Johnny Sexton Q&A: Leadership & Life Lessons

Sport is a funny business. One moment you are at the crest of a wave – beating the All Blacks and getting World Rugby Player of the Year, the next you have journalists, and fans questioning your performance.

Cpl Brand Ambassador Johnny Sexton has had a number of highs over the past few years and following on from a disappointing 6 Nations for Ireland, Leinster are back on track to play in yet another final.

We caught up with Johnny ahead of the game to talk about his career to date, his involvement in the Cpl World Class Talent Series and what lessons he’s learnt from sport that are transferrable to business off the field.

What is your background in business to date?

I have always had a huge interest in business, when I left school I went straight into Friends First, then I did a degree in Commerce which gave me great insight into the mechanics of how companies operate. For me though, Rugby has always been my business and it has strong corporate links across Ireland so the two are aligned.

Can you give an overview of what your new role with Cpl will entail? What work will you be doing with the company?

I will be joining Cpl in a Brand Ambassador position. Predominantly my role will be to work with Cpl on rolling out the Cpl World Class Talent Series. This series of events and workshops are designed to help their customers throughout these changing times.

I’ll be sharing my insights, thoughts and experiences, which sport has generously given me, with Cpl and their customers. It’s an exciting business to be a part of and I believe it leverages itself perfectly with my experience in high-performance sport.

What are the lessons from your sporting career you feel you can pass onto Irish businesses?

From speaking to Cpl, I know the rate of change in business is faster now than it has ever been. I guess from a sporting point of view you have to make so many different decisions as they arise. These can range from team changes as a result of injuries, to responding to the opposition while on the pitch.

You must make a call and trust the leadership team, in the knowledge that everyone has bought into the overall game plan.

In a business sense, this is the very same. You need a strong leadership team to bring everyone with you and to ensure everyone, from the bottom up, has bought into the leadership strategy. In business, and in sport, you need a team. You can’t do it on your own.

How transferable are the skills you’ve learned in sport to business?

From a very broad sense I think most of the skills in sport, and indeed in life, are transferrable to business. In some ways, I think the skills I’ve learnt from being a father are nearly just as important for a business.

My kids have given me a sense of perspective, they’ve helped me be a better player and equipped me in being able to switch off at times. These skills are also hugely important in business. Given the emphasis on wellbeing in the workplace, mental resilience, and being the “always on” generation, it is vital in both sport and business to be able to switch off and to stay motivated.

Traditional boardroom culture can be quite formal, what lessons from the locker room/field do you feel you can bring to help boardrooms?

I can tell you very clearly there is nothing relaxed about post-match analysis, particularly with the advancements in technology in terms of measuring outputs. I imagine it is more sombre than most boardrooms- even on a good day.

I guess sport can be looked at in a very clear way – preparation, match, result, analysis. I think it is easier to track, monitor, identify and adapt in sport than it can be in business and I feel this is an area where I can really add value to businesses.

Mental resilience is a trait people often associate with you. Who taught you how to persevere during difficult moments?

I guess this comes back to your support system and for me, it’s my family. In sport, as with business, you have good days and you have bad days. As a player, in any sport, you must get used to dealing with both.

Someone once said- “you’re never as good as you think you are when you win; and you’re never as bad as you feel when you lose”. Mental resilience is a tough one as it is tested in every minute of every game but I am fortunate to have played and learned off some of the best coaches and players ever to be apart of the game.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten about leadership?

I have had many influencers on my career, from my time in Marys with Richie Hughes, to Leinster with Cheika, Joe, Leo and Stuart.  Joe has had a big influence on me as a person and as a player so it may be simple advice, but Joe always says, “you are what you do every day.”

I was pretty sceptical of this at the start but it really carries weight and has really made me think about how I prepare before games and manage myself post games.

How are you preparing for your career post-rugby?

As players, we’re lucky to have a strong support system through Rugby Players Ireland and the International Rugby Players Organisation. I am on the Board of Rugby Players Ireland and also President of the International Rugby Players organisation.

These bodies do a huge amount of work with us to ensure we are as equipped as possible for the ‘Real World’ and the ‘After-Life’.  As a professional athlete, our careers can finish on any given day. They are no guarantees in sport, so you always need to be as prepared as possible.

The Cpl World Class Talent Series

In sport and business, it is the marginal gains that define success. Cpl Brand Ambassador Johnny Sexton, alongside leaders from Cpl, aim to inspire winning performances through the Cpl World Class Talent Series; an eight-part series of events showcasing world-class leaders from business and sport.

The Cpl World Class Talent Series is a platform for best-in-class practices, thought leadership and a forum for tackling the important topics around business in Ireland and beyond.

Interested in learning more? Register for your Future-proofing your Business’ Workshop.