In this Best of Series episode, we hear from former Wallaby rugby player Daniel Herbert, CEO of SSKB on what executives can learn from elite sport, what made him stand out from the pack and how to be indispensable to an organisation.
Daniel played 67 tests for the Wallabies, Australia’s national rugby union team. He was a part of the glory era of Australian rugby, winning the Rugby World Cup in 1999, the Bledisloe Cup contested between Australia and New Zealand, and also beating the British and Irish Lions in 2001, a series that Wallaby players only contest every 12 years.
He also captained the Queensland Reds and was World Player of the Year in 1999. In short, he is an Australian sporting great.
Since retiring from rugby, Daniel has gone onto a successful corporate career, having been involved on the commercial side of sportswear brand Skins and the Queensland Reds, and is now the CEO of property services firm, SSKB.
In this episode, you’re going to hear Daniel talk about:
- Lessons from elite sport, and what hasn’t translated into the corporate world;
- Living by his mantra of ‘Hard work will beat talent when talent doesn’t work hard’;
- How he became indispensable to his team, and how this applies in the corporate world; and
- Why an aligned executive leadership will knock it out of the park.
Connecting with Daniel Herbert
You can connect with Daniel via LinkedIn.
Books and resources
“People threaten you with legal action all of the time, it’s used as a bullying tactic. I now don’t fear it. I’ve been through it personally where it was a really tough thing for me and my family, but I don’t fear it anymore.”
On talent versus hard work
- I think I made the most of what I had. I played with numerous people who were more talented than me. I got to where I got from hard graft and I had to look for opportunities, take the opportunities and I had to work harder than others did to get there
- That became part of my mantra, I would work when I knew people weren’t working. I would deliberately go running at midnight when I knew everyone else would be in bed. I would go on Christmas and kick some goals down the local park because I knew everyone else was sitting at the dinner table and that gave me this confidence that I know no one else is out there working today.
- Hard work will beat talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
On what executives can learn from elite sport
- You will always have weaknesses and while you try to improve your weaknesses, spend more time on your strengths than you do fixing up the weaknesses. In business, I can get people to fill my weaknesses but I can’t necessarily get people who have better strengths than me where I think I’m particularly good.
- Don’t be threatened by people who are really good, you’ve just got to get the best people around you (as long as they are not a real cultural risk).
- As a CEO or a senior manager, you have to be a generalist, so you have to be across a lot of different things, but you still have to have something that you focus on.
- You need to influence the right people. You’re never going to please everyone; I’ve never pleased all ends of the spectrum and I don’t lose sleep about that. But the ones that I need to influence, I make sure I spend the time with them. I don’t worry about people who are critical or small-minded who aren’t going to influence anything. I spend my time on those who are positive and can influence and shape the direction that we are going.
- The Chairman of the Australian Rugby Union at the time, the CEO, the coach and the captain, always seemed to be aligned. They got on well, they always seemed to be on the same page. In the team environment, the leadership group was always on the same page. And that is a really important thing I see in business places where you see general managers undermining the CEOs and it’s always just to win a bit of favour.
On being indispensable
- I thought, if I can be that guy where the coach builds his game plan around me, or builds a certain element of his game around me, then that’s a little bit unique, because I don’t think anyone else necessarily has that skill set. And so I trained accordingly.
- You need an opportunity but you’ve also got to make your opportunity. I don’t think you can just sit there and wait and someone is going to come and tap you on the shoulder one day. People have to see that you’re going to put the shoulder to the wheel and you’re not one of these clock-in, clock-out people.
- You’ve got to have skills, but you can be taught skills as long as you have the right levels of honesty, work ethic and loyalty.
- That is the value of networking – make sure you offer them something of value. If you bring people into your network, what are you going to give them and what are they going to give you?
- When it comes to hiring people, it’s not always the most talented, it’s not always the most educated, it might be someone who just demonstrates resilience, perseverance and grit.
- I used to make the mistake of putting down 20 tasks on my list a day. And you would get to the end of the day and you’ve got two of them done and then you work through the night trying to get the others done. It’s just not sustainable because the work never goes away. So I have come to the point now where it’s two or three things per day.
- I also have thinking time. You just become so busy that you’re not actually thinking about whether you and your team should be doing those tasks at all.
Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders
- You have to impress. You have to still do the work, you have to still stand out from the crowd because there are a lot more people coming around, there is lots of competition, don’t rest on your laurels.