Avoiding Leadership Shock: How Rugby Lessons Shape Top CEOs with Pete Steinberg


In this episode, I’m joined by Pete Steinberg, a leadership and innovation expert with a notable background in sports coaching and corporate leadership development. Pete shares his unique perspective on the symbiotic relationship between coaching world cup rugby and the dynamic realm of corporate management.

Drawing on his extensive experience, including coaching the USA women’s rugby team in two World Cups and the Rio Olympics, Pete illustrates the critical lessons that rugby can teach us about leadership in the business world. Our conversation delves into his book, “Leadership Shock,” where Pete outlines his innovative approach to leadership that challenges conventional norms and offers new strategies to adapt to the rapidly changing business landscape.

Pete Steinberg

Pete Steinberg is a leadership and innovation expert with extensive experience consulting with top Fortune 500 professionals. He also has more than 20 years of experience as an elite rugby coach, coaching the USA Women’s Rugby Team at two World Cups and the Rio Olympics.

As a former U.S., international, and Olympic sports coach and commentator for major outlets such as CBS, ESPN, and Fox Sports, Pete has a track record of bringing teams to victory. He has won 11 National Championships with the Penn State Women, MARFU Men, and Temple Women rugby teams. He has also worked with the Men’s Eagles and other age-grade programs within the U.S. National team pathway. Pete was the Head of Coach Development for USA Rugby, leading the program as it became integrated into the World Rugby programs.

Pete is also the President of Innovative Thought, a business consultancy focused on leadership and organizational development. He supports clients in the areas of innovation, leadership, strategic planning, marketing, recruiting and organizational development. Pete works regularly as an executive coach for senior executives of global companies.


Pete holds affiliated faculty positions with the Tepper Business School at Carnegie Mellon University and the Smeal College of Business at Penn State.

🔑 Key Themes & Takeaways:

  • Leadership and Sports: Pete explores how coaching rugby offers invaluable lessons for corporate leadership, emphasizing a player-centered approach and the necessity of empowering team members to make decisions. 🏉

  • Leadership Shock: Pete details his methodology in his book, explaining how traditional leadership approaches are often jolted by the demands of modern business environments, and how adapting these strategies is crucial for success. 📈

  • Corporate Athletes: The discussion highlights how business professionals are like athletes, where performance, resilience, and strategic thinking play critical roles. 🚴

  • From Sports to Corporate: Insights into how skills honed on the rugby field translate into effective corporate strategies, focusing on teamwork, tactical decision-making, and the importance of a psychologically safe environment. 🧠

  • The Role of Reflection and Adaptation in Leadership: Pete emphasizes the importance of reflecting on and adapting leadership styles to suit evolving challenges and opportunities in both sports and business. 🔄

We talk about:

  • 00:00 Intro

  • 03:02 How is rugby like business

  • 06:45 Two things he brought from coaching elite athletes

  • 13:07 Coaching at the International level and the stress

  • 19:36 Spending time with the team psychologist and how it links to being a CEO

  • 21:42 Diving into Carolyn’s choice to not pursue coaching and if she could go back, would she make the same choices

  • 25:52 Peter’s history playing rugby

  • 28:17 What is the concept of leadership shock

  • 31:10 What do leaders need to make explicit – being intentional

  • 41:50 Knowing who you are

  • 44:47 Rapid fire questions

🌈 Closing Thoughts:

This episode with Pete Steinberg offers deepens our understanding of leadership, providing a framework for leaders to foster environments that value strategic thinking, resilience, and adaptability. Pete’s transition from a rugby coach to a leadership expert demonstrates the profound impact that a well-rounded leadership philosophy can have on personal and organizational success.

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Carolyn: Welcome to evolve a new era of leadership. I’m your host, Carolyn Suara. And today we are blending the world of sport and business. Our guest is Pete Steinberg. Now Pete is a leadership and innovation expert, and he has extensive experience working with top fortune 500 professionals. He brings into that current role, 20 years of experience.

As an elite rugby coach, he coached the USA women’s rugby team at two World Cups and at the Rio Olympics. He’s also been a commentator on some major outlets for this sport, and he helped, the Penn State team, led them to victory in 11 national championships. As a coach. So I’m so excited to have this conversation with Pete, um, specifically about his book called leadership shock, where you can really see the methodology that he uses and how he’s leveraged his experience as a top elite performance coach and how he brings that into our world in the corporate space.

I hope you enjoy this conversation. I’m really looking forward to it.

Hello, Evolve listeners. We’ve got our next episode for you today, and I am so excited to have Pete Steinberg on the show. Pete, welcome.

Peter: Thank you, Carolyn. I’m excited to be here.

Carolyn: Yeah, well, I, I need to share why, I mean, I’m excited just in general. However, I’m very excited to be, um, In conversation with somebody who has the sport background that you have, um, and the work that you do with leaders, because I believe we’re all like, we’re all corporate athletes and there’s so much similarity between this notion of performance.

So. You wrote this great book called leadership shock. Uh, and we’re, we’re absolutely going to dig into that. But first, can we dig into a little bit about your, your athletic history as a coach near and dear? We will get to leadership shock y’all, but, um,

Peter: all, it’s all linked, Carolyn.

Carolyn: it is.

Peter: honestly, it’s all linked.

Carolyn: So tell us.

Peter: don’t see these things as too set. Everyone else is like, Oh, you have sport and business. I’m like, I treat them exactly the same.

Carolyn: exactly. So, um, I mean, I played a little bit of rugby in my day. I’ll be honest. I didn’t like it, but I got really hooked into world cup rugby a few years ago. So like now I even know, like the referee names I got into the refs. Anyway, let’s hear a little bit. Tell us a little bit about rugby and how that really, how, like, just kind of what you said, like sports and rugby, um, or sorry, sports and business have so many similarities.

Peter: So I’m going to be a little bit of a rugby advocate here. Because I don’t think that all sport, I actually don’t like sport analogies for business in general. And the reason why I don’t like sports analogies in general for business is that sports is very outcome driven.

Carolyn: Uh,

Peter: So in other words, it’s win and lose.

And so what we think is that teams that win, we should learn from and teams that lose, we shouldn’t learn from.

Carolyn: And how’s that different with rugby?

