"A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives" Jackie Robinson
I was lucky enough to attend a ceremony in Dublin City University where honorary doctorates were conferred on legendary Irish GAA broadcaster and writer Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh and Joe Schmidt, Head Coach of Irish Rugby. Both men have excelled in their chosen fields and were both rightly lauded for their outstanding achievements and their dedication to excellence, on and off the pitch.
A theme that permeated throughout the various speeches and compliments bestowed on both was one of impact. Both men through their different careers have made an undeniably impact on Irish society, Micheál is the voice of our national GAA games, a voice that has accompanied some of the most iconic moments in Irish sport while also being a champion of Irish language and for our country’s older citizens. Joe Schmidt is an inspirational leader who encourages and cultivates not only excellence but also important values in every team he has coached.
Occasions like this week are wonderfully inspirational but also a chance to learn and understand why? What makes these people so special and is there anything we can learn for our organisations and staff, that might truly engage and leave a lasting impact?
Impact is defined as to “have a strong effect on someone or something”. It is profound word with a depth of meaning that gives pause for reflection. Surely we all want to make impact? As leaders surely a huge part of our success will be how we impact other people, can we truly engage and inspire them to be the best that can be. Research from Gallup suggests that least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units is a direct result of managers. Great managers consistently engage their teams to achieve outstanding performance. They create environments where employees take responsibility for their own and their team's engagement, they build workplaces that are engines of productivity and profitability.
How do we measure impact? Is it in thousands of loyal followers of Ó Muircheartaighs broadcasts each week or for Schmidt in the countless trophies won? As I looked around the packed auditorium in DCU, it was representative of the different journey both men had made and people they had impacted along the way. For Mícheál, who started his career as a teacher, there were past pupils in attendance together with colleagues from his time in RTE and also friends and family. Mícheál spoke fondly of how his career has offered him the chance to broadcast from across the world although. His proudest achievements are the eight children that his wife, Helena, had reared and gave to them all a good university education and sound footing for life. He has an innate curiosity and sense of adventure. Mícheál's initial broadcast was in 1949 and now all of 89 years old he still has incredible passion for people, for education, for seeking out the new. As he proudly stated, “why do tomorrow what you can to today”. A determination to make an impact every day is powerful behavior to instil in our colleagues. That sense of urgency and determination to push on and seize opportunities.
When Joe Schmidt arrived to manage the Leinster rugby team in 2010, his impact was immediately felt. He would firstly bring a level preparation and attention to detail that had not been seen before by Leinster. However, the more profound impact would be around culture. Schmidt was a firm believer in values and this would be based around areas such humility, relentless and discipline . The focus would not be on winning rather it would be on embedding these behaviors into the group and the results would naturally follow. Schmidt’s players lead through their behaviors, not their words. As Bernard Jackman once said, 'success for him is not just about winning on the field, it is also about the culture of the team'. "You can see the assistant school principal in him. He places a huge emphasis on discipline." In terms of the upcoming World Cup, while Schmidt could not guarantee victory he confirmed that the team would commit to their values and would leave no stone unturned.
As a leader, there is probably not greater way to impact upon a group of people than through culture and looking to embed behaviours that might transcend even your time with them and rather be values that they carry throughout their working lives. Two-thirds of companies say that their cultures do not align with business objectives. This is the core definition of a “dysfunctional” culture. The impact of a dysfunctional culture can damage employee engagement (which is commonly viewed as a leading indicator of growth and business performance). So for managers looking to truly make an impact and engage with employees, culture would appear to be a great start and this is what marks Schmidt out as such as impressive and successful coach and leader.
As the proceedings closed, I was struck by how many shared behaviours and characteristics both men possessed. Both men where teachers, so education was a huge part of their upbringing and has hugely influenced their families and values. Mícheál proudly stated that a good education is “more value to them [his children] than if all my best had won and given them a million euro each”.
Joe Schmidt, a former teacher is renowned for his ‘classroom’ sessions, forensically analysing performances while players are expected to have their homework done and ready to contribute to each session. Feedback, both positive and negatives, is paramount to high performance culture in his opinion. So how do we leverage feedback as managers? Do we constantly seek to provide a flow of information or do we wait for the formal review? 65% of employees say they don’t receive enough feedback from their managers while 9 out of 10 will disengage when manager give little or no feedback. Schmidt doesn’t wait until the end of season to review games, there is a continuous flow of information and an environment created to both learn and grow. The Kiwi likes to quote Aristotle to the players: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit."
Both men also shared a sense of adventure and confidence that has led them to success. More than 23 years ago, Schmidt travelled to Mullingar to complete an “OE” spending a year getting Overseas Experience. He made lifelong friends during his stint in the midlands (some of whom were at this week’s event) as well as coaching the first XV at Wilson's Hospital school near Mullingar and coaching the local team at Mullingar RFC. Indeed, it was this welcome in Mullingar that helped to draw Schmidt back to Ireland in 2010, when the offer of a job in Leinster came up. Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh had never even seen a game of hurling when he commentated on his first game in Croke Park, a Railway Cup final in 1949, his curiosity getting the better of him as he followed up a poster in his teaching college looking for ‘commentators’ and as they say the rest is history.
I think the final observation in terms of a shared purposed from these “people of impact “ was discipline and hard work, that quality that we can all seek to emulate. Ireland rugby legend, Brian O'Driscoll described, his former Ireland coach, who regularly puts in 12-hour days, as a "workaholic". When he gets home in the evening after a long day's slog at the office, the obsessive coach is said to fire up his laptop and study video clips. Mícheál is known for his encyclopaedic knowledge of the GAA and prepared meticulously for all games, often times knowing a huge amount of background information on all the players. It was this passion for the local, that intimate detail, that enabled Mícheál to engage with everyone in over the years. His love for the game, his passion for its majesty shone through. It was so eloquently said that “his voice resonated with the soul of a nation, it was evocative of our culture, of our identity and of ourselves”.
The focus here isn’t one of success or achievement rather it is about understanding some of the building blocks of both individuals . Their principles are simple, the values easily spoken but harder to live by. Real impact, whether in work or life, isn’t easy to quantify but will be more so felt by the people around you. Even small gestures at home, more meaningful conversations at work, focusing on impact rather than simply “managing”, all contributing towards something real and sustainable and for the long term.