AFL Legend, Paul Roos on Leadership, Culture Change and Performance

I had the pleasure of sitting down with AFL premiership-winning coach and veteran player of 356 games, Paul Roos, to talk all things leadership, team-building, culture change, mindset, and performance, for the Future Squared podcast.

Roos represented the Fitzroy Lions and Sydney Swans during the 1980s and 1990s. He was the senior coach of the Swans and Melbourne Football Club from 2002 to 2010 and 2013 to 2016 respectively.

An Australian Football Hall of Famer, he has won many accolades: seven-times All-Australian, the league’s most valuable player (MVP), and he represented Victoria on 14 occasions in the State of Origin.

After finishing as a player, Roos guided the Swans to the 2005 Premiership, their first in 72 seasons.

Today, Roos is a media commentator and also works with businesses and people to help them perform at the highest level.

This was a fascinating conversation, unpacking lessons learned from four decades of competing at the highest level, that transcend the athletic and business domains and stretch to how we lead our lives.

You can listen to the entire ninety-minute long conversation on the Future Squared podcast (wherever you get your podcasts) and below.

Lessons Learned on Leadership and Performance from Paul Roos

Focus on behaviors instead of outcomes

  • Focus on getting your behaviors right, and outcomes will follow
  • Don’t conflate the quality of an outcome with the quality of a decision…you can get lucky
  • Don’t define your success by outcomes, because they might be underpinned by bad behaviors
  • It’s easy to be mediocre. To become the best you’ve got to have really good behaviors


  • It’s easy to be sedentary and comfortable today. It’s easy for kids to say no to difficult things and stay glued to their iPads. As a result, they miss out on critical life lessons.
  • The ability to disconnect from our devices in a hooked world is a competitive advantage


  • No matter how talented you are, if you’re not 100% invested, you might be semi-successful but you will never be the best
  • You either want to do it or you don’t
  • It’s a hell yeah or a no — Derek Sivers

Surround Yourself with Great People

  • If you’re swimming with the tide, it’s much easier to get to your north star — surround yourself with great people

Lifting Team Spirits

  • Change is as good as a holiday when it comes to improving team morale
  • The coaching relationship piece is key to turning around a sinking ship

Being a Leader

  • Just because you’re a leader, don’t forget what it’s like to be coming up the ranks
  • Define what you liked and didn’t like about your leaders as you were making your own way up
  • Be the leader that helped you, not the one that inhibited you

Making Mistakes

  • People don’t mean to make mistakes
  • Don’t drag a player (or reprimand/fire an employee) for making a mistake — if you do, people will become less prone to taking risks
  • Everyone makes mistakes

Self Awareness

  • The leader’s attitude will rub off on a team member
  • If the leader isn’t relaxed, the team members won’t be
  • Leaders don’t need to know everything
  • Leaders should own their own mistakes, and as a result, create a culture of ownership that permeates through the company


  • It’s easy to be a great leader when things are going well
  • You earn your stripes as a leader under pressure — when things are bad
  • Adversity can make or break your company
  • The conversation you have with someone who makes a mistake can make or break them and be the difference between their being solution or problem-oriented

Technical Competency v Leadership Behaviours

  • Technical competence alone doesn’t make you a leader
  • Most managers in the business world aren’t leaders
  • Tenure or seniority alone doesn’t make you a leader
  • Leaders shouldn’t be the longest-serving or most technically competent — it should be about their behaviors
  • It’s not about the title
  • Not everyone wants to be a leader
  • Have two tracks in your company — the technical, individual contributor track, and the leadership track
  • Being a leader is exhausting because you have to think about so many people and so many more things than just the narrowly defined roles of a technical, individual contributor

Talent-based Teams v Behaviour-based Teams

  • Behavior-based teams beat talent-based teams (a champion team beats a team of champions)
  • If it’s a behavior-based team, performance won’t drop off a cliff if talent leaves — not true of talent-based teams
  • Good people drive good behaviors — so get good people on the bus!
  • Document what those behaviors are and instill them into the processes and culture of the organization (performance by design)

Relationships and Perspective

  • Build relationships first when leading a team new to you
  • To be a good leader of people, you need to know how people are affected by things outside of work
  • “It’s not work-life balance, it’s just life.”
  • Taking yourself out of your normal environment gives you a new perspective on what matters, what you could be doing better and what you’re doing well and should give yourself credit for
  • The more well-rounded your leaders, the better your organization will be

Roos’ quoted Bronnie Ware’s five regrets of dying.

The Five Regrets of Dying — Bonnie Ware

  • I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  • I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Feedback and Accountability

  • Once people get to a leadership position, people stop giving them feedback, but they need feedback the most
  • Seek feedback voraciously
  • Don’t think you need to know everything as a leader
  • Keeping leaders accountable is one of the most crucial things for an organization

Empowering Teams

  • If you don’t empower people to make decisions, these behaviors permeate, and your organization will end up idle
  • This compounds over time and attracts poor performers to your organization, while pushing away high performers who want to get sh!t done
  • The more you make decisions, the better you get at making decisions (if you don’t make them, you won’t get better at making them!)
  • Empower your team to make decisions, otherwise, you will become the bottleneck

On Failure

  • Failure should be redefined to learning
  • Success isn’t just winning, redefine it — look at other metrics (in business, look at leading indicators like website visitors, newsletter sign-ups, what you’re learning about your market — not just revenue, especially not from day one)
  • Brand is powerful
  • “Put an old head on young shoulders.”
  • Don’t be afraid to learn
  • Be vulnerable

On Complacency and Ego

  • “Last year is done” — what Roos told players while in LA, after winning the 2005 premiership
  • Stick to the behaviors that got us there in the first place
  • You shouldn’t have to motivate people if you’ve got the right team
  • On managing ego, Roos quoted 11-times NBA championship-winning coach, Phil Jackson who said to Michael Jordan that — “If you can make our team better we will win more and you will be seen as a much better player”.

Find out more about Paul Roos and his work at the following links

Steve Glaveski is the co-founder of Collective Campus, author of Employee to Entrepreneur and host of the Future Squared podcast. He’s a chronic autodidact, and he’s into everything from 80s metal and high-intensity workouts to attempting to surf and do standup comedy.