Rugby – The School of Life

Former Irish rugby referee Donal Courtney inspires and motivates Dell Financial Services team members to win.

Former Irish rugby referee Donal Courtney speaking to Dell Financial Services employees

Impossible is nothing.

This was one of the many powerful messages delivered by Donal Courtney, former international rugby union referee, to inspire team members at the Leadership, Teamwork and Communication session organized recently.

Donal Courtney, Independent Non-Executive Director of Dell Bank International DAC, has led a very interesting career in both the corporate and sporting worlds.

While the context for a sports referee is different than a business leader, the principles remain the same. And who better to learn from than Donal Courtney!

His presentation made people think. The man has an amazing ability to captivate his audience and his passion for leading a life without limits is truly contagious.

I do not follow rugby but when I left the meeting room that day, I was pumped up and felt as if I was out there on the rugby field.

rugby team in circle

Here are four business lessons that you (leaders and team members) can borrow from rugby and put to work in your own work setting:


In rugby there’s a place for everyone – fast players, big players, kickers, passers etc. and each player is equally important. Finding the right seat on the bus is a top priority.

Rugby is a great example of diverse skills in action. It relies on the complementary skills and the real dispositions of each player- players are placed on the pitch where they can give the best of themselves.

In today’s business market, to create the best team, leaders need to make sure they have diversity within the organization and one of the ways to build a dynamic team is to be rigorous in the selection process for getting new people on the bus.


Rugby is a team sport. In order for a team to win, in both rugby and in business, it’s essential for each individual to know their role and dedicate themselves to the mission assigned to them, while still understanding the need to contribute to the overall team effort. “Who scored is irrelevant,” says Donal. “What matters is that the team won.’’

Donal offered us a glimpse into the All Blacks’ concept of teamwork to gain a better understanding of how it relates to them.

The team’s success is due to many factors but most importantly their team spirit and solidarity. Each and every member of the All Blacks is counted upon at all times to perform his designated role. They are synchronized, purposed-driven and understand that they are all in together.

The unity demonstrated by those rugby players is an example from which we can draw inspiration in the day-to-day management of teams.

Have you ever seen the All Blacks’ haka performance? Check out the following video, you won’t be disappointed.

Adapt. Be prepared for each game.

Rugby demands quick decisions from every player on the field. Every decision made can change everything for a team. Each game is different, so players are naturally expected to adapt to new rules, training, and tactics to ensure they keep winning games.

This is as true in business as it is in sport. Our future success depends on how we can adapt to emerging needs, how we innovate and how open we are to new possibilities.

Windows of opportunity open and close quickly. If you want to improve your chances of success:

  1. Edge out of your comfort zone
  2. Do not wait a year to get feedback, communicate in real time
  3. Trust the process – Stay aligned to the company’s purpose and values
  4. Look for opportunities to develop your skills
  5. Invest in training

A winning mindset: It’s a mental thing!

Mental strength is what makes a great athlete ‘great.’ It’s that innate ability to push when you are hurting.

Want to build this type of confidence? Here’s your blueprint:

Discipline – Discipline is an integral part of the game, on and off the field.

Practicing self-discipline in business helps you stay focused towards your task and goals. Step into your power to create new habits, actions and ways of thinking.

Passion – In rugby, players have to put themselves through a lot of physical efforts on a daily basis, but it comes down to the fact that they do it for the total enjoyment: because they love it.

Take your daily job to new levels and find what connects you with your passion.

It’s extremely empowering.

Motivation -If you choose the right attitude, even when faced with the biggest hurdles, anything is possible. To quote Vince Lombardi, “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.” How do you create a winning mindset? Find your purpose and it will feed your confidence and motivation. The power of believing in yourself will give you the most extraordinary potential.

In 2016, after 29 attempts, Ireland put an end to New Zealand’s winning streak and beat the All Blacks 40-29.  That, my friend, is what Donal meant by Impossible is nothing.