Stephen Moore: The best leader isn't the loudest

Wallabies captain Stephen Moore says the best leader isn't always the loudest voice in the room.

The best leader isn’t always the loudest voice in the room, says Wallabies Rugby Union captain Stephen Moore, but you will always find them consistent and resilient.

By Martin Lenehan

Imagine working your whole career to achieve the ultimate honour in your chosen field, then having it snatched away in the blink of an eye.

That was the fate of Australian Rugby Union captain Stephen Moore in 2014 against France, when his dream job turned into a nightmare two minutes into his debut match as skipper.

Having given his all for his country in 91 tests and two World Cups and finally reached the summit, Moore could scarcely comprehend the news he’d require a full knee reconstruction and would be sidelined for eight months.

In that moment, the qualities that have made Moore one of the most respected leaders in Australian sport were needed more than ever.

“The ability to deal with adversity and be resilient are crucial traits for a leader – and that’s something I’ve had to deal with a lot in my career,” says Moore, who is a keynote speaker at CPA Congress 2017.

“Those two things are becoming more and more important in all parts of life. It’s vital that we make sure our young players are able to deal with adversity because not everything is going to be perfect all the time, and you need to be able to keep your behaviours consistent even when things aren’t going your way. 

“When things aren’t going well or you experience adversity, it’s always the leaders that people look to in terms of their body language and what their response is, and I’m always very aware of that. There was a lot of excitement in the week leading up to that match in 2014, and it all unravelled in the space of 30 seconds, so I had plenty of time to take a step back and contemplate things.”

The power of calm

History records that Moore has fought his way back to captain his country 26 times, including the 2015 World Cup Final against New Zealand in London.

At age 34, and sitting 10th on the list of most Rugby Union test matches played with 120, Moore is very much a calming influence on a young Wallabies squad that has copped plenty of criticism about its on-field performance in recent months.

“The first thing to suffer when things aren’t going well is people’s self-belief to be the best in the world or belief in their own ability, so the leader’s role is to build that back up again,” says Moore.

Leadership doesn’t require a title. You don’t need to be captain or CEO or have stripes on your shoulder to be a leader.

“Leadership is about consistent behaviours. If your behaviours reflect what your team values are and what you have set out as the direction for the team, then you have a strong culture.

Stephen Moore, Wallabies captain.“Two of the leaders I really admire are Giam Swiegers, who ran Deloitte Australia for 12 years and now runs consulting group Aurecon. His offsider at Deloitte was Gerhard Vorster, who has been one of my biggest mentors in my life and my career.

“Those two guys are very understated and that’s a real quality in a leader – not feeling like you have to be the loudest voice.

“The loudest voices can often drown out the rest of the group and I admire leaders who remain understated, despite having a very senior role somewhere.”

Moore first met Vorster while doing some work for Deloitte in Canberra as he underwent rehab on his knee.

“Deloitte had a close relationship with the ACT Brumbies [Moore’s Super Rugby club in 2014] and Gerhard was driving that, so I got to meet him,” Moore says.

“Deloitte were doing a fair bit of work with the Australian Defence Force and I got to go on a trip to a soldier recovery centre in Darwin with them.

“We played some wheelchair rugby and basketball with the guys up there, and after seeing the Invictus Games in the UK that year I had the idea that we could bring it to Australia.

“During the next 18 months we went about meeting the governor-general and Defence minister and various stakeholders, and put in a bid to have the Games in Australia, which we won.”

Founded by His Royal Highness Prince Harry in 2014, the Invictus Games is an international sporting competition for servicemen and women recovering from injury, both physical and mental, and has previously been hosted by London, Orlando and Toronto.

“Leadership doesn’t require a title. You don’t need to be captain or CEO or have stripes on your shoulder to be a leader.”

Moore is now proud to be an ambassador for the 2018 Invictus Games being held in Sydney, alongside the likes of swimming legend Ian Thorpe and two-time America’s Cup-winning yachtsman James Spithill. The Wallabies skipper joined Kylie Minogue at Australia House in London last year to film a TV commercial for the Games, which involved him exchanging a surfboard with Prince Harry.

“I’m not sure he’s had a go on it yet!” Moore quips. “He is a big driver behind how the Games roll out around the world because he is so passionate.

“It’s going to be amazing to have the Games in Australia in 2018, because I have seen first-hand the power sport has in helping people recover from not just physical injuries but also mental injuries. It’s incredible the adversity these athletes have overcome and it puts a lot of things in perspective when you have an injury on the sports field. I’m really proud to be involved and it has been really rewarding.”

Benefits of experience

Beyond his incredible achievements for the Wallabies, it’s clear that Moore takes enormous pride in his ability to unite a team and produce great results away from the sporting field.

As one of the elder statesmen of Australian Rugby, he was heavily involved in a plan to acknowledge the Indigenous community before every home test match this year.

