In a collaborative work, the 2003 World Cup winner has put the learnings from his career into a book designed to encourage personal growth in sport or business


Just champion! Will Greenwood’s new book

It’s not just World Cup-winning coaches that have wisdom to impart – players can have their say too. And that’s exactly what Will Greenwood has done with the publication of World Class, published by Ebury Edge (RRP £20).

The former England centre has linked up with an old mate from Durham University, Ben Fennell, to offer advice on the behaviours needed to prosper in sport or business. Fennell has vast experience as CEO of a top advertising agency and in 2018 set up The Growth House.

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The idea that shines through the book is that if you celebrate difference and forge togetherness, you will accelerate growth – those are the three broad categories under which more specific issues are explored.

Greenwood cites his midfield pairing with Mike Tindall as an example – one couldn’t pass, the other couldn’t tackle, yet between them they won a World Cup. “Brutal honesty about our capabilities was the foundation upon which our partnership was built,” Greenwood says.

World Class book cover

Selection kicks us off, with the general rule being that you need people who know all the rules and people who know no rules. Phil Larder loved structure and Brian Ashton loved freedom and both approaches contributed mightily to England’s success of 20-odd years ago.

Rugby examples pepper the text but there are numerous instances from the business world too; Diageo’s sales capability was transformed after their recruitment brief called for the kind of people who could get into a nightclub without paying.

A golden rule of feedback is to be hard on the issue but soft on the person. Greenwood was scarred by a damning verdict on his talent following an England U18 training camp that offered no context, framing or light at the end of the tunnel. “Rugby is not for you, Greenwood. You should consider other sports,” boomed the report.

Ironically, the words gave him the hunger and desire to prove people wrong but more often than not, clumsy feedback will destroy a person’s confidence. Feedback should be challenging but kind, address work-ons but build on strengths, be high cadence but not overwhelming.

Innovation and generosity also feature in the first section, and the authors use women’s hockey to illustrate decision-making: ahead of the 2016 Olympics when GB were to win gold, the squad would ask a simple question of every action: would a gold medallist do that?

Will Greenwood and Mike Tindall

Greenwood and Tindall, a perfect partnership (AFP)

As GB’s then captain Kate Richardson-Walsh explains: “Would a gold medallist eat that croissant? Probably not. Would a gold medallist put another ten kilos on the squat rack? They probably would.”

Such clear thinking gave the four-year goal to win gold a daily application and connected the short-term decisions to the long-term objective.

Purpose, which launches the section on Togetherness, involves defining your ‘why’ – can you come up with a sticky expression to explain what you’re about? EasyJet’s is “Make travel easy and affordable” while BBH distilled their ten beliefs into one sentence – “The power of difference to make a difference.”

From coaching, an anecdote from Sir Matthew Pinsent appealed. When he and Steve Redgrave were in their rowing pomp, they were winning races so easily that they became cocky, even bored.

Sensing danger, their coach Jürgen Gröbler instructed the duo not to take the lead until they reached halfway in a 2,000m race. He imposed a strokes cap to clip their wings. Suddenly, Redgrave and Pinsent became nervous, anxious not to slip up, and they barely noticed that their cockiness and boredom had disappeared.

Just champion! Will Greenwood's new book

Steve Redgrave (left) and Matthew Pinsent after winning the coxless pairs at the 1996 Olympics (Getty)

Skipping on past culture we come to communication, an area that Greenwood and Fennell say more than any other subject could have been a book by itself.

Greenwood was so struck by an answer that John Eales uttered on stage at a function in Melbourne, on the eve of the second Lions Test in 2013, that as soon as he got home he spent two days writing 40 letters to all the people who had helped him get to where he is today but whom he had never really thanked.

He points out too that “my eyes were a weapon but without my mouth they were blunt” – communicating to his fly-half, so often Jonny Wilkinson, was a crucial part of his role.

Lawrence Dallaglio’s take on communication is equally forceful. “The greatest gift you can give others is your energy,” says the No 8 who inspired team-mates time and again.

Teamship rounds off the section and a simple illustration here might be having a word with the employee who continually arrives for work five minutes late. Stamp out fires early!

Finally to Accelerating Growth where Wilkinson’s and Jason Robinson’s training ethics are highlighted for raising standards ever higher. Robinson amazed team-mates at his first England session by chasing back to tackle Iain Balshaw when everyone else always gave up!

The best coping mechanism for pressure is meticulous preparation – why not practise a big fee negotiation or a difficult conversation in advance of the real thing?

Helen Richardson-Walsh provides an interesting dissection of her preparation for taking a penalty in the 2016 Olympics women’s hockey final. Being booed on her walk up to the ball was a shock but it helped her. “It made me angry and the anger took away my nerves.”

Just champion! Will Greenwood's new book

GB celebrate winning gold after a penalty shootout in the women’s hockey at Rio 2016 (Getty Images)

And in setbacks we are reminded of the powerful teacher that pain can be, Greenwood relating the succession of England Grand Slam failures that preceded their 2003 success in Dublin under Clive Woodward. The lessons could be summed up as follows:

1999 v Wales: keep the scoreboard ticking over, get two scores up.
2000 v Scotland: play the conditions.
2001 v Ireland: pick only players who are fit.
2002 v France: build a broader kicking game, don’t always rely on Jonny!

In wellbeing, Woodward’s handling of a Greenwood family crisis during RWC 2003, when he told the player to go home and take as long as he wanted, even if that meant missing the most critical matches in the nation’s rugby history, is cited as exceptional management.

Greenwood and wife Caro feared losing their child in pregnancy, so soon after losing their son Freddie after he was born prematurely in 2002. As we know, Greenwood flew home, spent a week with his wife, returned to Australia with his head in a much better space and helped England win the trophy.

“It was a truly extraordinary piece of player welfare from Clive. He was, and is, world class,” says Greenwood, a father of three who in addition to his media work is chief customer officer in the UK for Afiniti, an artificial intelligence organisation.

Speed completes the section – “If you can’t feed a team with two pizzas, it’s too large,” said Amazon founder Jeff Bezos – and there you have it, a whistle-stop tour of a book that condenses good practice and common sense into 300 tidy pages.

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World Class: How to Lead, Learn and Grow like a Champion by Will Greenwood and Ben Fennell is published by Ebury Edge, RRP £20.

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