Sweeping the Sheds

Sweeping the Sheds

Reading Legacy by James Kerr was one of my favourite experiences this past month. I found myself unable to put down the book, completely hooked from page to page, drawn further into the story by the enigmatic way that Kerr effortlessly glides from lesson to lesson in leadership and culture.

The Māoiri Whakataukī, (proverbs) that Kerr includes at each chapter represent more than the guiding wisdom of this beautiful culture. They transcend all societal and cultural boundaries and act as gentle reminders of everyday lessons or personal mantras that can be applied to everything we do.  

I was reminded of the importance of many things, but one that stood out the most to me was humility.

Humility is the backbone of the All-Blacks culture and is never more present than in the analogy of “Sweeping the Sheds” in chapter 1.

In Chapter 1, James Kerr talks about the team's cultural mantra of "Sweeping the Sheds", meaning no individual is bigger than the team and its ancestors. Everyone is responsible for the smallest details - including cleaning the locker room.

True qualities of leadership are discovered in our actions each day. Nobody is ever too important to sweep the sheds, or in the case of the All Blacks, clean the locker rooms.

As the players are taught that they are never too big to do the small things, a culture of respect, humility, cohesion, and purpose begins to develop. Behind the bright stadium lights filled with chanting fans grew one of the greatest sporting examples of leadership in history. 

Humility and Team Culture

“Kāore te kumara e whāki ana tana reka” – “The kumara (sweet potato) does not need to say how sweet he is”

Many CEOs, business owners and people in leadership roles often associate humility with weakness. This could not be farther from the truth. Being successful doesn’t mean we have to be invincible, unbreakable, or perfect.

Staying humble means being aware of, and admitting, the things we do not know. It involves embracing fear, making mistakes, and getting on with it. When you are humble you open yourself up to continuous growth and learning.

Being humble as a leader makes you more relatable and approachable which creates a positive environment where employees feel comfortable showing vulnerability, taking risks and bringing their authentic selves to the table.

Image of three sweet potatoes

Becoming the Sweet Potato

To practice humility requires us to put aside our own needs and do what is best for others.

To be a humble leader means being an authentic, genuine leader. Jeff Bezos has even cited intellectual humility as his top sign of true intelligence. Whilst it might be one of the less obvious leadership traits (for now) it is by all accounts, one of the most effective.

It’s not hard to be humble. We see this clearly in the actions of the All Blacks team as they take turns to clean the locker room after every game or training session.

“So, these sporting superstars clean up their own locker room, looking after themselves, so that no one else has to, we might ask ourselves if excellence - true excellence – begins with humility….” - Legacy

Need to sweep your own sheds?

Here are four ways to develop and preserve humility:

1: Admit your mistakes

We do not have all the answers. That’s perfectly ok.

Those who do not have humility fear admitting their weaknesses and failings.

A sign of strong leadership is having the ability to admit our mistakes. It shows strength of character, builds trust, and encourages team members to do the same.

2: Model and support collaboration

Humble leaders encourage and reward collaboration. When collaboration becomes the norm, team members feel more relaxed, trust naturally increases, and people feel empowered to bring their complete selves to the workplace.

3: Promote employee autonomy

Leaders who lack humility tend to fall into the micro-manager bracket. They become hyper focused on controlling tasks and the team.

Humble leaders in contrast are confident in their team’s ability, lean on the expertise of the entire team and are always open to new ideas and methods of approach.

4: Be respectful

This one is obvious, or at least should be.

Humble leaders treat everyone with respect regardless of their role. Everyone deserves equal respect and dignity. Respect your team members time, skills, experience, personal circumstances, insights, and feedback.

A true leader treats everyone with respect, thus earning the respect of others.

Image of a broom

Humility in Māori Culture

Humility is “a key component of building sustainable competitive advantage through cultural cohesion. It leads to innovation, increased self-knowledge, and greater character. It leads towards mana” - Legacy

In Māori culture humility means that great leadership is behind the scenes. Just because we never saw Jonah Lomu or Dan Carter with a dustpan and broom in hand doesn’t mean they didn’t contribute to sweeping the sheds. Like the sweet potato, they simply had no desire to brag about it.

Humility is key to the success of the All Blacks. Their principles, culture, and beliefs can teach us a thing or two in how we apply humility to leadership in our personal and professional lives.

Humble leaders stay grounded, focused, and above all else gain the respect of their teams by putting the needs of their team, organisation, and culture above their own.

“After a team debrief, the players left the room and the captains stayed back to clean up – they stayed to “sweep the sheds.”- Legacy

Blog by Genie O' Dowd

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