Peter: well, I’ll get there. So that’s truthful sports. The difference in rugby, at least for most North American sports is that rugby is a player centered sport. So when I coached at the world cup in 2017, I stood in the stands next to fans watching the team play.

I could not really influence the game. While the game was going on. So while the sport of rugby may not be a like, just like all sports, because there’s outcomes and we think of winners and losers as the best, actually coaching rugby is a great model for leadership because I have to teach my team as a rugby coach to work together, to be leaders on the field, to make both tactical and strategic decisions. And I don’t have a say in that.

Carolyn: and so

Peter: that’s really the piece that is, I think, transfers to, um, to business. Very well.

Carolyn: so I didn’t notice that. But now that you say that the coaches were, when I think of watching it, they were

Peter: Yeah. They’re in a

Carolyn: near the plate.

Peter: They’re they’re in a box and they’re talking to the physios, right. Who are talking to the players and the players can absolutely ignore what the coach says. It is always the player’s choice.

Carolyn: Oh, I love that. Okay. I’ve totally bought into that, Pete. Here’s the other thing. If I may, what I love about rugby is the way that the referees interact with the players and to work with them to create the game together instead of trying to insert and like, that’s right. That’s wrong. I love the way that they talk to them and it’s a real partnership.


Peter: that make rugby a little bit different there. So rugby has laws, not rules. And the reason why it has laws is laws are open to interpretation. So actually, when you’re on the field that you the players have to be able to communicate with the referee and say, well, hold it.

How did you call that? How did you interpret that law in that moment? And then I have to go tell my team that that’s how you’re going to interpret the law so we can all do it the same way. So actually about the first 10 or 15 minutes of a rugby game, what, what, what the players do is the players are working out how is the referee interpreting the laws.

And so that requires an interaction between. The players and the coach, and there’s a whole bunch of really cool stuff in rugby. Like the respect for the official is very strong. Right? So you, you literally say, you know, you call it sir or ma’am. And you’re like, sir, I have a question, right? If you ever like said, what the heck ref.

You’d get penalized, right? It’s like there’s, there’s, there’s a huge amount of respect. And I like to think, and I’ve refereed a little bit myself. Um, and I like to think the referee is the 31st athlete and that’s how we should assume it. And the nice thing about that is that all of the athletes on the field make mistakes.

Carolyn: Right.

Peter: of the game. And so if you consider the ref, the 31st athlete, then they’re going to make mistakes and it’s okay versus seeking perfection.

Carolyn: Well, I think we’ve got the name of your next book ready. Um, like there, I, I just think that that is such a brilliant way to look at leadership too. So I can, I can see how, well, I mean, now I think before we dig into leadership shock, is there anything else about rugby and, and that sort of playing field that you’ve spent so much of your, I guess, a previous part of your life in anything else you

Peter: Yeah. Yeah. There’s, there’s, there’s two things that I took away from rugby that You know, as I said, I was maybe being a little bit facetious, but I definitely took things from my elite sport experience and I’ve always brought it to business. And when I was coaching, I brought business best practice and put it to sport.

So, so there’s huge amounts of crossover, but there’s probably two things that the coaching at the elite level really taught me. One is the value of time. So your You know, you’re coaching a national team and you’re about to play England. My very first international game was against England. It was actually, I think, Appleby College.

Carolyn: Oh my gosh. I, yes. They’re just down the street here. Yeah.

Peter: So, um, in Appleby college, and we’re about to play England and we, we had, we got together five days before. And so I think we had three practices before we played it. That’s it. So we probably had two 90 minute sessions and a 60 minute session. So we probably had four hours.

Before we played the second best team in the world, but my very first, um, coaching session and then some time off the field, right? You have that time off the field, but again, limited, right? You can’t exhaust the players in your prep. And so that taught me that every minute counts. You have to be really intentional when you have like, like when, when you coach.

You know, I coached at Penn State for 19 years. We practiced like three times a week. You had lots of time. You could think about it like, like, you could not have a good practice and it would be okay here. Every minute that you spent was really valuable. And so learning the value of time under that pressure.

That’s something that I brought into my work in business and my work in coaching and you see it. In in leadership shock as we talk about like the import how executives value their time. So that’s that’s one that the second thing is really the concept of systems thinking and, um, and the way everything connects.

So when I first started coaching rugby, I would, you know, so I’ll coach passing and I’ll coach tackling and I’ll coach evasive running and I’ll coach scrums and lineouts. And then as my coaching evolved, I suddenly realized, hold on, these things are separate. There’s a game that is being played right in the world when you coach internationally.

And then there’s the game that we as the American team want to play that give us the best choice, best chance to win, right? That’s different than the way New Zealand plays. It’s different the way England plays. It’s different than the way Canada plays, right? So what’s that game and how do you teach the players to be able to play that game when you’re not on the field?

And that’s really about building a system that all interacts. So all the different parts of the game interact, but, and it leads you to some principles and priorities. So you say, you know, so American athletes, we come to the game late. Right. So we’re not very, we’re not a skillful, but we’re normally bigger and more athletic.

Carolyn: Okay. So that’s, that’s the system that the Americans would

Peter: that’s, that’s the game model that yeah, the game model that the Americans want to play. And therefore, the way we play and therefore the way we practice. needs to be different than the way England practices or the way New Zealand practices. And so this is, this links exactly to leadership shop because I’ve seen, and you know, I do, I’m fortunate enough through my connections, I’m able to take, um, uh, lead leaders and groups of leaders down to the elite athlete training center.

It’s an Olympic training site where the U. S. Women’s Olympic team train and because I coached the current coach Emily Bidewell, I’m able to get them in. They get to interact. We do some rugby stuff. It becomes a very cool team development, high performance day. And Emily is really explicit when she talks to these executives.

That’s like, We have to play our game and there there have been instances in, um, in the history of rugby in the U. S. where we have brought in a foreign coach from New Zealand or England’s a great coach and they try to play the way New Zealand place and

Carolyn: isn’t going to happen in the U. S.

Peter: Right? And this is actually. A version of leadership shock right there, because what leadership shock is not changing the way you lead when the context around you changes.

Carolyn: Right.

Peter: Right? And so if so, if I’m coach when the way I coached the Penn State team was fundamentally different than the way I coached the US team, partly because the college game is different. The game that’s being played is different. The way we wanted to play was different. And. The goals were different when you’re coaching college kids versus internationals.

