided and facilitated by us, and their leader. Yes they used the information that we had gained for them from our tools.  But they did the hard work.

The result? An engaged team, excited about how they could take their learning's forward, and already planning how to do so.


Being a ‘multiplier’ is a concept developed by Liz Wiseman, with Greg McKeown, in their book ‘Multipliers – How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter’.  In contrast to what they call ‘diminishers’, multipliers use their intelligence to amplify the capabilities and potential of those whom they lead.  They inspire their people to stretch themselves to deliver results that surpass expectations. One key distinction between multipliers and diminishers is that the former know and accept that they don’t have all the answers. 

What did the All Blacks’ coaches do? Knowing that they didn’t have all the answers, they asked the players for their input as well. 


As a final note, the All Blacks coaches showed humility with their approach.  Central to being an All Black is that you leave the jersey in a better place.  It’s not about you; it’s about something higher and greater.  The Maori carvings familiar to those who have visited New Zealand are called whakairo.  As James Kerr highlighted, the whakairo remind people that it should be their acts that remain after them, not their vainglory.  He argues that the humility, expectation and responsibility of ‘leaving the jersey in a better place’ lifts the All Blacks game – it makes them the best in the world. 

We shall see this Autumn…….(and we can’t wait to find out!)

Catherine BAKERComment