Caitlin Bassett: What Joel Selwood taught me about leadership

Caitlin Bassett
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Joel Selwood’s advice changed my approach to leadership.
Joel Selwood’s advice changed my approach to leadership. Credit: Mark Kolbe/AFL Photos/via Getty Images

When I was given the honour of being named captain of our nation’s netball team, there was one Australian sporting legend who gave me advice that completely shaped the way I approached leadership.

In 2017, my Diamonds teammates selected me to lead them in one of the most humbling moments of my career.

While I may not have yet seen myself as captain material, they did, which immediately gave me the confidence to keep doing what I was doing.

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Soon after, I had the opportunity to talk leadership with AFL great Joel Selwood. His wisdom and views on what it takes to lead had a huge impact on my leadership journey.

Selwood was in Perth to play against Ireland in an international rules series game and was only a few years into his time as Geelong skipper, having been appointed in 2012 as one of the team’s youngest leaders at just 23.

More than anything, I was keen to learn from his experiences with managing different personalities within a group and how he approached leading teammates far older and more experienced than him.

He revealed to me how he empowered the group as a whole to build a strong culture and step up as leaders in their own way — whether they were a first-year player or a veteran.

Caitlin Bassett.
Caitlin Bassett. Credit: Danella Bevis/The West Australian

The key was he did not see others stepping up as a threat to his position. Instead, he viewed it as adding strength to the team as a whole and actively encouraged it.

It was enlightening to hear how he engaged with the group to build a strong culture.

While he was the tossing the coin and was the public face of the team’s leadership, behind closed doors he tapped into the wealth of experience of those around him to galvanise the group, and that filtered throughout the team.

For me as Diamonds captain, I realised I did not have to feel the pressure of being perfect at everything.

My weaknesses were one of my teammate’s strength, so I would encourage them to step up in these areas.

In our team huddle after a warm-up, I was more than happy to let others lead the chat, which helped keep everyone engaged and switched on.

I didn’t have to be each person’s best friend. If someone had a better relationship with another player, I could lean into their connection. I didn’t have to view them turning elsewhere as a negative.

It came as no surprise to me that Selwood had a stint as leadership coach at the Melbourne Storm rugby league team after he retired.

Although he had never played the game himself, his leadership skills transcend sports and are relevant across all codes.

To me, modern leadership is less about on-field performance and more about the impact a leader can have on the culture of a team.

An important trait of modern leaders is their capacity to be agile and adapt.

Just this week, Wallabies legend John Eales said trying to create a culture where everyone is a leader is more important than thinking about who the captain is.

Eales, who captained the Wallabies in 55 tests, is arguably Australia’s greatest skipper and his views are something that resonate with the shift we are seeing in elite sporting culture.

Collingwood’s reigning premiership captain Darcy Moore has also recently spoken of the fact that his leadership will continue to evolve and that the style of a team will shift and change as the personnel does.

It was refreshing to hear him as a successful captain not be pressured to emulate what he and his team achieved last year. Instead, he sees an opportunity to grow as a leader.

Shifting away from command and control and moving towards a more collaborative model, leaders are focused on building connection and trust.

I am grateful for the advice Selwood gave me and it still resonates with me in my life away from netball and it is heartening for me to see this type of approach being recognised as the new norm in Australian sport.

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