And so there’s, you have to be like really evolved leaders, uh, leaders that adjust to the context around them. And if you don’t adjust, You’re liable to go get into leadership shock. So, so, you know, this is the problem. Karen, you asked me a question. I’m probably going to give you too much, but like, fundamentally, the systems thinking piece, and then the value of time to the two biggest piece.

But within that systems thinking is that. Like, like, um, approach of evolving. Like, I never wanted to coach the same way when I coached at Penn State. Every year I wanted to evolve. Every year I coached the women’s national team. In fact, from assembly to assembly, I wanted to evolve and grow and change because I wanted to learn from that example of that interaction with the players, with an opposition and say, what can I do better and how can I evolve?

So I think if you’re on a journey of evolution as a leader, you’re unlikely to fall into leadership shock. But I know, especially early on in your career. It’s really hard to be that aware and that intentional.

Carolyn: Oh, there’s so many beautiful things. I want to ask you so many questions about coaching at an international level. I almost went there. You know, when you think of, of decisions in your life and pathways, um, I chose to go to teacher’s college instead of getting my master’s of coaching. And if I had taken that path, I would have been in the 96 Olympics, um, coaching, uh, softball.

Peter: Oh, wow.

Carolyn: And I chose not to do that path. I coached, um, I mean, the team I coached, we went to nationals, uh, a few times and a few, a few of the women I played with, uh, played in the Olympics. Um, but yeah, just personally, there’s a piece of me that wants to like talk about your international coaching.

Peter: I will, I will. So, so let me just say this. Um, I, I remember when I was on my pathway, right. And I was looking up and I’m like, Oh, I want to, I want to do that. And I talked to actually a guy that used to coach, um, the Canadian men’s team, and he was working in the U S and a very wise guy. And he’s like, it’s really not worth it.

And, um, and what I would say is, um, Coaching at, at a World Cup or the Olympics is not a fun experience

Carolyn: Why not?

Peter: because of the pressure

Carolyn: So is that the same as like being a CEO and,

Peter: I think it’s exactly the same. I, I would say it’s exactly the same as being a CEO. What I would say though is that, um, at least in rugby, um, it’s a huge jump. So when you’re a CEO, you become the vice president of a function, you become the president of a business unit.

Slowly, the pressure goes up. Um, for me, it jumps from coaching Penn State, which is not high level, high pressure. Like, I’m not going to get fired. I would coach the Penn State team for as long as I wanted to. To. Coaching at the Olympics and they like, like, there is no professional league in between. And so I probably I like it particularly in 2017. And I’ll share this with you coach to coach, and then I have a question for you.

Carolyn: Okay.

Peter: in 2014. Let me go back. So I coached at Penn State because I love seeing. Rugby help women develop. That’s why I coached. I never, I never really cared about winning. I don’t really care about winning as a coach. That’s the player’s job.

What I wanted to do is to give them the best chance to be their best selves and therefore they would win. In 2011, the previous U. S. coach stepped down and a woman called Christy Ringenberg, um, who was the athlete rep on the board, calls me up and is like, you haven’t applied for the job, for the national team.

I’m like, yeah, I just don’t know that it fits my philosophy. I don’t really care about winning. Can you coach a national team and not care about winning? And she, she said, well, like I’ve had these conversations with you. You, you’ve, you’ve always had these complaints. Now you have some the chance to do it.

You should apply. So I applied and I got the job, and I went to 2014, the World Cup was in Paris. And I was like, all right, my goal is to make this a transformative experience for the people on the team. And if I make it a transformative experience, then they’ll play at their best. And we had a great culture, like people loved it.

I was really good at building cultures like they love being on the team. We did not perform at our best.

Carolyn: Mm.

Peter: And so leading to 2017, I was, and, and, and, and what I realized only honest Caroline was that I was coaching to my goals, not to the athletes

Carolyn: Yep. Yep.

Peter: And so, and so I said, look, I have to coach. I have to coach to win that because that’s the job.

And that’s what the athletes want to do. And so change the way I coached and we became a performance culture, which

Carolyn: What was the change? What was the difference? Like, for you? What changed for you?

Peter: what changed for me is, um, accountability,

Carolyn: Okay.

Peter: both for coaches and players. Um, what changed for me was, um, uh, rewarding outcomes more than rewarding process.

Carolyn: Really?

Peter: so, so what happened in, so in 2014, rugby went into the Olympics, um, was put into the Olympics in 2012. And then all the best rugby players, same in Canada, went off to the Olympic training site and became full time professional. In 2014, we had one of those players. That was it, right? And, and, and, you know, they, there was some issues with the other coach that didn’t really want them to come play in the World Cup.

So I said, in 2017, for us to compete, we have to have those players.

Carolyn: Okay.

Peter: What I did was I sat down in, um, 2015, the first year, it’s a shorter cycle, there’s three years. And I talked to the players that weren’t the professionals. And I said, we have a choice. Either this group is going to go to the 2017 World Cup, or this group is going to work for two and a half years, really hard.

And then we’re going to bring in a bunch of players six months before that World Cup that haven’t been on our journey, right? Haven’t been part of, haven’t played all these games, six months before the World Cup to help us win. Because it’ll be right after the 2016 Olympics. And I said, what do you guys want to do? Now, Carolyn, what do you think they wanted to do?

Carolyn: They wanted to bring in the

Peter: Yeah, why?

Carolyn: months before, because they have the more skill. They want to win.

Peter: They want to win, right? And so that’s, so that’s what we did. Well, I mean, I let the players choose. Like, that’s the big thing. This is one of the fundamental things about coaching rugby, and is that you have to like, you have to empower the players to own the team, because they own the team on the field.

So everything that you do as you coach is you have to engage them in that. Like, if they had said no, it would have been no. Like, like, obviously selections we choose, but even in selections. There would be a leadership team before that we would sit down and say, here’s who we think we should select. What do you guys think?

Carolyn: Right.

Peter: Because they have to give us that feedback. So, so we bought brought those players in those players did double duty. They were training for sevens and fifteens at the same time, but they played once for us against Canada in April, and then they had like a month camp with us and then we went and we had a plan that was, you know, we’re gonna this team is played together once.

