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"I’m not bull... you when I say that. It’s much more important than coaching rugby."
Speaking at the New Zealand Principals’ Federation Conference yesterday, he told the audience they were crucial role models for children.
"They’re watching you, and they’ll be talking about [what you do]."
A teacher for 25 years before quitting the profession to become a professional coach in 1997, Sir Graham talked about the importance of mentors and role models in his life.
He cited former All Blacks Sir John Graham and Jock Hobbs, along with opera singer Christopher Doig — "the brightest man I ever met" — as having a major influence on him.
He spoke about his four-year stint coaching Wales, and his leadership during an unsuccessful tour of Australia by the British and Irish Lions in 2001.
That failure had taught him he needed to change his authoritarian coaching style, and became the foundation for a new approach he applied when he became All Blacks coach in 2003.
He and assistants Steve Hansen and Wayne Smith, along with mental skills coach Gilbert Enoka, formed a leadership group that included seven senior players.
The players’ role was to set the team’s culture, integrate new players and drive a goal of making it the "best sporting team in the world".
The same approach was still being used with the team today.
"Leadership is about developing other people, not telling them what to do."
He imagined the principals’ overarching goal for their schools was for "the kids to love being at school".