with greg layton

The Inner Chief is for leaders, professionals and small business owners who want to accelerate their career and growth. Our guest chiefs and gurus share powerful stories and strategies so you can have more purpose, influence and impact in your career.

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In this Best of Series episode of The Inner Chief podcast, we feature former Wallabies’ captain, Stirling Mortlock AM, on going from amateur to professional and connecting success.

I interviewed Stirling for this podcast in October 2019.

Stirling is a former Wallabies, Brumbies and Rebels Captain, as well as a Keynote Speaker, Leadership and Coaching Consultant. He is a Founding Partner of XV Capital Advisory, a sports advisory and investment firm that invests in global sports innovation.

Stirling played in 80 Test matches for the Wallabies, captaining them on 29 occasions and scoring 489 points. He scored the decisive try in the 2003 World Cup Semi-Final in Melbourne and nailed a sideline penalty in 2000 to help the Wallabies claim their maiden Tri-Nations Trophy.

He has a Bachelor of Science from the University of Sydney and also worked for NAB as a Wealth Director in the Institutional Banking sector.

In 2012, Stirling was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for services to rugby.

In this episode we talk about:

  • The transition from amateur to professional rugby in the mid-1990s
  • Giving and receiving feedback in elite high performance environments
  • Being curious, setting goals and connecting success, and
  • Who he feared the most on the rugby field and how he looked to dominate the competition.


Connecting with Stirling Mortlock AM

You can reach Stirling on LinkedIn and via his website.


“As a leader, you have to create an environment where you can happily give feedback to people; good, bad or indifferent.”


On innovation in his rugby career

  • There was no way that we just think of something, like, “Hey, this is a good move. Let's just play it in the game!” A lot of time the innovation would happen in off-season or pre-season, and then there was a bit of opportunity to innovate in midweek.
  • The evolution that can happen during season means teams would beg, steal and borrow anything that's working. So you do something that worked in the first few weeks, but five weeks from now it might not work. So you had to constantly keep on trying to evolve.
  • We were lucky that in those days we had a lot of guys who had great rugby intellect or IP in the game. They were constantly thinking about how we can get better and be more efficient, more effective, more innovative. And so we would actually say, “Why don't we trial this? Why do we still do that?”

On receiving feedback

  • The first thing is you've got to actually have an understanding of where you sit relative to your peers or relative to the market, ie. your customer value proposition.
  • Then it’s being able to measure that or at least have a really clear understanding of that. Then you can try things or look at the feedback you've been getting and the research, so that you can then make an informed decision to improve.
  • The great thing about sport is that it is all about evolving and constantly challenge yourself to be better day in, day out. The challenge is when you transition into the corporate world, often the cycles are so much longer and people don’t necessarily like changing or constantly evolving. If you show them that it's going to categorically make their job easier, or more beneficial to the group or the organisation, people absolutely gravitate towards evolving and changing.
  • Feedback is just gold, especially in sport. Athletes have a performance every week almost and so you got feedback from that performance almost every week from your coaching staff and people who are there to help you get better.
  • From my point of view, it was more about trying to create a constant feedback loop for people on an informal and formal basis, whereby feedback wasn't considered to be me telling you that you're not doing a good job, but that it can also be positive reinforcement. It was trying to break down that stereotype, that feedback is always going to be negative. And it’s not personal.

On the most valuable advice from a mentor

  • My first coach in senior rugby was Gordon Ogilvy, who coached the U19s. All the lessons that I learned when I was 19 about goal-setting and really audacious goals, not small ones, was through him. And then he showed me how to map out a way to achieving those.
  • He would say, “Gentlemen, if you want something to come true in this life, you must write it down. So get your goals, write them down and then share them with someone.” By doing this, it goes from the virtual world to the real world. And secondly, sharing them with someone makes you categorically accountable to those goals that you set and it gives you a deeper connection with the person you shared them with as well.

On connecting success with Unio Advisors

  • So we’re about high-level connectivity and understanding the clients and what motivates them and drives them. Then seeing if there's alignment with what we're trying to do with what they're trying to do.
  • Then it comes down to the unique investments we're getting access to and then marrying them up with clients. So as soon as we understand the clients at that level, then we can say, “We've got a guy who's in that sector that you should meet.”
  • So it's more about us connecting our client base with customers or companies that we know and trying to help them do what they're trying to do and be more efficient, more effective and create success.

On the hardest lesson he learnt from rugby

  • In that World Cup quarter-final loss against England, as a captain, at half-time I came into the change room a bit later than everyone else and it was like a morgue. It was almost like we'd already lost the game at half-time. And I remember just being so frustrated and so we took some time out to collect ourselves. I said, “Right now, we’re not a winning change room. When we're a winning change room, I'll start talking.”
  • And that's the biggest challenge when you're a leader, to try to right the ship when you know it's not where it needs to be heading.

Final message of wisdom and hope for future leaders 

  • I think it's critical for executives to lead by example and part of doing that is making sure that they provide clarity and empower the team that you manage so that they can then do that for their team. And it goes down the chain. In the corporate world, a lot of people manage up more than they're managed down. So make sure that you lead by example with great standards and you provide a framework and clarity for your team.
  • By doing this you create a constant high-performing environment whereby you're giving them feedback, and they’re giving you feedback and you're expecting them to do that with their team.

Stay epic,