So we have to grow into the World Cup and so we’re going to select our team and that’s going to be the team that we play. And like, we’re just going to get better as we go through it. It worked and we got to the semifinal for the first time in like 20 years. And we played New Zealand and it was like the team, like it worked out exactly the way it worked out. But I probably spent more time with the sports psychologist than the players did because fundamentally it’s not, it’s fundamentally wasn’t authentic to the way I wanted to coach.

Carolyn: Okay. There’s so many overlaps to, to this as a CEO though, and what you talk about in

Peter: Yeah, completely. I mean, this is where this is where like, as I actually think coaching a high performance rugby team is very much like being a CEO, in the sense of at that level, we’ve got a staff of 12. 13. Like, I actually don’t even do much coaching. Like, I have assistants that do the coaching, which is like having functional heads or business unit presidents that actually run the business.

My job is to build the culture, to set the standards for the assistant coaches, and to engage with my organization to make sure that it’s functioning at its best. To bring the right resources to open the right doors. So being the, the head coach of an elite rugby team, I think, and being a CEO is, is, is very, very similar.

Carolyn: And, and say more about why you were spending more time with the team psychologist and how that links to being a CEO.

Peter: So I’ll give you an example. Um, well, uh, well, I mean we, I, I take, uh, um, so I do a lot of work with KPMG and I bring, um, women’s rugby players, the Olympians to KPMG to talk to them about how to be really elite performers and they all talk about the value of their sports psychologist. And how their sports psychologist helps them be at their best.

That’s the value of a great executive coach for a CEO. You need someone, I mean, I was really open. I, like, people never called me coach, they called me Pete. I tried not to get a hierarchy, but guess what? I’m choosing, I make choices about the careers of the players on my team.

Carolyn: Yep.

Peter: Um, and I need someone to talk to that I’m not leading, right?

That, that, that can call bullshit on me. That I can share things. That I can’t share with anyone else because everyone like I can’t go to my assistant coach and complain or be upset because they have a job to do. And if I take some of their emotional energy away from their job, then they’re not going to do their job as well.

I need someone that I can go to. They come to me. I need someone else that I can go to. And I think that’s, that’s, that’s the way it’s the equivalent

Carolyn: And, and I love, um, cause you know, we don’t often think about the support that coaches need. And especially when you’re coaching at that level, it must be isolated, like isolating and lonely. And yeah.

Peter: complete. I actually think coach wellness, so athlete wellness, there’s a big ramp up of athlete wellness. I actually think coach wellness you’ll see coming next

Carolyn: Yeah. I agree.

Peter: on the coaches are really extreme. And, um, and I think that it’s, uh, it’s, it’s, it’s, I mean, it’s not healthy right at the top, like when you’re at the Olympics or at the World Cup, it’s not healthy, like, no, it’s kind of not healthy for anyone.

I always joke. I always joke. I have a four year old and seven year old, and I always tell my friends that I want my kids to be like above average, but not great at any sport because I don’t want them to be elite athletes because elite athletes comes with huge sacrifice and a very, very small payoff.

Carolyn: Totally agree. We could, we could talk for a long time about

Peter: Well, I have a question for you, Carolyn, about coaching before we

Carolyn: all right.

Peter: If you went back to your young self. And that decision point of masters in coaching or, um, uh, and by the way, 96 Olympics for softball. That was a big deal. That was in Atlanta. That was

Carolyn: I know it

Peter: was that. Yeah, that was a big deal or teaching.

Would you go back and tell them to make a different decision?

Carolyn: Absolutely. A bajillion percent. Yep. Oh, all right. Love it. Let’s go there. Um, why did I not? A few reasons. Um, I had always thought, so I had three choices. I was going to go to teacher’s college and be a gym teacher. I was going to, uh, do a master’s in public health. Cause I liked, I liked health. Um, and I didn’t want to be a doctor and that serves the greater good.

But I loved coaching. I loved coaching and I was a better coach than I was a player. I was an average player, but I knew the game and I knew the people side of it. Um, Co uh, teachers college was the safest option for me. And when I say safe is it followed old patterns. It sort of followed, you know,

Peter: it led you to a job. It led you to a career. And, and, and, and we have to be kind that back then when we were growing up, that was like now taking a risk, like parents encourage their kids to take a risk. But back then our parents weren’t encouraging us to take a risk. They were like, get a degree that gets you a job.

Carolyn: Totally. And that’s, so that’s a good point. There’s a few things. Women’s sport was like, like you said, it was a big deal that, that there was an, is going to be in the Olympics. And so I played with, um, a few Canadians who, um, I never played directly with Haley, but I played with Cheryl Pounder against her.

And so she was one of the athletes at the time who was playing Olympic level hockey and Olympic level softball, uh, softball, Vicky Sanahara, another one. Um, and so. There weren’t a lot of role models that said, Hey, this can be done. Um, and like women broadcasters or women coaches, it was like, what? So I didn’t have that.

The other thing, um, that links into, into my work and we don’t, we don’t need to go there, but I’ve really dug into trauma informed leadership. And learning what happens to our body when we don’t process emotions or difficult experiences. And so I look back at that time. My body, I think I loved sports so much because it gave my body an outlet and it was a place where I could at least allow my body movement and treat it as an instrument.

Peter: Yep.

Carolyn: Um, and so I just don’t think I could handle taking the risk. I know I couldn’t, that’s why I didn’t do it. It would have involved moving to Alberta and like I, my mom

Peter: I mean, look, we,

Carolyn: by then. So many

Peter: we, yeah, yeah. Well, we look back now with the, with the experience that we have and say, oh, I wish I’d done something differently. But the reality is that like, you know, there’s no, there’s no direct path in any of those choices that you made. Right. Like, like it’s, it is, it is, you know, I, I’m a. You know, when I, when I reflect at the choices that that I made, I don’t think regret is the right word because I don’t, I think

Carolyn: I agree.

Peter: suggests, um, there’s something that I haven’t liked about the life I’ve lived.

Carolyn: Yep.

Peter: And I think that that’s the wrong way to look at life.

Carolyn: I agree.

Peter: Right. Like, like, you don’t look at life as, oh, things were bad and things were good.

You look at life, I think, as opportunities to grow. And generally, you grow more during the bad things than you do the good things. Um, and so, and so I think, but, but, but you can look back and you can reflect on choice. And, you know, who knows, Carolyn, maybe 10 years from now, you would look back and be like, actually, now, if I went back, I would tell my younger self a different choice than I did now.

