Thursday, 19 August 2010

Personalities and prima donnas - the art of leadership

What kind of personality makes for a good leader on the professional rugby field?

There are no fixed rules but a painfully introverted navel-gazer is unlikely to spark the kind of fire that's needed for a team to set the league alight.

In most cases, what's needed is a vocal extrovert but that can be a tricky issue for a head coach, because vocal, extroverted sportsmen can become vocal, extroverted prima donnas – as Bath Rugby have discovered down the years.

When I interviewed Bob Calleja last week, the departing Bath Rugby stalwart made it clear he'd had to put up with a few egos in the changing room during his decade or so at the club.

Calleja was too diplomatic to say who the prima donnas were, of course, but I'm sure you can think of a couple.

The personality of the skipper is of the utmost importance because it can trickle down to the rest of the squad.

The virtues that a captain needs are varied. He needs to command respect without being intimidating, he needs to encourage while being tough on mistakes and he needs to lead while ensuring others don't become reliant on that leadership.

It has been a stated objective of Bath Rugby over the past half-year or so to cultivate leaders all over the park. That philosophy was encapsulated by skipper Luke Watson's remark after the win in Belfast on Friday night.

"There are so many leaders I can't say I have the leadership role," said the South African, pictured.

And that's not a glib statement. Look through the Bath squad – and the pack in particular – and you'll see there are ex-captains and experienced internationals all over the parish.

These are men whose impact will not be restricted to matchday, either. Their influence will be felt in training, in video analysis and even during 'down time'.

Lewis Moody is a case in point. Of course, there are his skills as a player, but his influence at Bath will stretch much further than what he does at flanker. He is also a motivator, a winner and a colossus in training.

This week his England team-mate Mark Cueto handed Moody a compliment that made me smile, describing him as "far more intelligent on a rugby field then he looks".

It is Moody's fusion of rugby nous and bloody-mindedness that should inject a firm spine into Bath. And judging by the number of players that Bath released over the summer to sign Moody, that kind of spine has cost them a fair amount of wedge.

Now back to Watson. When Bath were going through the dark days of last autumn – when a win was harder to come by than a magnanimous Gloucester fan – head coach Steve Meehan cautioned against fans regarding Watson as the club's 'messiah'.

The South African had yet to arrive but expectations were high given the performances he had been putting in for Western Province while captain.

Deification of Watson to the pantheon of Bath greats may be premature but his impact was immediate. His elevation to the captaincy was, as far as I was concerned, a no-brainer within weeks of his arrival.

And while he is certainly extroverted, there is a selflessness that stems from his Christian faith.

How he performs at The Rec on Saturday in his first home match as Bath skipper will be intriguing – but expect an almighty roar of approval when his name is read out before kick-off.

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