Stop talking. Start teaching

Neale Daniher is addressing the young Melbourne Football Club players prior to the Queen’s Birthday game against Collingwood a couple of years ago. It is a big game for the improving Demons against their most traditional of rivals. The promise of an 80,000 plus crowd at their home ground, the magnificent MCG.

The man addressing them is very familiar to everyone in the room. He was the Demon’s coach from a decade earlier, and while few of the young Demons played under him, he is for those few precious minutes, again their coach and mentor.

Everyone in the room understands that their old coach is dying. He has Motor Neurone Disease (MND) and has known of his fate for a number of years.

And Neale’s response to his personal tragedy?

Firstly, give his disease a name, “The Beast”, and secondly, dedicates his life to building a not-for-profit, FightMND that has raised millions of dollars to fight it.

But for Neale Daniher, this moment is not about him, or his insidious disease, or even his charity. It is about the young men in the room. Simply, every opportunity to speak is an opportunity to teach.

It is a great lesson for leaders…

“Stop talking. Start teaching.”

As he speaks to the Melbourne players, he is asked the question, “Neale, knowing that you are dying, why aren’t you working through your life’s bucket-list? Living in Tuscany, going to the world’s great sporting events…?”

Neale pauses, and while his disease has clearly impacted his speech, in his very familiar Ungarie rural drawl made famous by the four Daniher brothers who got to play in the AFL, he says…

“Because son, when it is all said and done, more is said than done.”

Our words tell others what we think, but our actions tell them what we believe.

Neale well and truly understands that to find a cure for MND is to play a long game, and Neale doesn’t have a long time. Neale’s relentless efforts to slay “The Beast” are for the benefit of those who will receive the same heartbreaking news he and his family received a few years ago.

No one in the room is left with any doubt what Neale believes.

He is a teacher.

Jarryd Roughead, champion Hawthorn player and captain was dropped from the senior team for the first time a few weeks ago. From a performance perspective, he responded by kicking five goals, but an act that just happened to be captured on video was far more significant.

In the field of battle, in the middle of the MCG, Jarryd is seen taking time to coach his young Bulldogs opponent, Reuben William. I have never seen this before in 35 years of involvement in the AFL. It is a wonderful moment.

Jarryd Roughead has had quite the football journey, four Premierships and the captaincy of his great club, but also a career put on hold by his courageous fight with cancer. He has achieved so much as a player, but it seems his best is yet to come.

He is a teacher.

When leaders undertake the programs we offer at designCEO, the question isn’t “What did I learn today?”, it is “What can I teach tomorrow?”.

Challenge yourself to answer this same question when you finish a podcast that captured your attention, the book that just made sense, or the wise conversation with someone whose views you respect.

Take the time to write a few notes, collect those important first thoughts, the memorable quote, the compelling argument, the insightful take.

Then build deliberate time away into your routine, remove yourself from the busyness of your day-to-day, to curate your thoughts by aligning the new thinking against your personal experiences and current beliefs.

Have they shifted, changed your view, or added greater depth and meaning to your understanding, be it your broader view of leadership, or a more specific, perhaps tactical approach to your leadership challenge?

Finally, ask yourself “Can I teach it?”.

This question will force you to go even deeper, test your assumptions, seek feedback, as well as encourage important conversations with trusted colleagues, acknowledging their wisdom, and adding even greater depth to your understanding.

This process requires humility, courage and generosity. The vulnerability of not knowing, the bravery to acknowledge this, and then magnanimity to share your learning.

In elite sport, and in my experience, it is the curious and courageous learner-teacher that separates the great coaches/teachers.

Hall of Fame coach Allan Jeans is my favourite example, and his influence on generations of football people is evidence of his remarkable leadership legacy.

The reason for this is simple. For Allan Jeans, identity was fundamental, and he educated and coached based on ensuring you had an understanding of where you have come from, where your place is now, and providing a clear understanding of where you were heading.

The basis from which he built this was trust, and Allan was the type of person who trusted easily, and trusted freely.

Whilst he had a somewhat intimidating veneer, his warmth and wisdom quickly become apparent, as he did what he could to help you find who you are, what you want to be, and what you want to stand for.

And for many young people finding their way in this most distracted of environments, identity can be elusive. It needs to be taught.

You quickly learn however, to benefit from the Allan’s wisened methodology meant leaving your ego at the door, opening yourself up knowing that your confidences were safe, and you would be emboldened by his preparedness to reciprocate your openness.

While Allan’s booming coach’s voice was legendary, his silences were even more profound.

“I was born with big ears, so I figured I might as well use them”, he would say, and listen he would. He also had a unique way of creating the space required for you to work it out for yourself – surely the best form of teaching.

“Success needs no explanation, failure accepts no alibis”, he would say, knowing fully that building resilience means you have to learn from your disappointments. That’s how you find out who you are.

As a personal reflection, my greatest regret as a leader was not spending more time teaching. There were too many times I allowed myself to get lost in far less meaningful aspects of the role, the busyness, the stuff that really doesn’t matter.

With leadership, if you understand what really matters, you get to appreciate what seems to matter.

Teaching really matters.

Cameron Schwab has been the CEO of AFL football clubs Richmond, Melbourne and Fremantle. He is a leadership mentor, and Founder & CEO of designCEO. Find out more about designCEO by visiting www.designceo.com.au.