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Successful captain researches sport's winning formula



Successful captain researches sport's winning formula

What is it about the Black Ferns that has led to its consistent 85 per cent win rate?

Former Black Ferns’ captain Dr Farah Palmer plans to find out. Next month she begins a research project looking at what role leadership and organisational culture play in the team’s astonishing success.

Dr Palmer, who led the Black Ferns to three consecutive women’s rugby World Cup victories, is now a senior lecturer at Massey University’s School of Management.

She will be the keynote speaker at the national Recreation in Action conference which takes place in Palmerston North on June 5 and 6. Her address on success and leadership will be based on 11 years of playing rugby at an international level and her own academic research. In her 35-test career, Dr Palmer was on the losing side only once.

The Black Ferns’ success rate trumps all other national sports teams – including the All Blacks, says Dr Palmer. However she adds the All Blacks have been around considerably longer, the New Zealand women’s rugby team now known as the Black Ferns having only been formed in the early 1990s.

While her PhD thesis explored Māori and gender issues in sport, one of her new research topics and her presentation topic at the Recreation in Action conference is leadership.

“We live in a very busy world where we are all going from one project to another, with KPIs and targets we need to meet. We think we don’t have time to look back and see what we’ve learnt.”

Dr Palmer says reflection needs to happen more in sport and in leadership. “That’s how we will get wiser, more ethical and more effective leaders.”

She’s reluctant to give a set definition of what makes a “good leader”. “There are so many different elements to what creates great leadership material. You need to take into account the followers and their expectations, the context and the culture in which the leader is operating in.”

She does however concede some common traits: “Confidence, being pro-active, and having a strong sense of vision.”

She says people use a lot of metaphors from sport when talking about business leadership, but as with war leadership metaphors, there is a distinguishable difference.

“In sport there is a finite moment where there is a clear outcome, unlike in the business world where things are never so clear-cut. Business leaders have to motivate on a day-by-day basis, not just for the game.

“Effective sport leaders, as with war leaders, are a different type. They are more authoritarian, they make decisions on the spot, and they have similar motives. Business leaders will generally have quite a variety of motives.”


For further information or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Marita Vandenberg
021 166 4951


Recreation in Action

The Recreation in Action conference is being held from June 5-6 at Massey University’s Sports and Rugby Institute, in Palmerston North. The conference is a professional development opportunity for recreation and sports practitioners who deliver, co-ordinate and manage programmes and events.

More information: Recreation in Action conference.

Dr Farah Palmer

Farah holds a Doctor of Philosophy and a Bachelor of Physical Education (First Class Honours) from Otago University.

She has held the following leadership roles:
• Acting Director for Te Au Rangahau, the Māori Business Research Centre within Massey University’s College of Business;
• Executive Board member of Nga Pae o te Maramatanga (Centre of Research Excellence) at the University of Auckland;
• Member of Te Mata o te Tau, the academy for Māori Research and Scholarship at Massey University.
Her other governance roles in the community include:
• University Sport New Zealand Executive Board (co-opted member);
• Sport and Recreation New Zealand Sports Disputes Tribunal;
• Academy Trust Inc. (Academy for talented Māori in sport and music);
• Trustee member, Te Wānanga o Raukāwa;
• Council of Clubs Representative, Manawatu Rugby Union;
• Palmerston North Girls High School Trust member.
Dr Palmer has been involved in provincial rugby administration and player mentoring in the Manawatū. Farah was on the Ministerial Taskforce on Sport, Fitness, and Leisure (2001).

She won Māori Sportswoman of the Year Award in 2002 and Women’s Rugby Player of the Year at the 1998 New Zealand Rugby Awards.

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