Rob Powell

rob powell

It was inspiring reconnecting with Marks old rugby league coach Rob Powell. A rugby league and rugby union consultant and coach, he has had a career supporting the development of young players as Academy Director at London Broncos following a spell as Head Coach of the first team and Assistant Coach of Cardiff Blues. Following 5 years as Assistant Coach at Richmond he has been promoted to Head Coach and is into his second season, having recently taken the role of First Team Operations Manager too.


What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?

I spent the start of my career reading books about coaching, but more recently the books that have influenced me are more leftfield.

Endurance by Alfred Lansing. It’s a remarkable story of survival. If you’re having a bad day. read this book. 

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer. It’s about the deadliest day on Everest. It’s a crisis management book. Everything that went wrong that day went wrong and we can learn a lot from it

The 33 Strategies Of War by Robert Greene. It’s a fascinating book.


What purchase of £100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)? (Brand and model, where you found it?)

A pair of Muck Boots. Coaching outdoors I’ve had wet feet for about 20 years but since buying these I don’t have wet feet anymore, although people do laugh at me for wearing them. It’s worth it!


How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favourite failure” of yours? 

At the age of 30 I was appointed Head Coach of Super League club London Broncos. The last couple of months there were some pretty tricky challenges and I ended up losing my job, which was difficult.

Since then, I’ve been able to deal with adversity better, knowing that I came through that experience and understanding more when things go wrong and how to deal with them better. I think the saying is ‘having skin in the game’. I’ve learnt that being committed to my job, really feeling it and making 100% decisions will benefit me and the people around me.


If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it —metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions — what would it say and why? It could be a few words or a paragraph. (If helpful, it can be someone else’s quote: Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?)

I learned early in life that if you want to achieve anything you need to look at yourself. You have to be accountable for your own actions. I think it was the basketball coach Lenny Wilkens who said that.


What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)

Just giving things a go. Putting energy into pursuing things, not knowing what you’ll get out of it. 


What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

I automatically watch and analyse people, try to work them out. It’s something I just naturally do. I remember situations and people unusually well, recalling that in conversations in the future, which people are usually surprised by.


In the last five years, what new belief, behaviour, or habit has most improved your life? 

I’m ambitious. I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself to achieve in my career. But more recently I’ve let that relax a bit more. I’m focusing on the now and what I can achieve right now.


What advice would you give to a smart, driven student about to enter the “real world”? What advice should they ignore?

People expect a lot and want things quickly, especially the younger people. They want to be at 10 when right now they are at 1, thinking too far ahead and so keeping their options open. But you need to simply commit time and energy to something, you need to invest yourself, and then the rewards will come.


What frustrates you the most about your industry and the way companies are run in it?

Sport is in a bubble, it’s not in the real world. I think it’s the same in all sport – some have more ability to cope than others due to their size and potential for investment.  A couple of rugby clubs have gone bust recently and it’s because there has become unrealistic money spent on wages (players and staff) and in the cost of running the operations.  I don’t blame people for wanting to get whatever remuneration you can – why shouldn’t you? I think often the issue lies above though with the motivations of those in charge and at times senior management who may not always have the best interest of the club and the people who work within it at the centre of their decision making – consciously or subconsciously.  

The other thing is that the journalists and fans don’t recognise that players and coaches are people, with feelings. They can be very harsh and it can be a lot to bear on top of trying to be their best at their sport.


In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to (distractions, invitations, etc.)? What new realisations and/or approaches helped? Any other tips?

Saying no to work that isn’t playing to my strengths or overstretches me in terms of time. When I started my business, I would do both of these things but not any longer. 


What does a balanced life look like to you? Has a work or a project you have been focused on caused you to neglect other areas of your life?

I don’t really look at it that way. I think it’s about where you get your energy from. As long as you are spending time doing things that give you energy then you are living the life you should be. I’m lucky enough to feel that way about the work I do. The nature of sport means that you need to make sacrifices with your time. Games are at weekends – you end up  missing lots of important occasions with friends and families. It’s a challenge but important to try and get some balance in this. 


When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)

In life you can get overwhelmed from time to time. When that happens, I try to compartmentalise, make the problem smaller. I don’t focus on everything that needs to be done, but make a list based on the things I can do right now and try to get a few  small things done. Then I feel like I’m moving forward again.


What does leadership mean to you? 

Being clear and honest, giving people an opportunity to talk things through by being open.

Recognising you are  part of a team (or organisation or group) and trying to move forward in a collective and positive way.


Which people have most inspired you in your life and why?

My Dad was very Important from a professional point of view. He was the senior partner in Sheffield for KPMG. When I was 10 or 11, I interviewed him for a school project called a day in the life. I asked him what was important in business and the thing he highlighted was integrity. I still remember that. People respected him, the way he carried himself and the way that he treated people. He treated everybody equally regardless of their position and lived up to his own standards.

The other is Paul Brown. When I came to London in my early 20s, he took a special interest in me. He believed in me, told me that I could become a head coach of a professional team, which at the time I thought was madness. He mentored me and helped me become the youngest ever Super League coach, at London Broncos.


What do the words principles and values mean to you?

What are the behaviours you’re willing to walk past (and ignore) or not?

We have done a lot of work with our team making clear the things we do and the things we don’t do as a group of people (especially when there is a significant turnover of people). It’s not a negative thing, it’s something to be proud of, who we are. There have been people that weren’t able to live up to those values and so have had to go.


If you had a forum to speak to 50 leaders, what question would you pose to them, to get them thinking about and being better leaders? 

How would you describe yourself as a leader? How would people in your organisation describe you and does that match up?

(Maybe even have the courage to ask them that question)


What one thing could you do that you aren’t doing now, that if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your personal life?  What one thing in your business or professional life would bring similar results? 

I’d like to be fitter. It makes a big difference to me. I go through phases where I don’t do enough and I need to get back to that.

Professionally just keep focussing on what I can do. It’s important to keep the negative thoughts at bay.


Have you ever engaged with self-help, mentoring or coaching? If so, how?

I had semi-structured mentoring with Paul Brown early on in my career as I mentioned earlier. It made a huge difference to me. 

As a coach, I engaged a sports psychologist to work with the team when I was at the London Broncos, which taught me a lot and gave me fresh perspectives. I’ve also shadowed a couple of leadership training coaches in business. There’s a big crossover between sport and business. I try to learn as much as I can.

Topic: 50 in 50