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EP:23 – A Conversation with Donal Courtney

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Donal Courtney

Donal Courtney has married an incredibly successful commercial /corporate as an Executive and now Independent NED career with an equally impressive career in Rugby refereeing.  Donal started his career as a Chartered Accountant, was practice Manager for Author Anderson, held various CFO/Executive board positions for companies like Airbus, Orix and GMAC Bank. He is an independent Non-Executive Director for Dell Bank, IPUT, Uni Credit and Permanent TSB. His is a former International Rugby referee and Head of European refereeing and he is now World Rugby disciplinary panel member

Show Notes

Podcast episode summary: This particular episode shared Donal’s insight working/leading and managing teams both on the pitch and off the pitch in corporate life. Donal peppered this conversation with numerous examples & lessons we can learn from the world of sport.  As many of my guests have shared & Donal agreed the demands on people at work are increasing, regulation has increased, governance is tougher, there is a greater focus on culture in a good way, pace & the speed of change is relentless. We are living in an increasingly digitised and networked society and this ask for new Leadership and a collective approach to solve some of our more wicked problems. Much can be learnt from the world of sport.


Noteworthy points of discussion

  • Whether you are leading a 2-man team or a 10 -man team, Leadership is critical. Leaders need to think in terms of not just the resources available to the team but about the right skills, the right balance & mix of people making sure people feel safe to contribute and be part of a collective
  • Regular check-points and feedback is required -Seagull management is a misnomer
  • Continuous discussion and a process to surface issues, escalate concerns and have the conversations that matter. This means more agile ways of working.
  • World is more complex, Brexit for example creating uncertainty, banking change and regulation has heightened, Culture and creating a culture that allows for Diversity and Inclusion is important -belonging matters
  • Everyone one is different, and people need to feel OK to bring themselves to work
  • Huge opportunity for innovation and learning but that requires a willingness to adapt & learn
  • In sport players are encouraged to look at videos to see their play and their patterns we spoke about how this approach is akin to coaching effectively in organisations
  • Donal’s approach at the Irish Rugby Union is coach like-he asks questions because he knows he is not close to the action the players are.
  • People have to move away from the idea of failure and embrace continuous learning and experimentation -a lot of it comes down how you communicate and the values you model
  • Best team in Donal’s opinion as an example of great team work is the All Blacks. He shares how the All Blacks stay on the pitch after a match to practice their routine. They have about 7-8 different Hakas that they need to perform. They demonstrate togetherness, organisation, shared or distributed leadership, clear purpose, co-ordination and an ethos of belonging to a bigger cause. It is all about the Jersey.
  • Joe Schmitt brought that ethos to the Irish Team-Joe is committed to practice, planning and clarity of play.
  • Donal loves the Adidas logo “Impossible is nothing” and he shared many examples of teams who came from obscurity to becoming winners by virtue of their belief & commitment, witness Japan versus South Africa in the last world cup, Leicester City a few years ago, The Europeans in 2012 at Medina in the US.
  • TEAM acronym to mean Togetherness, Empathy, Attitude and Management
  • His lesson from his transition from Executive to INED is to know your role and understand you are working on a team and not as a sole trader.
  • Things will go wrong on teams but it is how you deal with the fallout that is important
  • Golf is often thought of as a very singular sport but Donal commented on the very important role the team plays in a professional golfers career. The relationship between caddy and player is vital.

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