Boyden Executive Search

In filling a position in business or sport, we focus on the best person for the job. Or do we?

In filling a position in business or sport, we focus on the best person for the job. Or do we?

The biggest transformation we are seeing today is a shift from the best person for the job, to the best person for the team. 

When dealing with exceptional talent, can outliers be successfully led or coached to raise the game, or could ‘prima donna’ tendencies compromise team performance? As a well-known personal care company might put it, “Are they worth it?” 

This question was put to our panel at Boyden’s Annual Assembly 2018.


Moderator: René Carayol MBE, Broadcaster and Author
Former England Union Rugby Players: Jason Leonard OBE, Brand Ambassador, Besso Insurance Group; Maggie Alphonsi MBE, Broadcaster; Tim Rodber, CEO, Instant Group


Moderated by René Carayol MBE, an experienced international business coach, the panel explored whether understanding this question in the context of rugby could help achieve exceptional results in business.

Jason Leonard OBE former England Rugby International capped over 100 times commented that, “Running extraordinary talent within a team, sure, you can always accommodate someone who is prickly, but just one or two. Coaching with more is too difficult”.

Thoughts turned immediately to England’s Danny Cipriani. In August, an independent panel upheld the charge that his actions were prejudicial to the game's interests. Is the time and effort spent managing a Cipriani worth it? And how many of us are asking a similar question in business? How much investment in difficult, but brilliant talent should be made and at what cost to the team?

Maggie Alphonsi MBE former Women’s England Rugby Union player shared a robust opinion. “You need to get the team right and for that you need to know the true aspect of someone. If someone doesn’t fit, don’t put them in the team, even if they are the best talent”. The Ryder Cup is a good example.  For the losing US team, the media blamed a lack of teamwork – one superstar unwilling to play with another, putting him off his game: a reminder of workplace dynamics?

Does that mean there is no place for outliers?

Not necessarily. “You always need a mercurial person in the group,” said Jason Leonard. “Gareth Southgate was in search of mercurial talent because he was lacking that flair in mid-field. So in business, you may have a fantastic marketing director who is hard to manage – but they need to be disruptive in a positive way: you need good people who come forward with answers as well as questions”.

Empowerment, accountability and collective responsibility

Nick Robeson, Managing Partner of Boyden United Kingdom said ‘We see this in business when there is more than one outstanding candidate. We analyse behaviour as well as experience to “know the true aspect of someone, It is Boyden’s understanding of key leadership competencies that enables us to predict leadership performance.

A key part of our evaluation pinpoints disruption, negative and positive. An outlier can ‘over manage’ or ‘over perform’ to the detriment of the team. This is negatively disruptive. But what if you have a recession, currency in free fall, or stock market crash?

‘Over performance’ might just save the business – the right kind of outlier and the right kind of disruption must be seen in context. That’s what we do.

Tim Rodber, CEO of The Instant Group and ex Rugby Union Player commented. ‘You need the right skills that together are the right combination, so that you don’t compromise the values of the organisation.’

Boyden addresses this through analysis of three areas: leading the organisation, leading people and leading yourself. Leading yourself – knowing and managing yourself – is a distinctive area that Boyden evaluates in the c-suite and through cascading teams.

The panel identified empowerment, accountability and collective responsibility as the framework for individual commitment, expression and realisation within a cohesive team. The leader can then shift the mindset to create incremental advantage.

For Maggie, “It’s about the leaders on the pitch, and as a trainer, giving them freedom to express themselves”. Jason agreed, “You can’t strangle people, you need to let them have some free rein. We can expand on that and ask ‘how do you feel’ but judgement is about knowing where the boundaries are, when and how much they have to change”.

“Once you have the superstars, the right talent, it’s about psychology – it’s about hearts and minds,” concluded Jason.

“There was a time when it was the boss’s job to call all the shots, solve every problem and set the agenda,” concluded René. “That’s now done by the team. From job to team – it works through collaboration. Collaboration is the new leadership”.

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