What can modern business managers learn from Warren Gatland’s coaching style?

It is often said that the key to successful management is making the right decisions.

Thu, October 3rd, 16:22


So when faced with your next really important decision at work, what are the steps that to follow when making that big call? In reality, it’s a situation that management at all levels face every day, but we probably don’t actually realise it. Numerous books and articles have been written about how to make the correct decisions, and as a result, there is now an entire science devoted to helping us make business decisions.

The recently commenced rugby season reminded me of one of the biggest and most significant sporting decisions made this year and perhaps one that will be recalled in Ireland with a mix of disappointment and relief.

We all know the story; Lions coach, Warren Gatland, decided to drop the most decorated player in Irish Rugby history, Brian O’Driscoll, for the final test in Australia. The decision sparked massive global outcry and criticism of Gatland both in Ireland and abroad. Personally, I could not understand the logic of why Gatland chose this course.

However, as we all know, it worked out for the best. The British and Irish Lions went on to win the test series, and whether you agree or disagree with Gatland, he is now hailed as a hero and credited with a first test win in 6 attempts spread over 20 years.

Analysing this strategy from a business management perspective, it is easy to infer that Gatland is a man of strong convictions who is not easily swayed by outside influences. While it is crucial that management be open to advice and suggestions, if you have a clear vision for success, then maintaining 100% focus is of the utmost importance. When making tough decisions in your job, having such integrity can be a powerful asset

1. Better to be wrong with your own thoughts than compromise 

In business it is often best to admit when you have erred in your decision making then compromise your values. Gatland also felt that during the course of this tour, he would need to change his approach as he knew the Aussie’s would be very good at reading his hand and predict what was coming next. Therefore in the course of 3 matches against Australia he made a total of 11 changes, which is unprecedented in modern rugby. This kept the Lion’s style of play consistent throughout.

2.     Change is not always required

If you are finding that your team management strategy is lacking in certain areas and not delivering the desired results, then perhaps you need to consider making changes. However, some decision makers sometimes feel it necessary to make changes where they are not needed. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is certainly an important mantra for any business to operate by and one that Gatland deployed to great effect.

3.     Remain loyal to a strong Core Team

Arguably more influential than the changes Gatland made, were the changes he did not make. He recognised that without certain members of his team, he would lose. The 3 crucial players that he kept on the field at all times (apart from the last 10 minutes of the final game) was Prop  Adam Jones credited now with destroying the Aussie scrum, Johnny Sexton who managed putting the team in the right position and Leigh Halfpenny who simply kicked the ball over the bar.

Naturally, be it in sport or business, luck plays a major part, but when you consider the three reasons above, there is a strong argument that if you follow these principles, you will end up making your own luck. Next time you are faced with a really important decision, you could do worse than use Warren Gatland’s approach when making those calls

The very best of luck.

Graham Burns

The Irish Times