Home Articles What I have learnt (the hard way) – John Eales

What I have learnt (the hard way) – John Eales

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John Eales – Businessman and former Australian rugby union captain

Playing sport at an elite level can teach you a lot about yourself… and others. Since retiring from a stellar international rugby union career that saw him captain the Wallabies to World Cup victory in 1999, John Eales has applied the lessons he learnt in the scrums to a life in business. He is the author of the Learning From Legends book series, the second instalment of which features the collected wisdom of more the 30 legends of Australian business, including Lindsay Fox, Peter Cosgrove, Margaret Jackson, John Singleton, Bob Mansfield, Christine Nixon and John Symond. Here, Eales shares what he has learnt (the hard way).

Interviewed, edited and condensed by Paul Ryan.


There are a lot of parallels between sport and business.

It doesn’t meant that if you are successful in one that you will automatically be successful in the other, but there is a lot of application.

If you have a passion for something, you’ll do better.

You’ll be willing to put aside a lot of the rubbish that you have to cop along the way. The rubbish might be running around an oval twenty times, doing 20 x 400 metre runs. There’s pain and you are not going to enjoy all of those moments, but if you love what you are doing you will put up with everything along the way. It’s the same in business. It’s not all plain sailing. It’s really tough. You have to make tough decisions. You have to be demanding on yourself and sometimes compromise what you would prefer to do. But if you have a real passion for what you are working in, then those decisions become easier.

You have to know yourself and to be able to deal with failure and move on from it.

I remember John O’Neil saying that Rod MacQueen is considered the greatest coach in Australian rugby… and he lost 20 percent of the matches he coached. In a sense, he failed 20 percent of the time. You’ve got to be prepared to come back from that. You do lose matches and it is exactly the same in business. Whether you can deal with other people’s perceptions, tolerance and time-frames is another question. It also depends on when you lose. If you keep losing all the big matches, that’s likely to cause a greater problem than losing some along the way and learning from them.

Every success has a lesson in it.

You need to be prepared to understand what it is. The lessons from the failures are probably more obvious. Sometimes success covers over the lessons from the great things that you’ve been part of. The media often speaks in absolutes. If things aren’t going well, they’re very quick to assume that all is wrong. When things are going well, people are very quick to assume that all is right. The reality is, even in great times, some things will be going wrong. You have to be checking along the way.

It’s vital that you have roles or interests outside of work and family.

I know it’s difficult to find the balance for that, but life is all about perspective. As a sportsperson, one of the things you learn is that it is very easy not to have perspective, because you can live in a bubble. In many respects, being a sportsperson is quite a selfish endeavour. Charities are a great way to get perspective. Getting involved in community sporting clubs is a great way to get perspective as well, because sport is something that brings people together.

Illustration: Sam Griffin

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