Top Gun Inspired Panthers provide a lesson in leadership

Read Time: 2 Minutes

Adam Loong | October 7th, 2022

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On Sunday, 2nd October 2022, the Penrith Panthers rugby league team deservedly defeated the Parramatta Eels (my team 😥) in the Australian National Rugby League (NRL) grand final in a dominating display. During their post-match celebrations (complete with Fighter Pilot level arrogance) the secret of their success was revealed: a dedication to a set of behaviour driven values inspired by the movie, Top Gun.

These values were revealed hanging on the wall of the change room, presumably they had been there all year. Surrounding the mantra of “One Last Dogfight” were the values:

·        Always the Hunters,

·        Brutally Suffocating,

·        Hard Working,

·        Always Connected, and

·        Fast Moving.

If you are an NRL fan and you watched the Panthers play, even if you support the opposition (like me), there is no denying the fact that the team on Sunday demonstrated these behaviours in spades. I won’t bore you with the details of what this looked like on the ground but suffice to say, they executed these behaviours flawlessly.

The lesson that leaders in any discipline can take from this exceptional display of high-performance dominance, is the combined focus that the team had on executing behaviours vice achieving outcomes.

The so-called experts will tell you that the Panthers won the game on Sunday because they had 56% possession, completed at 86%, had 736 post contact metres, 48 tackle breaks…..are you bored yet? These statistics are all outcomes, in your business they’re likely referred to as KPI’s. Whilst it is true that KPI's are important for game-plan analysis, when individuals and teams are driven to achieve KPI's, they under-perform almost every time.

Ineffective leaders will say to their team: “You must complete at greater than 80%”, “You must achieve more than 600 post contact metres”, “You must sell more than 10,000 widgets this month”. Successful and inspirational leaders will replace these aspirational (and limiting) KPI’s with behaviour driven values such as “Brutally Suffocating”, “Fast Moving” etc. Individually and as a team, people can control their behaviours, they can’t control the outcome.

The masterclass of leadership demonstrated by Ivan Cleary (Panthers coach) and his staff is centred on the fact that they trusted their game-plan and trusted the fact that if their players are ‘Always the hunters’, ‘Brutally Suffocating’ etc, then they will achieve greater than 80% completions, 600 post contact metres etc. This trust enables the leadership to focus the individuals and team as a collective onto their own behaviours (which they can control) vice focusing them onto the desired outcome (which they can not control).

Time and time again we see evidence that this form of leadership results in success for high performance teams yet many leaders in the workforce have failed to adopt this winning formula.

If you want to be more like Ivan Cleary as a leader, and you want your team to enjoy success like the Panthers did last weekend, then you need to ditch the KPI’s as a performance management metric and focus on behaviours and actions aligned to agreed values. If you’d like some help on making this change, please drop us a line.

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