On the 18th September, we will see the start of the 2015 Rugby World Cup when England take on Fiji at Twickenham. It will signal the start of 6 weeks of high octane, relentless competition where every scrum, line out, loose ball and inch of territory will be contested with an inhuman level of intensity by some of the most focused and committed sportsmen on the planet. For the first time, twenty nations will compete for the Rugby World Cup exclusively on English soil – the birthplace of the game.

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Each national squad will be filled with players used to pushing themselves further than most people could ever endure. Their single-minded determination and uncompromising attitudes makes the players pool a fascinating environment. It’s not difficult to find leaders amongst this group; big personalities and exceptional talent are everywhere. So in an environment like this, how do you pick the right leader?

In a crowd of leaders, who should lead?

What has developed in the rugby world is a very unique form of team leadership. There is now less emphasis on the captain as the iconic leader, instead leadership is expected and required across the field; leadership is a collective responsibility. The captain still has specific on-field duties but his leadership is one more of example and less of micro management. Every player in the team is responsible for himself and those around him, it gives a shared responsibility to the entire squad to monitor performance levels and be aware of their fellow teammates. It has developed a stronger sense of unity across teams whose players have become much more sensitive to the human element of team performance and of their position within the bigger picture.

This hasn’t made the role of the captain defunct, in many ways in the combative world of rugby it’s made it harder – a captain has to bring an incredibly high level of performance to every game. When muscles are aching and exhaustion is ravaging body and mind, it’s to the captain that other players look for inspiration. One team captain that has been a huge inspiration, not only to his team mates, but to his country and to the sport is New Zealand All Blacks Captain – Richie McCaw.

richie New Zealand All Black captain Richie McCaw (C) is tackled by Australian Wallabies No8 Radike Samo (C-L) and scrum-half Will Genia (R) as lock Dan Vickerman (lower L) looks on during the 2011 Rugby World Cup semi-final match Australia vs New Zealand at Eden Park Stadium in Auckland on October 16, 2011. AFP PHOTO / GREG WOOD (Photo credit should read GREG WOOD/AFP/Getty Images)

Having been made captain of the All Blacks in 2006, McCaw hasn’t always had it easy and came under fire after the 2007 Rugby World Cup when the All Blacks were defeated in the Quarter Finals. However, it was how he bounced back from that which saw him grow as a leader and 4 years later, on home soil, the All Blacks became World Champions. With 142 Caps for his country (and counting), McCaw is now the most capped player in Rugby Union history and you only have to hear what his team mates and coaches say about him to understand why his captaincy, where his attitude, respect and determination mixed with talent and the talent of those around him have made the All Blacks the world champions.  Click here for a great tribute article on the man himself.

On-pitch lessons for the business world

While the intensity of a rugby world cup game presents a somewhat unique set of circumstances, there are some very worthwhile and unique insights that the business world can take from the team ethos of top-level rugby players. With clear objectives and a clearly defined place in a team, the advantage of introducing shared responsibility and leadership can mean that no area of the team takes their eye off the ball. Co-workers become much more sensitive to each others habits and quirks and can identify when either motivation or respite is necessary.

It is of course important to set boundaries within this framework – while you want team members to have the confidence to lead and help each other, you mustn’t allow there to develop any confusion in the management structure which is easy to mitigate against with clearly defined goals and objectives.

Any team that can be nurtured and developed to the point of operating at a level where the sense of shared responsibility drives them forward to success is not something that happens overnight. Time and effort have to be put into team building, growing confidence amongst team members and allowing leaders to develop but the results can be remarkable.