Collective Genius: Alen Stajcic and Peter Cox

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When Alen Stajcic was appointed head coach of the women’s national football team last year, he brought in a secret weapon: Peter Cox, a leadership specialist who helped transform the team’s culture. The result? The Matildas defeated Brazil in June and became the first Australian team – male or female – to win a knockout stage match at the World Cup.

What makes it work?

One of them hones the team’s skills, the other their psyche. Collective Genius

Alen says

“When I got the job, I saw a couple of holes in the team culture and environment. We had a relatively young group and there was a little bit of individualism above the needs of the team. There were almost no role models to learn from. We wanted a new culture so I went on a manhunt to find someone who could help me with that.

At my first meeting with Coxy, I was really intrigued. My original plan was to get someone in for one or two sessions but he saw it as an ongoing process; he wanted to have a connection to the team. That’s what I wanted to hear. I liked his leadership ideas.

Bringing someone in from outside met with some initial resistance but that changed very quickly. Peter and I worked hard with the leadership group in one-on-one sessions and with the team as a whole. The change in attitude was probably most profound in Lisa De Vanna. She was a key player but she’d been on the outer. I thought other players had a more rounded perspective and probably fit better within the group. But she grew so much within the process and is now the team captain. To see her speaking with such energy and passion on live TV recently was just amazing.

I see so many similarities between leading a sporting team and a corporate team and the key is getting everyone striving to be the best they can be. The need for an environment in which every member can flourish is universal.

Working with Peter as closely as I did certainly stimulated a lot of thoughts about my own leadership and the approaches I took. He took me out of my comfort zone. He might shoot off 20 or 30 ideas a day at you and you’ll grab the best four or five of those and see what fits for you and the team.

There are so many parts to the jigsaw puzzle and he was a critical part of ours. Our goal now is for the Matildas to be genuine world-class contenders and to win gold. I know I can rely on Peter. He’s a good friend.”

Peter says

“When I met Staj, he had only four or five months to get the girls ready for the World Cup in June. I’m not a football coach and, in a way, the less I know the better because I’m not emotionally tied to the vision or to the people.

It’s the highest-level coaching position Staj has ever had and he’s certainly moving the Matildas in the right direction. I think his greatest strengths are his communication skills, his vision and his ability to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of his own team and the opposition. As much as he loves the players, he doesn’t get emotionally tied to them because he has to make tough decisions.

Staj is a natural leader. Leadership is about influence. If you don’t have influence, you’re not a leader; no-one will follow you. I spent a lot of time helping him develop those skills, empowering the girls and helping them understand what leadership is all about.

You need to have a certain level of humility to allow yourself to be led by someone independent. Lisa De Vanna rang Alen when she heard that an outsider was coming in.

She was pretty stressed about who I was and what I was going to do but her life has changed now, her behaviours have changed and her thinking has changed. When the Matildas knocked Brazil out of the World Cup, I was at the Athens Sports Bar in Greece with about 20 Greek friends and my wife. Let’s just say the Greeks didn’t know what was happening! The significance for me was knowing I played a part in that.” 

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