Review: Legacy by James Kerr

Review: Legacy by James Kerr

“Leaders create leaders.” “Sweep the sheds.” “Don’t be a dickhead.”

I ran across the subject of August’s book review after reading an article about the Chicago Bears new head coach Matt Nagy and a book he’s using to establish his team’s mentality called “Legacy” by James Kerr. The book delves into the culture that surrounds the New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Team, one of professional sport’s most dominating clubs anywhere. The expectations for this team by their fans are tremendous. They are expected to go undefeated, and they often do. If you’re not familiar with the All Blacks, I suggest watching All or Nothing – New Zealand All Blacks on Amazon Prime. I dropped the trailer for the series in this post below.

Legacy by James Kerr
Legacy by James Kerr

To start off, “Legacy” is not a book about rugby so don’t worry about being bored by it if it’s not your thing. There are no deep diving analyses into X’s or O’s to play the game better on the field. This is instead a book about team building and leadership. James Kerr tries to dive into the collective culture of the All Blacks to tease out the secret sauce that creates the team’s winning ways by studying the customs, mantras, character, traditions, and thinking that comprises its makeup. There is a lot to cover, but much of it distills into a few simple ideas that can benefit any organization, whether it involves sport or not.

Kerr writes about the simple team principle of “sweeping the sheds.” This is based on the practice of All Black team members, regardless of tenure or position on the team, cleaning up the locker room after a test instead of relying on porters or janitorial staff. It’s the first step in a culture that communicates service to each other, to the organization, to taking care of the small things, and establishing a system of values. It all feeds into the idea that better people make better leaders, which means building a culture that supports growth and excellence. The simple rule of “don’t be a dickhead” obviously connotes a need to keep cohesion on the team, made famous after an embarrassing incident where an All Black was sent home during a tour after a bar brawl to live his life in seclusion. In today’s world where collaboration is needed to solve complex business problems it can pay to find ways to get everyone to work towards a common goal.

As a takeaway from the text, I found some parallels to my own system of beliefs that resonate with me. I’m a believer in success being found along the path towards attaining an optimal combination of character and capability. Both go hand in hand, and I am always trying to find ways to improve my own and that of my sons. It’s a big reason we joined Cub Scouts and focus so much on the Scout Oath and Scout Law. The All Blacks tackle both in building a culture that sets the expectation that a member of the team excel in each category, an important caveat when competing at the highest level, and I believe is especially important in today’s business climate. Growth can be hard and bring pains, and trust me I’ve taken my share of hard knocks, but it’s absolutely necessary however you can make it happen.

The book also communicates that culture is based off of a system of meaning that everyone understands and binds the group together. For the All Blacks, this means relying on various traditions and legacies that come with the uniform, as visual or auditory reminders of their values. I won’t go into that in this review, because in the end I’m not going to suggest a business meeting starting with a rousing haka, but I think there are many parallels in business that suffice that if recognized can be used to anchor its values at all levels to promote shared ownership and responsibility. I think culture is important, and having witnessed the cultures in organizations of various sizes and industries, the ones that really lived theirs seemed to have the most passionate employees. How you build that comes from the top down and is shared to others by their witnessing of it in action. That’s why it’s paramount to strive for alignment between the words and deeds, which is also a character trait.

Thanks for reading my short review James Kerr’s “Legacy.” If you want to read more of my non-fiction reviews on everything from books to podcasts to documentaries, click HERE.

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