Followship of the King

“Oh bollocks!” says Stuart, his Earl Grey spilling into the saucer as he sets it down. In his other hand, his thumb scrolls furiously through Twitter as the copious rugby media outlets issue forth the news.

“This is never going to go away now is it?” he continues, shaking his head like a man lumbered with a load of work he could do without. “Why couldn’t it have been Billy or even Jamie? They’ll all be on at me now. Look at my inbox! Direct messages coming through like sodding nobody’s business!” He puts down his phone to go and get a cloth to mop up the spillage. In his absence, the device buzzes continuously, purring towards the table edge, until it falls, like a dead weight, on to the floor.

Nick Abendanon has been crowned European player of the year. Good for him. He’s played well, taken his chances and been rewarded. I’ve never met him in person but I have a feeling he’d be a bloody good bloke. His stellar performances for Clermont Auvergne have been well documented. For me, he’s always been a very good player, but this season, in an excellent side, he’s looked a cut above.


He follows in the footsteps of two other Englishman playing their rugby in France: Jonny Wilkinson (2013) and Steffon Armitage (2014). Yes, yes, I know where you think this article is headed, but you’re wrong. Quite the opposite. We actually need to stop talking about it.

There are many different ways to lead. There are many ways to bugger it up. It’s a very difficult job; leadership is a tricky mantle. Being held accountable, responsible, the man with whom the buck stops, usually ends up one way. In life we fail more than we succeed. It’s no different in leadership.

A skill woefully undervalued in business is followship. It’s not a real word (and is a bit too management speak for me if I’m honest) but the idea is a very good one. If you’ve ever worked in a team you’ll know its worth. It’s the ability to follow, without question. It’s the ability to stand by another’s decision even if you think it is wrong; to sweep up mistakes your leader has made without drawing attention to the mistake; it’s about allowing the leader to lead. It is the fundamental skill needed for being in a team; providing support and resources but never undermining. It’s vital in places like the armed forces, flight decks and emergency rooms.

If you are an England supporter for this autumn’s Rugby World Cup you need to practice ‘followship’. I say this because I don’t think you are right now. You are still debating whether players playing club rugby in France should be able to represent England. And, you see, your leader has made his decision on that. Rightly or wrongly, he has chosen against including them. That’s his prerogative. That is the way he wants to go. That’s why he was made leader, to make decisions like that. And you have to follow him.


Don’t listen to the naysayers and doom-mongers. They want to try and push you off centre. They love contention and doubt. Those types of people prey on those who are still uncertain. Don’t let them in. Be resolute. Be decided. Follow your man and stand by his decisions. If he wins, you can say you never doubted. If he fails, make sure others know that he made his own choices, that he had the courage of his convictions. The attribute Stuart Lancaster possesses in sticking to his principles on this one, is a truly great leadership quality. That has to be respected.

Being a leader is an unenviable task. So let’s allow him to drink his tea in peace.

Sam Roberts © 2015. (Text only). All Rights Reserved.

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1 Response to Followship of the King

  1. Jim says:

    A standing ovation for that man. I, for one, am sick of it all.


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