Seat Unique Brand Ambassador and former Wales and Lions captain Sam Waburton discusses the characteristics of an effective team, on and off pitch.

Throughout Sam Warburton's illustrious career he's achieved many feats - he was the youngest ever Lions captain, gained 74 Wales caps, won two Six Nations Titles with Wales Rugby and was the undefeated Lions Test captain in 2013 and 2017. This came not just as a result of his own hard work and determination, but through effective leadership and team work too.  

We sat down with the Seat Unique Brand Ambassador and former Wales captain and Lions Captain at the Principality Stadium, to discuss what it takes to lead and build a successful team in 2022.

What makes a good team leader?

"I think humility is the number one trait a leader can have. Somebody once said to me, "if it wasn’t for your job title, would people follow you?" If you’re well-mannered, polite, courteous and humble people are much more likely to do that."

"Number two is to be an expert in the field. You need to do what it takes to remain an expert. You won’t know everything but you need to have a point of difference from someone else, which is why you’ve been put in that position."

"Number three would be team first. Always team first. I’ve seen leaders or captains who were very selfish or egotistical and people see through it so easily. So, team first is an absolute must."

What makes a good team player?

"When I was a captain we had a sports psychologist who said "right, we’re going to come up with your leadership compass; that’s got to be the four traits that you need to display which you think will make a good captain." I made sure every training day I displayed all four of those traits and I called it my four P’s."

"So, number one is positive. I was always really positive whether it was playing against the All Blacks or just a day’s training. When you have days when you get up and you can’t be bothered, don't be afraid of that. That's normal behaviour but you still have to remain positive in front of the group."

Image: The Seat Unique team with Sam Warburton OBE and the WRU at Principality Stadium. 

"Number two is professional. That was things like dress code, being on time, the way I applied myself in training, doing all my extras, the way I applied myself  in front of a TV camera or during sessions because I knew young players were looking up at me. I had to be the best professional. I had to do whatever it took whether it was physiotherapy, treatment, extra skill work, extra fitness work, extra rest, going to bed on time or eating the right food."

"Third is people. This was probably the hardest one for me at the time because I’m naturally a very introverted person. I needed to make sure I was accessible for everybody in the team. If there was a problem, I needed people to be able to speak to me. So I had to make a conscious effort to get to know everyone better -  not be their best friend but I might sit on a table where I don’t know that group as well, eavesdrop and suddenly join conversation so overtime I got to know everyone and build that network."

"The fourth one - which is the most important one - was my performance. That was actually the outcome on my Saturday. You can do all those things but if you don’t rock up the weekend for your team and you’re not one of the best guys at your job, then you will lose out on all that respect that you potentially could have received."

Can you give us examples of good teams and what makes them great?

"The Lions would be an obvious one and it happens naturally because you have the luxury of being able to pick who you want in your team. So of course, you want to pick good players but when I speak to coaches and selectors they always say "yeah we pick good players but we also make sure we pick good people.""

"You need to have good people and that’s how the Lions were great. If somebody asked me "who didn’t you like on the Lions tour?", I'd say no one. Someone asked me earlier how hard it was to put the Lions together, and it was so easy because everyone put the Lions first. If the Lions win the test series we're all test series winners - not just the captain, not just the kicker, not just the hooker. Everyone is remembered. "

"That’s the best team I’ve been involved with because there were no egos, the team came first and that goes back to what I said about top leaders. They make sure it’s always team first."

Tell us about your most rewarding team experience

"There’s one here [Principality Stadium] which was in November 2014. Wales hadn’t beaten South Africa for 15 years. There was this massive monkey on my back and I was always trying to chase what was perceived to be a higher team, which I always hated because people say Wales love being underdogs. I hate being the underdog. I want to be the top dog. I want that pressure of people chasing us but we didn’t have that because we hadn’t beaten them in 15 years."