Carolyn: Yeah.

Peter: our perspectives change.

Carolyn: Yeah. Well, and, and I, I just, I wasn’t capable of me. I made the choice I made cause it was the right choice for me to make at the time. I think like to you, there’s, there’s no regrets. It’s just interesting to have the wisdom now that I do. And I know there’s even more wisdom to come, um, cause

Peter: And I became, yeah, I became an international coach primarily by luck.

Carolyn: Yep.

Peter: My dad was American. I was a mediocre rugby player in England. America doesn’t have a very good rugby team. Maybe I can go to America and play and play rugby for the U. S. and I turn up at Penn State as a grad student and find out that only undergraduates can play.

Carolyn: Oh no. So how did you end up playing for them then?

Peter: So I didn’t play, so I didn’t play for, I mean, I, I never really played for Penn State. I, I coached Penn State. I never like, I played a little bit of all star rugby like five or six years later. Once I started like, like once I got to my late 20s and I’m like, hold on, I should try and play some good rugby because I’m getting to the end of my physical ability to do that.

So, but I started coaching at 23.

Carolyn: Hmm.

Peter: coached, um, for more than 20 years. Like, I coached, I mean, I retired at Penn State when I was 47

Carolyn: Wow.

Peter: and it’s kind of weird, like, like, like when you retire at something at 47,

Carolyn: Yeah.

Peter: you’re just like, no, hold it. I retired. I got that wrong. I retired at Penn State when I was 43 and I retired from coaching when I was 47.

Carolyn: 47. Got it.

Peter: And normally like, like that’s in the middle of your coaching career, right? But I’ve been to the World Cup twice. I’ve been an assistant at the Rio Olympics. Like there was nothing else I wanted to do. Um, on the coaching side. So that was sort of weird, but it was complete luck. Like if, if, if graduate students could have played, I would have probably never got on the coaching

Carolyn: You would have. Yeah. Well, everything happens and plays out the way it’s meant to. Um, what, this is just curious. What position did you play? What, what was the number on your Jersey? Cause I know

Peter: I had a number nine. I was a scrum half.

Carolyn: Okay.

Peter: But it’s funny when I didn’t play rugby from 16 to 18 in England. So most of my friends in high school are like, you’re the national team rugby coach. Didn’t even play rugby. um, like, like it wasn’t like rugby was a big thing for me growing up. Um, but, uh, but, but I really got into it when I, again, I played when I was younger.

And then from 16 to 18, I did music and drama instead of rugby because that’s what my parents did. Um, and then, and then I went to university and picked it back up and really enjoyed it and sort of got a bit better there. Um, but I wasn’t, I was, you know, so I was a scrum half and in America that means you play fly half because they already, they have scrum halves, but they don’t have fly half.

So I spent most of my time playing fly half in the US. Probably not

Carolyn: I was, my guess was night. My guess was, I saw you with a nine on your Jersey. Um, so let’s, let’s make this link to leadership shock. So that’s the name of your book. Can you share with us, like, what is leadership shock? What does that concept mean?

Peter: Sure. Well, let me, let me kind of share how I discovered Leadership Shark. And the way I discovered Leadership Shark is I kept finding my executive coaching clients in the same space and that their space was their calendars were out of control. Um, they were fighting fires constantly. Their teams were really confused, um, and they never felt like they were doing a good job.

Carolyn: Mm,

Peter: like, like, cause you know, like often as an executive coach, the organization will come to you and say, we have, you know, Joe, Joe’s a leader. Can you come and help her? And I’d come in and they would have all the same symptoms and it probably took me longer than it should have. Right. Like to piece it all together.

But I suddenly realized that, hold on, these people all have, they’re all in the same place. And that place is something has changed. In, in, in their leadership role. Now, most cases, it’s people that got promoted and were struggling, but not all cases, some cases it’s that role hasn’t changed, but the organization has changed around them.

Um, sometimes it’s, it’s, um, they haven’t changed. The organization hasn’t changed, but they have a brand new boss that has very new demands on them. There’s something around that context that has changed that has made what that has led them down this. Space of not functioning, but not doing it very well.

So the reason why, um, uh, I call it leadership shock. And it was actually a professor at Colorado University of Colorado who said this sounds like shock, like the leaders. It’s like the heart’s beating, blood’s pumping, like, so things are happening. But actually, there’s not leadership like you’re not living it like you’re in shock.

You’re not you’re not leading. You’re surviving, right? It’s a real survivor piece. Like, if I feel like I’m surviving and not thriving, you’re probably going to be in some version of leadership shock. So that’s how I described it. And it normally happens because People got into a role because they were really good at doing things a certain way, and this new role requires them to lead differently. But because we’re mostly implicit about how we lead and what we do, they haven’t changed the way that they lead, and therefore all hell’s broken loose. And so that’s really mostly what Leadership Shock has.

Carolyn: I mean, I resonated at first when I saw the title, I was like, Oh, what is this going to be about? And then as soon as I read that description, like you said about the calendar being full and the team being like confused, I was like, Oh my gosh, what a brilliant term. Um, you just said a comment there, you said a word about implicit.

Um, can you share more? What did you, what do you mean by that? What do leaders need to make explicit?

Peter: Well, um, I mean, almost everything. I would say, I think intentionality, this leads back to elite sport, you know, if you want to be an Olympian, you’re really intentional. You’re like, what am I doing today? What am I doing next? What am I doing this? Like, you’re being very intentional about what you’re doing because you’re like, I want to make the Olympic team and I want to win a gold and I’m really intentional.

Carolyn: and you’re intentional about what you eat what you think like your butt all

Peter: how you recover, all of it. It’s the system that you, the high performance system that you live in. And most of us in business aren’t intentional. Most of us are, um, reactionary and most of us are not explicit. And so I, I would argue that you start, you have to be explicit about your thoughts.

Right. You have to be aware of your inner monologue, why you’re thinking that, and not just what you’re thinking, but why you think so in the book, we talked a lot about metacognition and so metacognition is not just reflection, but it’s why you think that is right. So, so it’s not like, Oh, I think I, you know, I, we get this a lot.

I get this a lot. But I want to be a servant leader. I think servant leadership is good. I’m like, okay, why?

