Book Review: All Blacks Book: Legacy by James Kerr

Legacy: About the All Blacks Book

‘Unputdownable’, says Bloomberg. ‘Brilliant’, remarks the Executive Chairman of Saatchi and Saatchi. In his All Blacks book, Legacy, bestselling author of ‘The Alphabet of the Human Heart’, James Kerr tells us, ‘What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life’. It is fundamentally an inspirational book of 15 Lessons on Leadership.

This book was £12.99 and about 179 pages. It contains around 53,000 words which would take the average reader about 4.5 hours to read, with 60% comprehension.

Book cover of Legacy by James Kerr
What all blacks can teach us about the business of life


The All Blacks, the New Zealand International Rugby Union team are the most successful international men’s rugby side of all-time. As of last year (2017), they had a winning percentage of 77.21%. They are the first rugby team to have won 500 Test matches and are the current Rugby World Cup champions, winning the title in 2011 and 2015. Their most recent victory is the first time it has been won successively by any team – having already won the inaugural event in 1987. Furthermore, they have also won 10 of the 16 Tri-Nations trophies, and five of the six Rugby Championships contested.

Statistically, they are not only the most successful international rugby team ever, in fact, they are the most successful sporting team in history. The All Black Rugby Team are phenomenal. A true sporting icon.

As with any heroes, the All Blacks make it look easy. Kerr’s book gives a wonderful insight into the struggles, the ethos, and the reasons as to why. As well as a fascinating read for any business leader, it’s also an interesting story about something very special that started long ago, is held onto with both hands, and has never been let go. Even when the tough gets super tough!

Lessons for Business Leaders from the All Blacks Book

There are 15 lessons for leaders from the generations that have carved the All Blacks into history:

  1. Character
  2. Adapt
  3. Purpose
  4. Responsibility
  5. Learn
  6. Whanau
  7. Expectations
  8. Preparation
  9. Pressure
  10. Authenticity
  11. Sacrifice
  12. Language
  13. Ritual
  14. Whakapapa
  15. Legacy

In the lesson of ‘character’, the story is told simply and powerfully. Two senior players finished training. They pick up a long-handled broom each and sweep out the sheds – ‘Because no one looks after the All Blacks. They look after themselves’. Threading through the book is language. A language that they hold dearly. Both native Māori words, and inspiring phrases. In the ‘adapt’ lesson, the All Blacks discuss ‘going for the gap’. Kevin Roberts, the CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, brings this to life. He talks about starting being easy:

‘First list around 10 things you need to achieve over the next 100 days. Start each plan with an action verb and use no more than 3 words each…You’ll know something isn’t a stretch when you can list off things you can tick off’.

Of course, as a training provider, we were interested in the 5th lesson, ‘learn’. The ethos here is that if each player can improve by just 5 per cent, the team is going to improve.  Consequently, then you have ‘got something special’.

The Ideomotor Effect

In the ‘expectations’ lesson, Kerr writes of a piece of research performed by social psychologist John A. Bargh and colleagues in 1996. They tested the ‘Ideomotor Effect’. This tests if actions subconsciously follow from thoughts. He gave groups of participants single-word flashcards and asked them to construct simple sentences. Buried within some of the group’s cards of words like ‘Florida’ was, for example, adjectives like ‘bald’, ‘grey’, ‘wrinkled’, and ‘arthritis’. Finally, after completing the sentences they walked along the corridor to the exit. Their walk was timed. Those who had worked with the words arthritis, slowly, bald, etc.

…They Walked More Slowly…

This became known as the ‘Florida Effect’, part of the psychology of priming. In ‘legacy’, the All Blacks talk about stories of previous success, and more importantly, what is possible. They bring this to life with huge imagination. It fuels them.

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Final Thoughts

The All Blacks book, Legacy is a unique and inspirational resource for leaders of all fields. At its core is a formula for phenomenal and unrivalled sustained success. Furthermore, it makes you admire the standards the All Blacks adhere to, and allows you to take a look at yourself to assess how you can do things better. How you can consistently perform at the highest level day in day out like they do. What lessons can you learn? To sum up,  this is a fantastic account of an unrelenting drive for success and thoroughly worth reading.

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