My leader of the year—so far—has come from an unexpected place. The Collingwood Football Club. Yep, I know everyone except their fans hates Collingwood. It’s a tribal thing, it’s fine. But what I don’t want you to hate is their coach, Craig McRae.
Craig’s story is fantastic. When he took over from Nathan Buckley in 2021, his team finished the season second last on the ladder. This year, he took them to be in a preliminary final that they lost by a single point. Collingwood literally came within a point of making the grand final.
It’s not as if they have a stack of new players who are suddenly smashing it. What they have is their old team but with a new mindset. Every business leader wanting to change or enhance their results next year should look at Craig McRae for inspiration.
What interests me as a coach of leaders is that when Collingwood lost a nailbiter to Geelong in the first week of the finals, making them go to sudden death, half a dozen players lay down on the ground. Craig was having none of it.
“That’s acting like a loser,” he said. “We want to act like winners. We lost the game, we’re not losers.”
I just love what he said. Losing something doesn’t make you a loser. You’re still a winner. You just didn’t win on this particular day.
It’s a fantastic mindset switch which everyone should try. Have that belief that you always have it in you to be the best, no matter how far down you might find yourself.
What makes Craig McRae such an inspiring modern leader is he leads by example. He understands that everything starts with what people are thinking, and he instils into his team that they can do anything. He believes it so they do too. Not only is he teaching skills but he’s teaching that leadership mindset.
That belief in the collective but also in the individual.
Any team should know how important this is. A team isn’t successful through just one person or through the leader, it’s through the collective effort. So everyone has to have that trust and belief. They have to highlight each other’s strengths, not expose each other’s weaknesses. That’s what Collingwood has done better than any other team.
It’s a mindset.