Carolyn: yeah

Peter: Like, like you have to get to that point. Or I worked with a leader recently who says funds important to me. I’m like, okay, let’s talk about why that is. Funds and outcome, right? So you’ve really got it.

So you gotta be really intentional about your thoughts. And again, this is what the athletes do. Like when someone’s about to kick a penalty, they are managing what’s going on in their head, right? They’re being mindful. I, I, I, I, I struggle with the term mindfulness because people think mindfulness is meditation.

Where meditation is a way of it’s present, right? Meditation is a way to be in mindful. It’s not the only way, but being really mindful and being really present so you can be intentional is an absolutely critical skill. And when I introduced that to leaders in business, it blows their mind. They’re like, what have I been doing for the last 20 years?

Like, how have I been successful not being intentional about what I do? So I think, I think it, it being explicit about the starting point is being explicit about what you think and why you think it, and then through the authentic leadership model that’s in the book, you come out with being explicit about where do I want to focus?

And what kind of leader do I want?

Carolyn: And that links back to the calendar. So in your book, you talked about, Oh my gosh, what was his name? Jeffrey? No. What was the lead, the character’s name in the book? I can’t

Peter: It’s Michael,

Carolyn: Michael, right? Um, so, uh, the story with Michael, when you can get explicit with these things, um, I, you can see over the, the, the story or the fable that you shared, um, how Michael was able to fix the calendaring problem.

And it wasn’t, here’s what I love so much about it, Pete. There was two things. One is it didn’t happen like that. There were bumps along the way and I, I won’t, I just love the ending and how. One of those characters circled back. I was like, yes, um, with that

Peter: By the way, by the way, Carolyn, this is, this is filling my emotional tank because, um, I wrote leadership shock to be a business book that I would finish. Cause I don’t finish many business books. Like I, I read about a third of them. And then I’m like, okay, I’ve got it. Like, I don’t need to read any more, but the, the idea of the fable is that hopefully encourages, encourages you to get to the end.

Right. Um, and, and, and so that’s sort of like, like the goal of the book. So that’s great. I, that, I love the fact that you found that a powerful model

Carolyn: did. I just think it’s such a, um, I see so many leaders feel beholden to their calendar and, and helpless that they are unable to pull out of it. And it’s not, it’s not a checklist, like it to come back to the emotional thing or the presencing thing. Um, and it was just, it was a realistic story. I also.

was in that industry. So I was like, Oh yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about. Um, and

Peter: to point out there is no client called Michael. This is an amalgamation.

Carolyn: that’s what I figured. Um, yeah, so, um, yeah, I just, it was, it was relatable. It was, um, it was, I don’t want to say easy to understand, although the simplicity of your model is I think part of its power as well.

Peter: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s, there’s. Um, like, it’s, it’s the system, right? So it’s, it’s a system and, and, you know, there, um, I don’t think it’s unique. I think there’s a lot of executive coaching systems that are out there that work. It’s the thing that works for me, um, when I work with clients. And I think fundamentally, it brings together two pieces.

Of the executive coaching world that don’t always intersect. I have colleagues that are amazing that do purpose work,

Carolyn: Yep.

Peter: but their purpose work is, is like the individual purpose. It’s like, it’s really not connected to what they’re trying to do in their role. And then there are models that are around. How do you build your vision and strategy?

And like, how do you really operationalize what you’re trying to do in your role? That’s very business specific. And the authentic leadership model, the goal is to bring those two together because they do intersect. I cannot separate the things that I believe about myself from the role that I’m fulfilling and the vision I want to fulfill.

Like you can’t separate those two. They, they interact. And that’s really what the model is trying to do. And it’s iterative. And I’ll, and I’ll tell you, What’s, what’s interesting is, um, is the, for the leaders that really engage in the model. And I would just say the book is to kind of share the model with people that aren’t at the C suite, right?

Like you can be a leadership shark in your very first management role. Like I was a really good sales guy. That’s like, that’s what I was really good. And now I’ve become the manager of sales. Now, all of this, the value that I provide, which is one of the parts of the model is no longer my ability to sell, even though that’s what’s like defined me, that’s what I’ve been successful.

I have to find new value that I provide in this role. And so even in your first management role, this, this, the authentic leadership model will keep you out of leadership shock. Um, but, but what I’ll say is that I’ve had clients. Who haven’t finished the model and the reason they and and and they didn’t have to, because they just got it.

Like, once you made these pieces intentional, they made those connections on their own, and they were able to manage their calendar and they were able to understand how they lead. They were able to internalize the model so well. And that’s, and that’s part of the executive coaching piece. And that’s one of the things I would say, if you’re going to leverage the book, is that each book goes to each piece of the model.

You hear the story of Michael, it explains that piece, and then it gives you a chance to like reflect yourself. not sit down and read the model in one go, teach each chapter and reflect and take some time test. Go talk to colleagues, go talk to your boss. It’s it’s, it’s, uh, that’s the value that often the value is sitting down with your boss saying, here’s the role that I think you want me to play.

Is this the role you want me to play? Right? Like having those discussions or talking with your team about your leadership beliefs. I think the, you know, I always say, like, we talk about implicit and explicit. I often find myself coaching leaders because there’s problems with their team. They come to me and they say, my team’s not performing as well as it should.

Carolyn: It’s

Peter: And so I go do an assessment and the answer is leader. It’s your problem. You’re the reason. I mean, I don’t say it like that, but kind of like that. Um, and, and, and, and what I’m able to do in that is I can come to them and I can say, oh, I know what kind of leader you want to be. I can tell you what leader you are and I can tell you what your priorities are, even though the leader doesn’t know those because their team can articulate it.

The team knows it because their team works with them and says, yeah, here are the four things that are really important to be. Right. Here are the four ways Pete leads and the vast majority of the time that’s all implicit. And the leader doesn’t even know how they’re being seen. Doesn’t even know what their priorities are.

Carolyn: Well, okay, so let’s, um, a few things, uh, the authenticity. So, um. That’s not a word that is used. I found, um, so that word I think can get thrown around and can be a really quick buzzword. What I appreciated about your book is it didn’t seem to be like throughout the entire book, but it was definitely an undercurrent.

Um, and here was my take is that being in leadership shock, which is kind of a normal place to be. I don’t want to like anyone to feel shame for being

Peter: No. Yeah. No, it’s very

Carolyn: And to. Pull out of it. You really need to tap in with that authenticity. Um, but it, it wasn’t a term, like I said, that you sort of overuse.

