Leadership group or captain – what’s more effective?

This article was first written and published by the Roar. 

As the 2019 NRL season creeps closer (less than 20 days to go, but who’s counting), final details about this year’s teams are beginning to be revealed.

Trials have commenced and we are starting to see some new players and combinations tested in preparation for Round 1.

Another thing clubs are revealing are which player will assume the position of captain, or as is increasingly the case, which players will join the ‘leadership group’.

It’s been a trend that we’ve seen emerge over the last couple of seasons with many teams adopting it including the Parramatta Eels and the Newcastle Knights (who appointed a seven-man leadership group last year).

Under new coach Ivan Cleary, the Panthers announced a six-man leadership group.

This group will lead the team into the new season and is made up of James Maloney, Josh Mansour, James Tamou, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Isaah Yeo and Nathan Cleary.

Ivan Cleary at Panthers training.

(Photo: Renee McKay/Getty Images)

For some of these players including Mansour and Cleary it will be the first time in their careers that they have had the opportunity to have a position of leadership in a first-grade squad. For a player like Cleary, who has huge hopes placed upon him, particularly at a representative level, this experience will be invaluable.

Opting for more than one person to lead the team seems an approach that Ivan prefers. Last year when he coached the Wests Tigers, he announced a five-man leadership group including Josh Reynolds, Russell Packer and Benji Marshall.

It’s worth noting that under new coach Michael Maguire, the Tigers have reverted back to the traditional one-man captain model, appointing Moses Mbye to the role a couple of weeks ago.

I can understand a club opting to appoint a captain and a co-captain. In this situation there is a clear delineation of responsibility.

The captain will always be the first point of call and the player that speaks to the referee. In a situation where the captain is off the field, injured or unavailable to play, it is the co-captain that will assume the captaincy and responsibility associated with it.

This model also has some focus on succession planning; in most cases it’s assumed that should the captain decide that he wishes to stand down or retire, the co-captain will assume the position in his place.

It’s also clear to the playing group whom they should be taking instructions from and who they should look to when a decision needs to be made on the field about taking the quick tap or taking the two.

The Melbourne Storm have essentially adopted this model this year. Cameron Smith has been named as captain while Jesse and Dale Finucane have assumed the positions of co-captains.

Cameron Smith

(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

But a six-man leadership group? With thirteen players taking the field for the Panthers each week, almost half the team has been named as part of this group which to me, seems a little excessive.

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This article is not a criticism of the approach taken by the Panthers. As mentioned above it’s an approach plenty of teams have now chosen.

I can certainly see the value in giving players additional responsibility off the field and teaching players about leadership.

In some professional work places, people are elevated to positions of management and leadership simply because they are good at their jobs. But being good at your job doesn’t necessarily mean you will be an effective leader or good at managing people.

Leadership skills can certainly be taught and it’s important that players are encouraged to practice and develop these skills from an early age. But do you need to be named as part of a leadership group to be considered a leader or to lead with your actions rather than your words on the field?

According to Ivan “the shared leadership model will also encourage leadership from players outside the named group,” and he’s confident that “it will see every Panthers player contribute in their own way and help create real ownership of this team in 2019.”

If that’s the case, why not announce the whole team as part of the leadership group for the coming season?

By having so many players anointed with positions of responsibility it can do nothing but cause confusion about who the primary decision maker is on the field and what hierarchy exists within that leadership group.

What if the leadership group is split on a decision? Whose voice is the loudest or the most relevant? We’ve all heard the saying ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ and in my view, large leadership groups are an example of just that.

Lucky there’s at least one less decision to be made, with none of these players having to attend the press-conference post game. New rules have been introduced for the upcoming season which will see only the coach fronting the media after a match.

But my biggest question is, if there are six men as part of this leadership group, then who gets to sit at the front of the bus with Ivan?