The Idea: An old friend recently gave me a book called Legacy by James Kerr. I read its 170 pages in one night. I have personally read, listened to, and outlined more than 500 books on leadership, strategy, influence, and coaching over the last three decades. But this book, a relatively understated account of a New Zealand national rugby union team called the All Blacks, was different. I couldn’t put it down.
Just how good are the All Blacks in the pantheon of great professional dynasties? Well, the iconic 1927 Yankees (Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig) dominated their opposition and concluded the season with a win percentage of 71.42%. And since 2001, the New England Patriots have won an astounding 75.9% percent of their games. But even then, when comparing tremendous dynasties spanning three, four, or fifteen years, none top the truly spectacular tenure of the All Blacks.
The All Blacks have won 77.1 percent of their games over the last 113 years of their existence.
As a reference point, the three greatest American sports franchises ever don’t come close:
- Los Angeles Lakers – 61.46 winning percentage
- Denver Broncos – 61.49 winning percentage
- San Antonio Spurs – 63.47 winning percentage
What’s the secret?
The author of Legacy, James Kerr, was given extraordinary access to the culture, practices, philosophy and habits of this dynamic organization. Here’s what he learned:
- Knowledge of Self – The All Blacks believe the leader’s role is to drive self-awareness. From self-knowledge, character and integrity are refined. And from character and integrity comes their leadership – it’s the soul of the team. The All Blacks culture actively promotes confrontational questions, personal benchmarks and requires daily assessment of habits, limitations, temptations and fears. Only by knowing oneself can one truly thrive.
- Higher Calling – Their central narrative attaches the players’ personal meaning to a higher team calling. The identity of the team matters. It’s not “what” they focus on, it’s “who” they are that is essential. Sustainable competitive advantage comes through a culture of humility, cohesiveness and legacy. The job of their leader is to add to the legacy of the team, embedding positive habits and rituals into their culture. They embrace Nietzsche’s idea: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
- Restlessness – The challenge is to always improve, to always get better, especially when you are at your best. They believe it’s time to change the game when one is at the top of the game. The All Blacks strive for marginal gains in everything. They believe one hundred things done one percent better delivers cumulative competitive advantage. Their culture embraces safe confrontation, story-telling and relentless self-improvement.
In 170 pages, I was reminded that one selfish teammate infects any culture, and the team will inevitably fail. The All Blacks understand that “The strength of the wolf is in the pack.”
They “plant trees they will never see,” focusing on leaving a legacy for the next generation. Culture matters more than talent. And if this culture is protected, the All Blacks will continue to be the best team in the world.