Be More Than Stories

Leadership Lessons from the Rugby Pitch

In this series, Korn Ferry interviews people who are living our Be More Than principles.

“It's about allowing people to shine. Coaching is central; the best leaders ask brilliant questions and then listen.”

Name: Bob Casey
Occupation: Managing Director at Korn Ferry and former pro rugby player

I’ve had a lot of great leaders throughout my sports career and at Korn Ferry. One of them once said to me that to do anything at a high level, you need to have huge amounts of energy, and to have huge amounts of energy, you need to be happy.

That’s how I think about my purpose. For me, purpose is all about people and enjoyment of the task at hand, so I can have energy.

embracing the process in the face of adversity - Kamaui Johnson

When I retired from the Irish rugby union, it was a scary transition. My purpose in rugby was to represent my country; it’s very straightforward. But then, I retired at 34 and had to find a new career that was a good fit. I worked with a career coach to understand what I enjoy doing and what I’m good at, and I realized that my skills in leading people and supporting performance were transferrable.

But it was an adjustment to go from leading a group of professional athletes toward a goal to the corporate world, where there are fewer absolutes. You can’t review the match straight away and look at black-and-white metrics. I don’t get as much feedback as I did in rugby, and it took time to adjust to that. The way I was giving feedback initially also wasn’t so well-received, so I needed to adjust that.

When I was a rugby captain, I led a team of people made up of 12 nationalities from around the globe. Some of their cultures are hierarchical, some are more democratic. Some are more focused, some less so. To find a common purpose for the team, I had to understand each individual. It was obvious in this context, but even in a more homogeneous group, everyone is driven by different things.

In my current position at Korn Ferry, I still put teams together, only now they’re teams of SMEs who solve problems for our clients. I do lots of reference checks from different organizations before hiring people. I like to get a sense of what they’re like in different environments.

It’s important to understand the whole person and make sure they’re coming in with eyes wide open about our culture, and that I have eyes wide open about what they’re bringing to the table. I work really hard to find people who will be a good match for the team, and who will find purpose and motivation in what they’re doing.

I think the best leaders are very self-aware; they know what they’re good at and what they're not. It’s about allowing people to shine. Coaching is central; the best leaders ask brilliant questions and then listen. As people begin speaking, they figure the answer out for themselves. It’s empowering.

And back to my purpose, good leadership is also about enjoyment. You’re not going to enjoy every part of a job, but we have to celebrate the good things and not take ourselves too seriously. I think that’s very important.