"Psychologically that pressure was enormous because we were in a game of that magnitude and everyone was expecting the same result. We were in the lead by only a couple of points and we were on our own try line. I won't go through the technical details but we managed to see the game through. The final whistle went and we finally beat them. We finally beat South Africa for the first time in 15 years and I was captain in that game. That was a proud moment because people didn't believe in us."

During your time captaining the Lions and Wales, how did you lead by example?

"When there’s a young kid coming through, they ask me questions about what it takes to be a Lion and I’d ask: who’s in the gym doing his extra rehabilitation? Who’s doing extra kicking on the field? Who's left here? And everyone who was left there was a leader who’d achieved 50 caps for Wales, 100 caps for Wales, they’d done 2 Lions tours. They were still at the training ground. It’s not just working 13 hours for 13 hours sake, it's because they had something productive to do, something they knew would make them a slightly better player."

"Making sure you get 8 hours sleep; making sure that on your day off you're actually having a day off; hitting your protein and calorie consumption; making sure you tick all the boxes and you do the weight sessions that you need to do; have the physiotherapy treatment. They sound like little things but when you add them all up and do them for 5 years, you become a heck of a much better player than the other guy who doesn't do it."

What is your biggest motivator to succeed?

"My agent actually asked me this question. He said when he speaks to young players and asks them what they want to do, they always say "I want to get my first contract with the Ospreys, maybe play about 10 games and then I'd love to play for Wales.""

"He said, "I remember when I asked you that question - what do you want to do with your career?" and he told me I looked at him completely deadpan and said "I want to be number 7. I’m going to be the best number 7 in the world." I can't remember saying that but that’s how I felt."

"I remember I’d be playing for my school when I was 15 and we were playing national championships and I’d get nervous. But I was never nervous in a one-on-one battle with another player because I genuinely believed in myself. I was very tall and fit, strong and athletic. I knew I was genetically quite lucky. I’m a good athlete but I thought more importantly I train harder than he does, I eat better than he does, I'm more committed than he is. I have more willpower and belief and I’m mentally a lot tougher than him."

"I took enormous confidence that whenever I played someone I knew they weren't doing what I was doing. And if I wanted to play for the Lions, I was going to be the best number 7 with school or my county or my country for Wales, England and Scotland, I was going to be the best in that age group over 15 years."

"So when you look at the amount of registered rugby players there are and the position I play, on average if you want to play number 7 for the Lions you’ve got to be the best number 7 out of 70,000 people. 1 in 70,000 people can start that test match, so I’ve got to beat 69,999 people."

"I believed I was willing to do more than anyone else. I never worried about my opposite numbers. If I'm going to play for the Lions, I have to be better than this guy here - that was my mentality growing up."

What recent accomplishment are you most proud of?

"After I finished playing, I went swimming and there was this woman who kept looking at me in the swimming pool and it was awkward because people don’t normally check me out. But she finally came over and said "Sam, I’m really sorry to bother you but I’m a local primary school teacher," I find it quite embarrassing saying this, but I'm actually proud of this in a weird way! She said, "I just want to thank you for everything you’ve done for the national team, the captaincy and the way you trained yourself because whenever it’s St David’s Day and we have to ask the kids to pick someone, they pick yourself and I just want to thank you for being a lovely role model to all the kids.""

"It was a really nice thing to hear because my mum always taught me that manners don't cost a penny. I was just being myself and I always wanted to stay true to myself. Someone once gave me the advice: be true to yourself because other people will see straight through it if you aren't."

"So that was a great thing to hear, because rather than just playing a game of rugby and winning the odd game, you're helping people in other ways too. I'm really proud of the role I took on as captain. I was actually proud of that responsibility and I hope I did a decent job of it - I'd like to think I did."  

Official Wales Rugby hospitality packages Six Nations 2022 fixtures at the Principality Stadium are now available to buy via Seat Unique.

VIP tickets for Principality Stadium Experience events including Stereophonics and Ed Sheeran concerts are also available to book now.