Without a doubt, 2020 has been a tough year for leaders. Businesses of all types and sizes have faced unprecedented challenges, and leaders have been called upon to transform the way they and their teams work — almost overnight in many cases. They’ve had to find new reserves of strength, stamina, and resilience, and we’ve seen some truly inspirational stories among Salesforce customers and partners. 

We recently spoke to former Springboks superstar and 2007 IRB Player of the Year, Bryan Habana. Not only did we talk about his illustrious sports career, but we also discussed his immensely successful transition to the business world. 

The conversation covered dealing with pressure, the power of teamwork, and maximising performance, and shares some fascinating insights on leadership skills, particularly in times of crisis and beyond.



Leading during challenging times

Bryan experienced many influential leaders over his time with the Springboks, and one person who he classes as a mentor, as well as a great leader, is John Smit. He explained how the whole team would go to bat for John because of his strong leadership skills, skills which work in both sports and business:

  • Great communication, so the team always knew where they stood with him.

  • Making it clear what he expected of everyone on the team.

  • A willingness to make everyone feel part of a common goal.

  • A holistic approach to making everyone feel comfortable, no matter what their background or individual role. 

  • The ability to help everyone to understand their role within the system. 

  • Being willing to feed back up to management on behalf of the team. 

As Bryan explains, “His integral role in that communication was extremely important. As players we knew we could go in confidence to John and he would take on that responsibility to pass it on”.


Maximising success

Bryan has done a great deal outside of rugby to demonstrate success, not least starting the Bryan Habana Foundation, a charity that works with young people with the aim of empowering future leaders. He could quite easily have made the decision to rest after retiring from rugby. But instead, he uses his platform as a professional athlete to pass on his values and give back to the community. 

He understands that you can’t be successful on your own, you need those around you to be a success as well. Upskilling is important for leaders, but it’s also crucial to upskill your team as well. One method of upskilling is through technology, using it to achieve more, and it’s never been more pressing than in the current global climate. 

Tech has always been something that was important to Bryan, so building a business in the tech space himself (fintech start-up Paymenow) was a natural next step. The pandemic has accelerated the need for people to understand the importance of tech and connecting virtually, and successful leaders realise this.  


Dealing with pressure

Resilience is so important, as Bryan knows himself having suffered a career-ending injury. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a setback for many businesses that have needed to be agile and deal with so many layers of extra pressure to get through it.

Bryan’s methods of dealing with the end of his career are so relatable and transferable to any leader going through challenging times. He accepted that it’s OK not to be OK, to show weakness and allow others in, and, as we’ve seen, he pivoted to make the most of the future instead of dwelling on the past. 

Check out more inspiring stories from unconventional leaders!