Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Sir Fred Allen and Leadership

Last week we saw the death of a NZ icon, Sir Fred Allen. Being a lover of rugby, Fred Allen is a hero of mine. Fred Allen was a lieutenant in the 27th and 30th Battalions. He played rugby for the post-war “Kiwis” army team which toured Britain after WW II. He was an All Black 1946-1949 playing 21 games and 6 tests, leading the All Blacks in the infamous 4-0 loss to the Springboks in 1949. He retired after the tour, throwing his boots into the sea in disgust. He became involved in coaching and coached Auckland in the late 1950’s and into the 1960’s through the golden Ranfurly Shield era when they defended the Shield 24 times. He coached the All Blacks from 1966-68 in a period in which they were unbeaten in 14 tests—he remains the only unbeaten All Black coach. “His” team went on to remain unbeaten in 1969. In 1970 he was asked to come back and take the team to South Africa, but declined and they lost 3-1. Many of the players of that 1970 team believe that if Sir Fred had led the tour, things would have been different. I am not so sure, back in those days the home-refs made touring teams winning more than difficult. Anyway, his legend lives on. He was knighted and ultimately inducted into the rugby Hall of Fame.

As I listened to radio tributes on the weekend from the likes of Colin Meads, Brian Lochore, Waka Nathan, Graham and Thorne, Ian Kirkpatrick and others, I gained an insight into the man. He was nicknamed “Needle” and for good reason, he really got under the skins of the players. He was a brilliant motivator, although fear was one of his best weapons. He trained them remorselessly and demanded the best. His team talks were legendary, firing up the team for the games. Yet the respect his players hold for him is incredible. They literally loved him. He clearly respected the men who played for him and they were prepared to die for him.
Fred Allen, like Arthur Lydiard and others,  is one of those older NZ types of leaders who were uncompromising men, statesmen of integrity, who demanded the best, who both encouraged and instilled fear and knew what the purpose of the team was—to win. He was a visionary changing NZ rugby from starch forward-orientated play to open 15 man rugby. He took the game to a new level.

NZ Christianity and society is short of great leaders. We need men and women who embody something of the Fred Allen mode of leadership.
First, we need leaders of character who are consistent, who blend compassion with demand, who embody what they expect from their people. Fred Allen was respected because he had done it on the war field and playing field, and his men believed in him. He embodied his expectations—hence the men followed him unquestioningly. He led out of example, and he set high standards. Because of his character, the men responded. Character ultimately decides a leaders legacy, we all need to grasp that.

Secondly, we need visionaries who can look at the state of play and see new ways of doing things that will be effective. The gospel is unchanging, but it must be told differently in each situation. Fred Allen saw that the game needed to shift and his team dominated the world. We are in a liquid world, where the rate of change is ridiculous, leaders have to move with the times, see the opportunities, and lead their people into it.
Thirdly, he knew the meaning of preparation. He prepared his team off the field better than anyone else, so when they played, winning was almost certain before kick-off. We need leaders who know how to train and prepare people for the “game” so that they can effectively lead others.

Fourthly, he knew what made his men tick. In that day, the principles of machoism were strong, he knew what it took to get his men to die for team and goal. Things have changed, and his approach would likely not go so well with many in the Millenial Generation. But great leaders learn how to relate to “their people”, what makes them tick. I am sure Sir Fred would have worked that out. Graham Henry has shown how to do it in recent times, showing great skill in motivating each individual at a personal level. Great leaders work out how to connect and motivate.
Finally, he knew the goal. The goal was winning. His team was prepared for that purpose. Yet, he was also a man who demanded his team play with integrity within the rules as refereed, so to speak. We need to know the goal—the restoration of the cosmos, the salvation of all humanity, the building of churches that reflect the kingdom in its lifestyle and mission, to work with God for the extension of his Kingdom.

RIP Fred Allen.

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