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  • Writer's pictureJon Bircher

Finishing Well - A reflection and a book review


What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life

James Kerr

I love it when ideas I have been unintentionally reflecting on, reading around and talking to others about somehow clarify and coalesce; usually providing deeper meaning and fresh power. The thought I have been playing with lately is:

What would it look like to live from the place of my best future-self today, rather than striving to be the person I want to be tomorrow?

In parallel with my own journey, I have found a number of my recent coaching conversations landing in this territory of who do you want to be? too, sometimes expressed as "How do I finish well?" or "I want to explore my legacy" or I want to describe the leader I want to be? or for those I work with who have a Christian worldview "How do I live as a new creation?"

I was recently reminded to read a book that has been on my reading list for a long time - Legacy by James Kerr.

Its time to make your mark, they say. Your Contribution. Its time to leave a legacy. Your legacy. Its your time

As a huge rugby fan and a leadership coach I love the concept and structure of this book and the 15 practical lessons, think number of players on a team, that can be applied to leadership from the awesome All Blacks. The book touches on some urgent themes in a world craving greater integrity, authenticity, character and humility from their leaders. Kerr effortlessly tells stories around leadership and team, purpose and character, vision and values, culture and meaning, strategy and execution and rituals and rhythms. The book seamlessly combines insight and reflection from All Black players and coaches, business leaders, philosophers and academics. It is a beautifully written, engaging and motivating.

The word character comes from the ancient Greek, kharackter, meaning the mark that is left on a coin during its manufacture. Character is also the mark left on you by life, and the mark we leave on life. Its the impart you make when you're here, the trace you leave when you gone.

It seems that when a player becomes an All Blacks they are given a small black book, and at the back there are blank pages for them to complete with their own contribution to the legacy.

To become an All Black means becoming a steward of a cultural legacy. Your role is to leave the jersey in a better place

This has inspired me to consider the circle of people I interact with, my family, my community, my friendships, my work - and to consider how I can leave a better legacy. Can I live with intention today, in light of the person I want to be, and the impact I want to have on those around me?

I do not intend to summarize the book here, but reflect on a couple of areas that impacted me specifically

Using Pressure to your advantage

This idea resonates with me. There are certainly times when I experience the destructive power of pressure; where my good intentions and character are tested, where my vision narrows, my heart rate goes up, where I easily lose perspective (and often my temper), where panic sets in and decision-making is compromised. But there is another way. Kerr describes how great leaders, having recognized this negative spiral, invest their time in meditative, anchoring practices and mantras that bring clarity, calm and perspective. Once these have been repeated and repeated they can use a simple press of the palm or a look to up to the sky while under pressure to reboot the mind, and bring the mental clarity needed for good decision making, clear thoughts and actions.

Mantras are the way in which we can tell our story to ourselves; they are the tools for effective thinking, a mental roadmap in times of pressure

Ritualize the actualize

I thoroughly enjoyed this section, and it was a great reminder on the power of evolving symbolism, traditions, storytelling, and ritual in the development of culture. I have been reflecting on how to bring new rituals and rhythms into my own life, in business, with my clients as well as with my family and friends. I also appreciate the connection to finishing well, Kerr reflects on how leaders can use rituals to challenge themselves and those around them to exceed expectations and embody beliefs and behaviors that are lined up with their future-self.

Ritualize to Actualize. Rituals reflect, remind, reinforce, reignite the central story. They make it real in a vital, visceral way... Rituals make beliefs real and tangible - they make them a 'thing'. They actualize.

Finishing Well

So, back to where I started. For me, the overwhelming impression this book leaves on me, is the importance of legacy and doing the hard, deep and personal work around who I want to be. I don't want to drift through life without intention. I want to have a positive and meaningful impact on society and those around me, to be salt and light.

The first and well-trodden step is bringing to life what finishing well looks like, feels like, sounds like and smells like. But I think the magic and the power come from living from the perspective of the future you now, today even when the current you and the feedback and evidence around you doesn't support that. Lets start living out our legacy today. Let's aim at that goal. That means we get to make an impact today and not just leave a trace when we're gone!

Our social footprint is the impact our life has or can have - on other lives. It begins with character - a deep respect for our deepest values - and it involves a committed enquiry into our life's purpose. What do we hold most sacred? What's our purpose here? What can we pass on, teach?

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J Soal
J Soal

Jon thank you for this insightful review and practical advice. All to often when reading a recommendation or review on a book I am left with the desire to read the book but walk away without learning anything from the review itself. Yet here you have challenge me by giving me practical advice which the book no doubt delves into which I can put into practice while await my copy of the book to arrive. Thank you!

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