Guest Post by Rick Koumouris, Chairman, Advisory Board, GJK Facility Services

I remember wanting to be on the same team as Trevor. Everyone admired him. Everyone trusted him. He had time for everyone and a knack for finding the right word at the right moment to lift your spirits, and your game.

I am back in 1978 playing Aussie Rules football (footy) – a fast and physical game, where bloodied noses, twisted knees and bruised ribs were the norm on most winter weekends. No quarter given and none asked for.

Trevor wasn’t the captain. He wasn’t even a great player – in the vernacular of Melbourne, he was, “a good average player.”

But we all followed Trevor.

He played in the back pocket, was a bit slow, had a wobbly kick and carried a few too many kilos. But there was never any questioning his commitment. He was first at training and last to leave. He played with injuries without a whimper, and he was his own worst critic but the first to pat you on the back. He loved being on the team and playing his part – and Trevor knew his part was a lot more than just chasing a football around.

He understood that as part of a team he was both a follower and a leader – all in an afternoon.

He knew when to be a leader and when to follow, when to take charge and when to acquiesce to directions from his captain or coach – always for the benefit of his team.

You see, even though Trevor was not the captain, he knew what many of us seldom grasp. He knew that he had influence, he was an informal leader. As part of any team, you are rarely just a leader or just a follower. You are both – sometimes at the same time. He further intuitively understood that his being a trusted and admired informal leader was because he was just as respected as a follower, someone who did his best always for the benefit of his team.

By definition leaders have followers. Managers have subordinates. And as has been said many times, not all managers are leaders. Trevor showed me the power of informal leadership. It taught me that real leaders (whether informal or formal) have previously mastered how to be effective followers – to put their team and the collective goals above their own needs.

  • Informal leadership arises spontaneously. No-one appoints you as the informal leader.
  • The informal leadership role is as significant on the impact of a team as any appointed role. People will watch, people will listen, people will emulate those they respect. And they respect those that are

respectful and always put the team before themselves. A self-aware leader (informal or otherwise) sees this and understands the power that his/her behaviour has on his or her team’s performance.

  • You cannot be a good leader if you don’t know how to be a good follower. The essential traits of Integrity, Commitment, Self-awareness and Collaboration are critical foundational values and are honed when following and observing great leaders.
  • Good followers watch, learn and grow to become good leaders. They understand and are committed to the goals as communicated by their leader, and simultaneously interpret and translate the message so it is meaningful, motivating and clear to their followers. In short, they switch modes on a dime from following to leading as the situation requires.
  • Switching between leading and following takes tremendous maturity, self-awareness and confidence. Resisting one’s ego to grand stand, knowing when to actually lead as opposed to be seen to lead, knowing when to follow by giving the space to someone who has a better idea and fully supporting that idea are but some examples which showcase real leadership.

Back to the footy and 1978.

The scoreboard of course would always tell the tale – the winners and the losers of the day. But somehow this never mattered as much as being on the same team as Trevor. I came to realise many years later Trevor balanced the momentary joy or disappointment of the day by focussing on the long term and the bigger picture. He cared about how we improved match on match, year on year, as a team and as individuals. He celebrated if one of our younger players was drafted to a bigger club. He cared about where the club was going in the long run. He saw what the club meant for the community, how it contributed to people’s lives, players and families. He knew it was much more than just a weekend footy match.

Integrity, Commitment and Selflessness – Real Leadership

Trevor never formally led the football team, but later he became chairman of a successful and much-admired footy club. His Integrity, Commitment and Selflessness and his humility in knowing when to follow and when to lead – even as Chairman – defined his deeper persona and wove itself deeply into the cultural fabric of the club.

I can still see Trevor at three quarter time – standing in the huddle, muddied and sometimes bloodied, the freezing sleet rising off the southern ocean pelting his face – passionately reminding us that a “Champion Team will always beat a team of champions.”

And he is right.

Rick Koumouris is Chairman, Advisory Board, GJK Facility Services