Steve Lawrence has gone from playing in AFL premiership teams, to helping organise World Youth Day 2008, to running leadership workshops across Australia.
He shares some of his insights into what it takes to be a leader.
Steve Lawrence is a tall, strapping fellow with broad shoulders; a man who moves with ease. These attributes, along with talent and persistence, helped him
become an AFL premiership player with Hawthorn in the early 1990s.
Although Steve retired from elite level football in 1998, his career since then has been rich and rewarding: working in education, ministry (he helped organise World Youth Day in 2008) and the business world, in Australia and overseas.
These days he spends much of his time helping all kinds of people, leaders in particular, become the best version of themselves. In Catholic schools across Australia, he runs reflection days and seminars for staff who have a leadership role within the faith context, either through the curriculum or the overall faith culture of the school.
He’s also in demand in the business world, working with top-level executives across major institutions and private companies.
‘There’s a growing recognition of the need for people who are in significant positions of leadership to actually take time to think, to have space. You need silence for pondering, and even taking time out for a walk. You might be doing less on one level, but you’re actually becoming far more effective.’
Becoming an authentic leader
What is striking about Steve is the presence and authenticity that he radiates.
And then there’s his classic storytelling. Here’s one of his tales – from his time at Hawthorn.
‘All the players were in the bus, about to go to Phillip Island for a three-day training camp. The officials were in cars. And the bus driver turned on an X-rated film. I was sitting at the back of the bus feeling very uncomfortable. I felt I had to do something, but it was difficult because these were all my teammates, and they were superstars.’
The 24-year-old, who had earned his place in the side, was unsure of his next move. But that didn’t stop him walking down to the front of the bus, his team mates ‘ooohing’ all the way.
‘I might have looked confident but my knees were knocking. I was terrified. It was a long way. Then I noticed just behind the bus driver was a player who was only 17. So I leant down to the bus driver and said, “You have a minor on board and what you are doing is illegal.” I didn’t really know if it was, but he turned it off.’
That was the easy part. Then Steve had to face 45 team-mates. He was waiting for abuse to be hurled his way. But much to his surprise, no one said anything – not then and not during the training camp.
Eighteen years later however, at the funeral of coach Allan Jeans, Steve met up with two former players.
In the course of that conversation, Andy Collins, who was a senior coach in South Australia said, ‘Remember that time you had that movie turned off on the bus.’
‘Yes’, replied Steve, amazed that finally someone was speaking about it!
‘Well, I want you to know that I’m frequently asked to speak about leadership, and I always tell that story… I think I’ve told it to at least 10,000 people.’
He then added, ‘When I tell this story, I say it was the greatest act of leadership I ever saw, because you knew it was the right thing to do, you knew most of us didn’t agree with you, but you did it anyway.’
Forming strong values
This personal and practical example of leadership without position, and the influence our actions can have without us realising it, is a defining story of the man Steve is, his values, and his convictions.
Steve attributes his parents with having had a strong influence on his life and his values. His mother, who was an English teacher, influenced his love of learning, reading and writing, while his father, who was a test cricket player for South Africa (the family moved to Australia when Steve was a child) imbued him with sporting acumen, and robust faith. For this he remains most grateful.
Legendary AFL/VFL coach, Allan Jeans, also had a profound impact on Steve.
‘My first pre-season I was coming from junior football in Brisbane to a team that won the grand final. Allan Jeans would push me and press me. And I thought he hated me.’
But the coach knew what this young player needed to do. He had to really put in if he wanted to make the grade. And Allan Jeans was damn sure he was going to get best out of this lanky ruckman.
‘He wasn’t about using power. He was about seeking the good of the other.’
These days Steve Lawrence is just as determined to bring out the best in those he collaborates with, helping them become the finest leaders they can be.
Make your mark, is one of his favourite sayings. It’s also the title of his recently-released book.
by Michele Gierck | Australian Catholics