WHAT makes a great leader? 

We all have our opinions and beliefs about this.

We could even agree that there is NO single best way to lead a team although there are certain characteristics that set these great leaders apart. It’s not always the most intelligent or highly-skilled individual that becomes a great leader. I have been coached by many different coaches in many different sports.

Some were great coaches while others who had incredible knowledge struggled to transfer that to working with others. I have also seen the same characteristics in the medical teams that have kept me alive for these last 11 years. However in my opinion, there is one coach whose record cannot be challenged by any other Olympic sport.

And that man is Jurgen Grobler.

You might never have heard of Jurgen as he is a very humble man. He doesn’t boast about his achievements over social media and for the last 30 years has simply been found cycling along the paths next to stretches of water around the world whilst coaching and leading the British Rowing Team. I never had the honour to be coached directly by him.

But I was very lucky to be on the GB Rowing team for four years and experience the environment that had shaped around his presence. When he came into the gym during a 18km ergo session it was like the whole room lifted. If he stood behind you, your rowing machine somehow found a faster split. 

This was the power of his presence. A man of few words, I remember one conversation I had with him whilst in rehabilitation at Bisham Abbey. He complimented me on my mental strength and to receive a compliment like that from Jurgen was like winning a gold medal. 

After 50 years of coaching and 30 years with the British Team Jurgen Grobler Stepped down from his role this week. He had planned to retire after the Tokyo Olympics but with the games being delayed and what in lots of ways is the start of a new Olympic cycle I guess he was ready to retire. 

The British Rowing High Performance Centre at Cavisham will feel slightly empty without him cycling the foot path next to the lake.
For me it’s not the fact he led GB Rowing to 33 Olympic Gold medals.

Or that he won medals at every Olympics since 1972, except for Los Angeles in 1984, where East Germany boycotted. It’s how he found his purpose in life and committed to living by his values. Harvard Business School points out that to be a great leader you have to have some key characteristics like transparency, an ability to influence others. 

You must value ethics and integrity, act decisively, and have the ability to balance hard truths with optimism. The man who guided Sir Steve Redgrave to five Olympic Golds certainly had these in abundance. Jurgen had a profound effect on many athletes careers and on the people they became. I know just from being in his presence.

He taught me lots about applying a focus - how to not just set clear goals but how to live everyday pursuing them. I have learned as much from my time in hospital than I have done from my time in sport. And the one thing I have always noticed is that people like Jurgen who have a purpose and live by values are not just the happiest, they are also kind people, they don’t judge and have a level of compassion that in lots of ways is missing in society today. 

As I leave you today I want to thank Jurgen for what he taught me in life. And challenge you to keep looking to find the values and pursuits which drive you on in life.