Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting and working on the
exact shrine where one of the supreme acts of contemporary
Irish management was conceived. Together with the members of
SMACHT Donegal we retraced the footsteps and mind steps of
Jimmy McGuinness, the legendary Donegal football manager.
In his wonderful book ‘From Good to Great’, another Jim – Jim
Collins – examined just what it was that distinguished
companies who had gone from being once ‘Good’ to ‘Great’. He
defined ‘Greatness’ as organisations who outperformed the
industry average by a factor of ten.
Jimmy McGuinness took charge of a football team who ranked
26th out of 32 when he took over as manager in 2011 and who
had only ever once before won the ultimate accolade of an All
Ireland championship in 1992. How he achieved it had much in
common with what Jim Collins discovered the great business
‘McGuinness’ first decision was to bring the entire Donegal
squad away to a quiet and sacred space to analyse the situation.
In the beautiful Rosapenna Hotel in The Rosguill Peninsula,
he interviewed on a one-to-one basis each member of the squad
and asked them what they felt was preventing them from winning;
what needed to be done to win; and what they individually
would commit to winning.
2. BHAG – Big Hairy Audacious Goal
Having listened to each member he then formulated a clear and
unambiguous BHAG. Donegal will win an Ulster title in two
years and an All Ireland in four years. He actually won the Ulster
championship in his first year and won both the Ulster and All
Ireland Championships in his second year. Outstanding and
3. No Excusitis:
He had them recognise and acknowledge and ultimately purge
their old excuses and stories as to why they were not winning. A
great question to repeatedly ask is whether your excuses are
greater than your dreams?
4. Get the Right People on the bus and the Wrong People off the
His decision to effectively fire Kevin Cassidy – a current all star –
was seen as preposterous by many outsiders. All great leaders
are prepared to make hard decisions and believe as Tim Ferriss
does that ‘success can be defined by the amount of
uncomfortable conversations you are willing to have.’
5. Game Plan.
It mattered not a whit that Pat Spillane, one of the greatest
footballers of all time, described McGuinnes’ game plan as ‘puke
football’. It was based on a thorough SWOT analysis of their
strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats and a
resulting game plan that played accordingly.
6. Fitter than any other county:
On my return from Rosapenna to Galway last night I had a call
from Joe Coyle, one of our great Smachties. He told me that
what he had taken from the McGuinness experience was to
‘control the controlables’. Add a hyphen to that word and you
get ‘Control-Able’. The decision to be the fittest county in Ireland
was a ‘control-able’. Thanks Joe.
After the formal session in the Rosapenna, another Smachtie,
Mairtín Kelly – a Galway man in love in Donegal – organised to
take us diving in Mevagh Diving Centre. What a fabulous
experience. Alice Lynch from Maggies Tavern and Mary Hannon
from Hannon Greene put all the guys to shame by
outperforming them down under.
What we all learned however is that you can do almost anything
in life with a bit of SMACHT – even stay under 4 metres of water
for 30 minutes. That surely would have been thought impossible
a century ago!