What do you do when you fall out with your star performer? That’s the predicament of Scotland rugby coach Gregor Townsend and his stand off Finn Russell – one of the world’s top players. The coach claims the star breached clear rules of team behaviour. The star claims that communication with the coach has been poor for a long time and challenges whether his boss is actually any good at his job.

The situation playing out in the glare of the publicity of the Six Nations is actually similar to what often happens in the corporate world between leaders and their top people. Last week’s remarkable developments at Credit Suisse being a case in point!

“If I don’t like the man, I must get to know him better.”

So, how would our experts at Black Isle Group advise Gregor and Finn.  We would hope that they could resolve this without intervention from a third party. Even if it might take someone else to remind them of their responsibility to the greater enterprise compared to their currently entrenched positions.

Our Managing Director, psychologist and executive coach, Tom Blower, turns to Abraham Lincoln for guidance. It was the 16th President who said, “If I don’t like the man, I must get to know him better.”

We would suggest both boss and star look at what’s been said and pick out where their relationship is breaking down.  The trust equation might be a useful tool to repair the rift:

  • Credibility- is what they are saying clear, and unambiguous?
  • Reliability – have they not done what they say they would do?
  • Intimacy – are they prepared to share how they feel?
  • Self-orientation – are they putting other people first?


We would suggest that they prefer to use “I type statements” e.g. “when I experienced…, I felt…”. They should avoid “you type statements” eg. “You did this…” These are accusatory.

Disagreements are inevitable, especially in high pressure situations. In fact, if handled well, they are healthy as they provide a way to explore alternative perspectives. The two parties need to agree how they will handle disagreements in future.

As Black Isle Group’s MD, Sarah Sweetman, puts it “The choice we all have is how we choose to interpret and beyond that how we choose to react. Being aware of the automatic response on both those fronts and considering the benefit of the alternative!”

Allowing time and space for other people to be heard, as well as agreeing what will be acceptable and what will not be acceptable when the two parties disagree will be important if future disagreements are to be navigated. The alternative is, as we see in this case, some form of alienation, leading to dysfunction, a loss in engagement and productivity.

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