Smit: Good leaders say less and do more

Former Springbok captain John Smit has opened up on his style of leadership and his belief that good leaders are those that lead by example. DYLAN JACK reports.

Smit was talking to historian Dean Allen on Thursday evening in a regular series with former Springboks that seeks to raise funds and awareness for the Chris Burger Petro Jackson Players Fund. Previous talks have featured Jean de Villiers, Schalk Burger and Bryan Habana.

Widely regarded as one of the most successful Springbok captains, Smit led South Africa to victory in 46 out of 64 Test matches for a win record of 72%. He also memorably captained the Springboks to the 2007 World Cup title, a British & Irish Lions series win and two Tri-Nations victories.

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During the talk, Smit outlined his beliefs of leadership and how he grew into a leadership role since first being appointed Springbok captain in 2004.

‘It would be hard to write a manual on captaincy,’ Smit said. ‘I was fortunate to have played under a lot of good captains and some bad captains. But every one of them has something that you think that you could use – which ties into your personality.

‘It doesn’t happen overnight. I was terrified to think about what I was going to say in team meetings and before games. Only after a season and a half of captaining South Africa did it start to come naturally and feel less like prepared work and more instinctive.

‘Captaincy is something that people need time to grow into as well. I do believe that every single one of us has some leadership inside of us. People sometimes think that it is only the people that talk and stand in front of us that are the leaders, but invariably it is the leaders who say less and do more.’

Smit added that it was his belief that leadership comes down to two principles: being consistent in your actions and listening more than you speak.

‘Leadership can sometimes be an overcomplicated thing. When it is thrust upon you, sometimes you can overthink it,’ Smit explained.

‘I think leadership is really about a couple of things. People will always ask what is a leader. You need just one thing and that is people who are willing to follow you. That is dependent on what kind of a life you live or the kind of example you set or your level of integrity and hard work.

‘To lead effectively, you have to have the trust of people and they have to believe that who you are is someone who is consistent both on and off the field. That consistency is what builds integrity and people’s trust for getting behind you. Leadership is really about being consistent and showing that level of integrity.

‘Another thing that people don’t talk enough about in leadership – and my grandmother used to routinely mention it – is that we were born with two ears and one mouth. She always said you should use them accordingly and listen twice as much as you speak. If they don’t listen, leaders will never know who they are in front of.’

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Photo: Wessel Oosthuizen/Gallo Images

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Dylan Jack