Former captain of the All Blacks Richard McCaw, who retired in November 2015 from international rugby, is considered one of the greatest rugby players of all time
Richard McCaw, or ‘Richie’ as he is widely known, is generally recognised as the world’s best open-side flanker. His record as a player and as a captain is without precedent. With incredible leadership skills, today he is global ambassador for the American International Group (AIG).
With a world record of 148 international test caps over 14 years, and captaining the All Blacks to back-to-back world championships, Richie he is the most capped test rugby player of all time.
What do you think is behind the mental strength of the All Blacks?
I think one of the reasons that the All Blacks are perceived as mentally strong is that when you go through tough moments and figure out a way through you pick up confidence from that.
What was the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome during your career with the All Blacks?
I think the biggest challenge that I had to overcome was when your team is not successful and you’re trying your hardest to make it right and the harder you try, sometimes nothing much changes.
Back in 2007 when we had a big disappointment, you question yourself and you wonder what it is that’s going to make the difference. Often it’s not a great big thing but just being able to stop doubting yourself.
One of the big things as a leader is not pretending or not thinking ‘I need to know it all’. It’s knowing that other people have good ideas or the right answers and your job is to make sure that they go into the pot rather than having to come from yourself.
What are the challenges around balancing your personal and sporting life and do you have any advice for new players that are looking to get involved with sport at this level?
When I first started playing I was at university and I was balancing that with playing and it was pretty tough. I gave up university in the end because I was struggling to do both properly and actually the rugby went backwards a wee bit because I was putting all my time into rugby and the harder I tried I didn’t actually get that much better. It felt like I was struggling a bit.
And then I started learning to fly and that took my mind away from the rugby for a period each week. All of a sudden I got the balance back where I really enjoyed both again and the rugby improved.
You can’t do something the whole time because you will get stale no matter how much you love it. Getting a time away where you’ve got a different interest or a different bunch of people even that’s pretty significant.
As rugby is so accessible in New Zealand it attracts players from all cultures and backgrounds, with different experiences and perspectives. How important is it to harness that diversity?
The big thing is to realise that not everyone looks at things the same. When you understand that you set up an environment where everyone can thrive and add their own strengths. If you get that right, then you have a pretty powerful mix and I think that’s what we’ve seen over the years and the reason that New Zealand rugby has been successful.
Even before retirement, you had a number of business interests including directorship positions at several companies. What qualities from sport do you take into these business positions?
One of the things I’ve learned from sport that can cross over to business is how to bring people together to believe in one goal and all go in the same direction. If you don’t get that in a sports team, you’re not going to succeed at all. You put that across to business, if you’ve got a bunch of people all believing in the same thing and all contributing in their area, that’s going to become pretty successful. That’s an easy one to cross over and one that I get pretty passionate about – how to get a bunch of people together to all do the right thing and all achieve what you’re after.
And leadership must be a big part of that?
A big part of leadership is to make sure that everyone gets a chance to feel like they’ve got a piece of it, that they all own it ‒ no matter what your role is ‒ that you’re all working towards the same goal. If you’ve got the right leadership, that drags everyone along rather than have people doing their own thing ‒ that’s when you become pretty successful.
What do you believe are the three key elements of effective leadership?
One of the things that served me well is that you’ve got to walk the talk first. If you’re doing the things spot on to inspire others around you through your actions that’s a big part of getting the leadership side right.
Giving people the chance to speak up and contribute their ideas. As a leader if you feel like you know it all yourself or feel like you have to have all the answers, then you’re not going to have ideas coming from anyone else. Not pretending to know it all yourself and providing times when everyone can speak up and contribute their ideas.
Be prepared to make mistakes. You’ve got to learn from mistakes – if you go in there not wanting to try anything or do anything at the risk of making mistakes then you won’t get better.
Do you think you have to work harder and stronger as a leader?
If you’re the leader of the team you’ve got to realise that people are looking at you to show the way and how things are done. So you have less opportunity to get things wrong or go off track.
What elements of your preparation gave you the most confidence heading onto the field?
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is if you’ve done all the work during the week – you’ve got your preparation spot on – you can take a lot of confidence into what you’re going to do on the Saturday.
If you haven’t got that right, that’s when I feel a bit of pressure. That stress in itself before you even get out on the field can cause you to have a different outlook on things.