So I just

Peter: Yeah. I mean, I, so I think authenticity, which is really being true to yourself is important for sustainability. often, so often when leaders are in leadership shock, they find themselves a little bit like when I was coaching at the Rugby World Cup in 2017. They find themselves leading in a way that’s not authentic and it’s draining.

Carolyn: Right.

Peter: It’s like exhausting because it’s not actually the way you want to lead. Now, they haven’t articulated the way they want to lead. They just know that like this, like this job is not giving me energy. It every day at the end of the day, I’m just drained. And so the authentic part starts with your purpose.

Right. So it’s like, what does fill your emotional tank? What is it that you want to do in your life? What impact do you want to make? Um, and then it has, um, what’s the, what’s the value that you provide? What do you bring to the table in this role? And then it has, what do you believe about leadership? So those three things are, they’re not static, but they come from you.

Right that that that’s regardless of what your role is. I think the value provide is can be contextual, but your leadership beliefs and your purpose generally don’t change. And so those two pieces. That’s why we start at purpose, and because the models all iterative you go back and you think, like, you know, you create a piece of the model, then you test it against previous pieces. And so you can, you can adjust it that you start with purpose, but then you move on to your point. It’s not like, oh, the purpose is the thing. It’s the purpose is the foundation and whatever you’re doing needs to link to your purpose. If it doesn’t link to your purpose, it’s not going to be authentic. If it doesn’t link to your leadership beliefs, it’s not going to be authentic and therefore it’s going to be exhausting.

Right. Where if it’s authentic, it’s energy giving and it is, um, and it, it makes you feel good about yourself. Right. It gives you, it builds your self esteem as a leader. And I think that’s

Carolyn: And, and I want to bring this back to, I want to circle back to what we were talking at the beginning of our conversation. When we are not clear about our own authenticity being true to ourself, we get swept up in the system.

Peter: Right. Completely.

Carolyn: if we come back to what you were saying about coaching rugby and how rugby in particular as a sport requires you to know who you are, right?

The example you gave of like, this is, this is how we’re going to play rugby as a U S team, not as a New Zealand team.

Peter: Right. Right. Yeah, absolutely. Like, and that takes some work, right? It takes some work to say like, actually, who are we? What do we want to be? What’s our identity? And that, and, and that takes work, work for a leader too. And so I think, I think that’s, you know, it’s, it’s interesting. Um, I recently worked with a leader who, um, moved into a new organization and actually, um, leadership shock, I think is most likely when you’re promoted from within because everything feels the same.

Carolyn: Yes.

Peter: so when you’re preventing within everything feels the same, when you actually move to a new organization, you’re less likely to be in leadership shock because you’re like, Oh, it’s all different. Um, but in this case, um, the, the leader, she came into a role and she had a boss that led very differently than her.

And she was getting into leadership shock because she was taking on traits of her boss that weren’t authentic. And that was really that, which, which I can understand, like, there’s, there’s no judgment there. It’s like, you know, like, like, you’re just like, I need to survive. With my boss and my boss is leading this way.

Therefore, I lead this way, but that’s not how I want to lead. Therefore, I feel shitty about myself. And, and, and, and so it was really interesting. And the outcome was. You have to sit down with your boss and you have to be explicit about the kind of leader your boss needs to be to be, to be the, to get the best out of you.

But to do that, you have to know how you need to lead to be the best leader yourself. So, so it’s all part of the system. It’s all this interaction that, that, that happens, but it’s like, so yeah, you can, you can lead in authentically for lots of different reasons.

Carolyn: Yep. Absolutely. Pete, where can people find you and your book, your work? How can they, how can they get more of Pete Steinberg?

Peter: So, uh, well, you know, connect with me on LinkedIn. Follow me on LinkedIn is a good spot. Go to Pete Steinberg dot com. Um, I do have a newsletter that comes out where we talk about these sorts of things. Um, um, those are probably the, uh, the 2 best ways to find me. And there is a leadership leadership shock podcast, um, which is sort of like an evergreen podcast.

So in at the back of the book. Yeah. We have real case studies, real narratives and stories by leaders that I’ve worked with. So, um, in the podcast, we talk to both experts in the field, but also clients that can really share their story and dive a little bit deeper into different parts of leadership shop.

Carolyn: Wonderful. Well, we will make sure that they are in the links to this episode. Um, I’m sad to say that our conversation about rugby and leadership shock is winding down. Um, so fascinating. I have a, an additional new, an additional love for rugby, even more than I did before. Um, Can I ask you the three questions, the three evolved questions?

All right. So, uh, these three are based around elements of, um, my work in trauma informed leadership. And so the first one is about self awareness, which is a huge part of what we’ve talked about. And I’m curious if there is an insight, a lesson, something that you learned along your path that just elevated your, your awareness of yourself and took you to a whole new place.

Peter: I mean, I, there are probably hundreds in my coaching career, um, and mostly from the players. What I would say from the players is whatever you learned from me, I learned more from you. But, but what I would say is in this context is, um, when I was coaching, even coaching the national team, I would always say I’m here for the difficult players.

I’m not here for the easy players. Easy players are going to play really well. They’re going to do really well. They’re going to have great lives. The difficult players are the ones that really need to grow. And I separate difficult from disruptive. So a disruptive player is someone whose behavior impacts the team.

You shouldn’t be on the team. A difficult player is someone who isn’t disruptive, but maybe is getting in the way of themselves. And, um, and so every time I got to work with a difficult player, made me more self aware.

Carolyn: Mm.

Peter: there’s an interaction. They are difficult because of the way that I lead them.

And because of the way who, of who they are. And so, and so I, I remember I was working with a difficult player early on and, um, very opinionated, um, very, uh, she was on the national team before I was there. So very experienced and I really struggled to connect with her. And I remember after a particular cultural transgression, uh, Is the way I would put it.

We sat down and what I realized was she needed voice. The big thing that she felt like she didn’t have was voice. And so what I did with her is I said, All right, I’m going to give you feedback, but I want you to give me feedback.

Carolyn: Mm.

Peter: This has to be a two way thing. And, and after that, and, and, and feedback, I say feedback is the fuel of high performance.

