050 – John Buchanan – From Good to Great (Part 1)
Leadership philosopher (and the most successful coach in sporting history)
John Buchanan is a deep thinker, a philosopher and a leadership expert. He also happens to have coached the Australian cricket team during one of the most successful periods in the history of the game.
In fact, you can mount a pretty serious case to argue that John is the most successful big time coach in the history of professional sport. He has a better coaching record than Vince Lombardi, Alex Ferguson and Phil Jackson.
Why then is he still considered somewhat of an outsider of Australian cricket? Is it because of his relationship with key players such as Shane Warne? Is it that he did things differently – the mad scientist of coaching? Or is it that many see him as a ‘boffin who rode his luck’ – stumbling across a team full of great players at the peak of their powers.
Join me for Part 1 of my conversation with John. I ask him about his coaching style, his rise to the top job, his relationship with Shane Warne and other great players of that era, and his philosophies on excellence.
Part 1 – Thursday 16 March 2017
Here’s what I took from the episode:
Bet you didn’t know…
John Buchanan’s statistics as a coach put him in the conversation as the most successful big time coach in the history of sport.
Under his stewardship between 1999 and 2007 Australia won 26 Tests series, drew two and lost two, winning three consecutive World Cups to boot.
Buchanan guided Australia to 70 wins from 91 Tests since 1999 for a strike rate of 76.9%
Yeah, but look at the team he coached!
He finished his Test career with a better winning percentage than three of the most legendary coaches in world sport — the NFL’s former Green Bay Packers mentor Vince Lombardi (71.9%), Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson (57%) and the Chicago Bulls basketball coach from the Michael Jordan era, Phil Jackson (72.5%).
Warne, Ponting and Waugh!
But what about Jordan, Pippen & Rodman?
What wins a game of cricket?
Although he admits to being very aware of his winning percentage, especially towards the end of his career, John says that winning was not the goal in cricket. His focus was always on the process. If you got the process right the winning took care of itself.
Inspired by the concepts of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, John found himself seeking the answer to a very basic, yet significant question: what wins games of cricket?
The Northbound Locomotive: Grit. The culture. The feeling inside a group. The invisible glue that binds a team.
Sacrificial Acts: The plays that players deliver on the field away from the ball. Of course players keep working around the ball – and those plays are measured. But success comes from what happens off the ball, that no one else basically sees
From good to great
John came into a side that had already enjoyed enormous success – and had a lot more ahead of it. He didn’t need to fix them or even help them become better cricketers. But he did see his role to improve the team.
He saw an opportunity to help the side prepare more professionally for matches. But overall, he saw an opportunity to provide the players with broader, richer life experiences; to put them in situations that expanded their horizons as people.
‘It was very much about taking people outside the dressing room’
As John gained experience coaching at the top level, he started to realise that players with large profiles, those considered to be celebrities, were usually ‘conditional contributors’ to the team. When things were going well for them, when they were the centre of attention, the world is good. They are caring and supportive within the team, they buy into the collective plans. But that doesn’t always occur – when things are not happening for them, the rest of the team is forced to ride the emotional rollercoaster with them. They dive down into the depths and become quite morose and isolated. And they tend to blame everyone but themselves.
Individuals in a team game
John firmly believes that there is a place for the individual thinking within a team game:
‘You have to get the individual performing. Then it’s about wrapping all that up in the team clothing’
‘I want the individual to be demanding of me and the system. If they are demanding, it means they have a good understanding of their game and what it takes for them to perform’
Did Warnie really say that?
‘I’m weak as piss, I hate your guts and I want to go home.
You’re a dickhead’
After 6 years in the role, and an Ashes loss to England, John experienced doubt.
It’s something we all go through – whether it is us asking ourselves or being questioned by those around us.
John asked himself three important questions:
- Can I still make a difference?
- Do I still have the energy to make a difference?
- Do I still have the respect of the senior stakeholders?