Leading by example at work: Five qualities we can use from Japan 2019

As we head towards the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup it has been great to see the defining characteristics of the game – integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline and respect – being exemplified both on and off the pitch.   Huge credit goes to the home fans, who have been leading by example with their stadium tidying and respect for visiting teams (including learning their national anthems!).

But could these qualities have a wider value?  We examine how they might translate into the workplace and why it might be important for leaders to role model such behaviours for others.


Integrity is about more than just honesty.  It’s about doing the right thing and being well intentioned with a clear moral compass and a regard for the welfare of others and the world around us.  Acting with integrity as a leader always requires openness with those around you.  This is easy when things are going well but more difficult in challenging times.  But it’s the commitment to honesty when things are tough – even if it means delivering potentially unpopular news or admitting to not having all the answers – that breeds trust within teams, which is a valuable by-product of behaving with integrity.

As Author, C.S. Lewis, so succinctly put it: “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching.”


Passionate leaders have a love and enthusiasm for what they do that is infectious. Engendering an atmosphere of drive and determination can be extremely powerful when there is a deadline or target to be met.  And equally effective during less pressured times; as passionate leaders tend to be future focussed; this can be a great help in keeping a team moving forwards.  Compelling, effective and open communication is key to sharing and developing that passion with a team.  In fact, the two traits often go hand in hand – think Richard Branson from the business world or, more widely and potentially controversially, Greta Thunberg.

In terms of management, it is worth considering whether your organisation’s processes might be stifling the team’s passion.  The passionate worker’s desire for improvement will often lead them into innovation and this blog from last year gives our five top tips for harnessing that innovation.


Unification of any team is an important leadership goal and we’ve blogged before on Building Team Cohesion, particularly in times of uncertainty.  A cohesive team generates a supportive and non-judgemental (but not unaccountable) working environment which allows people to take risks, be creative and try alternative approaches and solutions without fear.  When people feel they are working together towards a common goal, they are often more motivated and engaged which we know is good for productivity.


When it comes to examining discipline as a leadership quality, there are two possible interpretations.  Whilst it can sound restrictive, the best leaders make their expectations clear and are consistent in their approach to these. When people are sure of their roles and responsibilities, and the expectations upon them, it removes uncertainty, enabling them to focus on the task at hand and promoting productivity.

Perhaps more interestingly however, is the issue of self-discipline.  Discipline as a personal quality allows you to control your own responses and reactions to external influences.  As a leader, this is invaluable.  We have all been in work situations where a person or set of circumstances have caused us to ‘see red’.  Having strong self-discipline enables us to acknowledge that feeling internally without expressing it.  Which makes it possible to deal with the problem in a measured and effective way.  Leaders with strong self-discipline do not get distracted from the long-term goal.  That’s not to dismiss the need for flexibility or adaptability but when the demands on our time can be many and varied, it may be important to keep that overall aim in mind.


Let’s start with two common misconceptions about respect at work:

  • It only operates in an upwards direction – As Hugh Grant’s character in Love Actually determines “love, actually, is all around.” And perhaps the same could be said in the case of respect.  It’s not owed, it’s earnt.  And seniority doesn’t come into it.
  • The absence of disrespect is satisfactory – Having and showing respect is very different to simply ‘not being disrespectful’ – the latter should be a minimum workplace requirement, whereas the proactive reciprocation of respect for one another’s differences, strengths and values is key to cohesion between team members, regardless of role or level.

As a leader, fostering an atmosphere of respect is about paying attention to all the people, all the time.   It’s about recognising and valuing the ideas, efforts and input of everyone and demonstrating that recognition in a way that is valued by the individual.  Which may be different for everyone.

In the words of the late, great Aretha Franklin: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.”

Active listening is key.  People want to feel that their ideas or concerns at work will be heard and taken seriously. No matter their seniority.  We have written before about the value of diverse teams.  In brief, a diversity of knowledge, skills, experience and thinking brings different perspectives and problem- solving approaches. The result is often greater originality and a range of more innovative solutions.  But with diversity must come respect for those different perspectives, approaches, ideas and backgrounds.

Please do get in touch with your views on how valuable you think these qualities are when it comes to effective leadership and your experiences of them being applied well (or not!) in your workplace.  We’d love to hear from you.

In the meantime, good luck to England, New Zealand, Wales and South Africa in their semi-final matches.  It’s all still to play for!