Um, because as an athlete, you know, this count is a very good athlete yourself. That is the, that’s the one thing the coach gives the player. That the player really craves is I want to get better. Tell me how I can get better, but that creates a hierarchy that makes it very difficult to empower players.

And so from that moment, I realized, hold on, I always need to receive feedback. And so in all of my feedback sessions with the national team and then with Penn state, whenever I had a feedback session, one on one with a player, I would always ask them for feedback. And when you first do it, like the players are like, what? And they’re like, you’re great. I’m like, not good feedback, not useful. Give me useful feedback. Um, but after a while they would start saying, yeah, you know what? That practice yesterday. That was shit. Like, I don’t know what we were doing. It seemed like a waste of time. I’m like, great. Let’s talk together about how we can make it better.

And I think that was having someone that you lead be open to give you feedback is amazing for self awareness. Because you don’t know,

Carolyn: so.

Peter: don’t, you don’t know.

Carolyn: I just love how you just embedded it into how y’all operated. Honestly, I, Pete, you got to write a book about rugby in the boardroom. Um,

Peter: Okay, so that’s question one. I don’t know that we have enough time for three questions. Let’s see what my

Carolyn: No, we’re doing, we’re doing the two more. We’re doing the two more. Um, the second question is, uh, we’re going to come back to presence or mindfulness.

I’m with you. That word, meditation, mindfulness, um, can sort of elicit other thoughts for people. What’s a presencing practice that you use that really helps you stay in the moment, be regulated,

Peter: yeah. So, so I do block breathing.

Carolyn: Okay.

Peter: Right. So box block. Yeah. So, so, like, it is, you know, regulating your breathing, being aware of your breathing. And this is something when I’m doing something that I have a knot in my stomach. So, so when I, like, when I get nervous, I get a knot in my stomach. And it used to be that I would try to get rid of it. I’d be like, Oh, I should not do whatever’s giving me that not. And as I’ve matured, I’ve realized, Oh no, this means I’m about to do something hard. That means I’m going to grow, but getting that not can get your nervous system worked up.

Carolyn: Yep.

Peter: Right. And so you need to calm down your nervous system. And so doing breathing exercises where I count in and I in through the nose out through the mouth and I count helps me.

relax my nervous system so I can be at my best. The knot doesn’t go away. I don’t want it to go away, but it manages the physical reaction to the knot. And if I can manage the physical reaction to the knot, then I’m really able to be my best in whatever that situation is.

Carolyn: Yeah. So you were doing a lot of box breathing at the Olympics. I’m guessing.

Peter: But yeah, I mean, I mean, it’s funny. I, uh, we did for a client. Um, we brought in, like they brought 900 leaders together and we had high performance stations and we had, um, cup stacking. And so we worked with the sports psychologist I work with, uh, at the World Cup, and we did the, we did cup stacking and we worked on visualization and breathing exercises.

So we kind of like taught them as part of the cup stacking, but we made it competitive and the COO of the organization became super competitive. And so she completely bought into visualization and box, but like completely, and now she uses it now when she does presentations, like, like she uses that, I’m like, that’s great.

So if you can, like, like, these are some of the, these are things that are like high school athletes get taught, but executives have never come across.

Carolyn: Right.

Peter: the kind of funny thing about it.

Carolyn: Yeah. Uh, okay. Third question, a song or genre of music that makes you feel connected to something bigger than yourself. Yep. Yep.

Peter: I think I, I shared with with you, Carolyn. I can’t remember it was before we recorded as a part of the recording that I didn’t play rugby from 16 to 18 because I did music and drama. And so, um, I think a lot of my coaching. And learning skills comes from music. So I did a lot of like very young. I was, I was teaching, um, music, um, sort of like to people that were just a bit younger than me.

And so the things like I, I love handle as a composer. And so when I listened to handle, I, I, it kind of, I feel like the world is gets opened for me. And I don’t know why, but, but I just feel like I’m in a bigger space. that it feels to me like the space is bigger that I where I’m at. It just opens that up.

And so that can be it. Um, it helps me like I, it helps me aspire. Right? So there’s inspire. But there’s aspiration and Handel makes me feel like I should aspire more. I should have more aspiration. And so probably that’s the, the one, but that’s a great question because I hadn’t even thought about it until you, until you shared it.

But I think of all the things, and now I think I need to listen to Handel more.

Carolyn: um, now I’m curious like I know Handel, uh, did the Messiah. What else, is there anything else that I’m missing, uh, or like another

Peter: he’s done. So yeah. So, um, there’s probably a whole bunch of songs, but there’s, um, so Handel was German, but spent a lot of time in England. In, in, in, in the, in the, in the English, um, uh, monarchy court and, um, one of my, uh, favorite, it’s kind of a niche handle piece, but it’s, um, uh, it’s owed. It’s the ode to Queen Anne’s birthday.

Carolyn: Okay,

Peter: so, so, so it’s this piece and it starts with a voice and then it’s two voices. And it’s just, it is, I just find it, I find it really powerful, but Handel’s like one of those composers that, you know, all the time it’s in a movie. You just don’t know

Carolyn: Yeah, yeah,

Peter: one of the, oh yeah, I know that. I know that.

Oh, that’s Handel. Yeah.

Carolyn: Well, Pete, it has been an absolute pleasure having you on the show. And, uh, thank you so much for coming on.

Peter: Yeah, absolutely. This has been a great discussion, Karen, and I really appreciate the opportunity.

Carolyn: All right. And thanks to all of you for tuning in. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on this episode. As Pete said, we’re looking for feedback.

Well, I knew before this conversation that there were strong themes, uh, similar themes between performance in a business and performance on a playing field. What I didn’t know was the philosophy behind rugby and how coaches interact with, um, with the teams and how the team plays the game. With the referee, with the officials, so many learnings.

I hope you enjoyed that connection, um, between sport and, um, and business and that you could see how those learnings, whether or not you enjoy sport, uh, I hope you were able to make those connections between performance in general. And. How that can help you as a leader navigate through the leadership shock that you might be experiencing now, or perhaps have experienced in the past, that it’s giving you some insight to reflect on about your own leadership journey.

Thanks again for tuning in would really appreciate it. If you could leave a rating and even better a review on the platform that you listened to the podcast with would truly appreciate it. We’ll see you next time. Bye for now.

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