Halberg Awards: Sir Wayne Smith delivers inspiring speech on leadership, admits he needed to change after initial All Blacks failure

Rugby coach Sir Wayne Smith has delivered an inspiring speech at the 2024 Halberg Awards, opening up about his extensive but rewarding leadership journey.

Smith gave the speech after he was presented the Leadership Award at Wednesday Night's Halberg Awards for his work with the Black Ferns and All Blacks.    

During his time on stage, Smith discussed his unsuccessful stint as All Blacks head coach from 2000 to 2001, saying he was a poor leader and mentally struggled after being replaced by John Mitchell.   

All Black Assistant Coach Wayne Smith looks on during a New Zealand All Blacks training  in 2015.
All Black Assistant Coach Wayne Smith looks on during a New Zealand All Blacks training in 2015. Photo credit: Getty Images

"Leadership for me has been a pretty rocky road, I definitely wasn't born with it, I don't think anyone is but it's something that you learn," he said.    

"When I lost the All Blacks job in 2001, well let's face it, I got sacked. I saw myself as a bit of a fraud, an imposter.   

"People under my leadership weren't really flourishing and I wasn't quite sure what to do about it."    

Smith gave credit to his wife and family for inspiring him to continue coaching and acknowledging he needed to try something different.    

"My wife Trish, she showed more leadership than me, by encouraging me to keep going and to look around the world for another opportunity.   

"She helped me get better and better and I needed to change."    

That change came in the form of seeking out new people, advice and experiences.    

After accepting the head coaching role at the Northampton Saints in England's Premiership, Smith says he focused on meeting people from all over the world and deep-diving into their experiences.    

"We decided to meet more diverse people. You know I'm a skinny little kid from Putāruru, you got to go out and meet people from all walks of life and that's what I started doing," he said.    

"It gives you different perspectives which are important. I started listening and started getting new solutions from different people for age-old problems."   

After transforming Northampton Saints during his time in charge, Smith was given a second chance at the All Blacks in 2004 when he was appointed as backs coach by former All Blacks coach Graham Henry.   

It was here Smith says, where he not only implemented some of his new-found learnings but also discovered many of the leadership qualities he still uses today.    

"We started a leadership programme with the players. It was essentially building leaders who build leadership who build leaders."   

"And from it we coaches became learners. We were learning from younger men, people like Richie McCaw, Daniel Carter, Ma'a Nonu, Conrad Smith, and Kieran Read.   

"And it changed our lives, and it changed the way the All Blacks operated."   

All Black management look on during a New Zealand All Blacks captain's run in 2011.
All Black management look on during a New Zealand All Blacks captain's run in 2011. Photo credit: Getty Images

Despite becoming one of New Zealand Rugby's most decorated coaches, Smith insists he still has more to discover and work on.    

"Through this long journey, I'm still nowhere near complete but it's as much about the heart as it is about the head, and I think that's important," Smith explained.  

He concluded the speech with a message to the next generation.    

"Dream big, get out of your town and meet other people. Come up with different ideas because you may not know it right now, but the world is your oyster, and you can achieve anything." 

Inspiring words from one of Rugby's greatest leaders.