“We had a chat with the coaches and some of the senior players and decided to have a member of the local Indigenous community do a Welcome to Country before every test,” Moore says. 

Running the ball at a Bledisloe Cup match in Wellington in 2016.“I think that’s a wonderful thing about Australia: acknowledging that diversity and the people who were here long before Europeans arrived. That involved a lot of collaboration with players, coaches and administrators off the field and that’s very rewarding to see that come to life. 

“We will also be wearing a special jersey for our Bledisloe Cup match in Brisbane in October, which pays tribute to all the Indigenous men who have played for the Wallabies. 

“Kurtley Beale is very passionate about his Indigenous heritage and he has spoken a lot to the team about what that means to him.”

That’s the same Kurtley Beale who has had his share of dramas off the field but has now developed into a natural leader and a role model for his people.

During his 12 years in Wallabies national colours, Moore has seen many talented but troubled youngsters struggle with the pressure of life in the spotlight.

The proliferation of social media has only served to heighten the anxiety and Moore is acutely aware of the challenges facing his team as armchair critics across the country line up to take a shot.

“It’s a reality of life these days but you see players getting right off their social media now because some of the abuse is leading to mental health issues,” Moore says. “It’s a real threat for young people and we have to make sure young players aren’t being impacted negatively by that. If you are fragile in any way, then that sort of stuff can have a big impact on your mental state.

“One of the most satisfying aspects of being a leader is when you see someone flourish after they have done it tough in the past or had some problems off the field.”

Harness the talent

Born in Saudi Arabia to Irish parents, Moore moved to Australia when he was just five. He went to Brisbane Grammar School, whose alumni include acclaimed author David Malouf, former Justice of the High Court of Australia Ian Callinan, Socceroo Matt McKay and CNN war correspondent Michael Ware.

With dreams of following his father into medicine, Moore studied biomedical science at the University of Queensland, but his passion for rugby soon took hold.

“Dad’s a doctor and I wanted to study medicine but, over time, my interest drifted a bit. I got more involved in rugby and through that I got more exposure to the corporate world and became fascinated as to how that all worked,” Moore reveals. 

“There are plenty of parallels between sport and business – things we would see in our field that we can share with other people.

“The number-one thing is to have a vision about where you want to go in your team but also have the capacity to let other people lead within your team. 

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“That has been the biggest change in leadership in my time in rugby. When I started it was very much a command-and-control structure, where the guy at the top [captain or coach]dictated everything. He set the tone and really told people what to do, rather than creating an environment where you steer people in the right direction and you educate people about what you’re trying to achieve, then you let them make decisions around that. 

“Ultimately, people within that team will stand up and lead in their own right. If you can get to that stage as a leader then you’ve done a good job, and you can step back a bit and watch your teammates lead.

“From what I’ve observed in corporate life, young people come into the workforce or into a team really well equipped and with a clear idea how they want things to go. It’s up to the leaders to harness that in the right way.”

Becoming a leader

“Are you a natural leader or have you had to work on it?” It’s a question Stephen Moore has been asked many times and he’s adamant leadership is something you learn throughout your career.

Receiving his runners-up medal from Prince Harry after losing to the All Blacks in the 2015 RWC Final.“People say you were born a leader but I don’t necessarily agree with that,” he says.  

“There are certain qualities you need to be a captain, such as communication skills and empathy; those things are part of someone’s character. Yet in terms of your growth as a leader, it can be learned because there are so many things you can read and observe and watch. 

“Every leader in the world is still improving. You can never say you’re the perfect leader. 

“All you can do is take the little bits from everything you see that is relevant to leadership, and translate that into your team and the people you work with, because no one has the 100 per cent correct formula for it.”

A leader he admires

Stephen Moore’s understated style is the perfect foil for his coach Michael Cheika, whose offbeat ploys to fire up his team are legendary.

In 2015, as Cheika’s New South Wales Waratahs prepared for the Super Rugby decider against the Canterbury Crusaders, he handed each player a golf club and implored them to “swing without fear” and “let it go” – and that’s precisely what they did as they overcame the Crusaders 33-32 in an epic decider to give the Waratahs their first  Super Rugby title.

Since taking charge of the Wallabies in 2015, Cheika has continued to use his unique brand of motivational ploys, including putting photos of barking dogs on the dressing room walls to ram home his desire for the Wallabies to take more of a mongrel approach.

“Maybe I’ll hit a few golf balls into the crowd at Congress and see if people can catch them,” Moore says with a smile. “Seriously though, something you learn from a leader like Michael is the passion and emotion, and how that can be positive in terms of motivating a team.

“Sometimes you need to be emotional and get the point across because it’s an emotional thing representing your country, but other times you need to be able to draw on that calmness and that experience to be able to set the tone for the team. 

“You need to get a sense of what the team is feeling and mould your behaviours around that.”

Stephen Moore will speak at CPA Congress 2017 in Sydney and Canberra.

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