March 2018


Described as the two off-field architects of the Tigers' meteoric comeback and 2017 premiership victory, Richmond President Peggy O'Neal and CEO Brendon Gale have an incredible tale to share of how the club rocketed from 13th on the AFL ladder to win the flag the following year. The dynamic partners will join CPO Forum delegates in Melbourne on Tuesday 1st May to discuss the winning formula that created the right conditions - both on and off the field - to usher in the club's first premiership in 37 years.

Today, we interviewed Brendon Gale to find out more about the pressure he faced in the lead-up to the 2017 premiership, and discover his views on how to maintain effective and authentic leadership under fire. 

Brendon, in 2016, you and Peggy famously stayed firm and stuck to your plan despite heavy pressure from nearly every quarter to change your strategy and remove key club personnel. What were the main factors that led you to have faith in your plan and your people, despite external criticism?

The faith that we had in our existing plan wasn’t “blind faith” – we recognised some tinkering was required at the margin and we went ahead and made those changes. Equally, we recognised we had played finals in three of the previous four years, so we were not the basket-case some wanted to suggest. Perspective was important.

We also had - and still have - people of great character and commitment at our club – nobody more so than our coach. He recognised some change was needed and he embraced it.

What advice do you have for leaders facing criticism for decisions they’ve made? 

My first piece of advice would be to remember that you understand the reasons behind your decisions better than anyone else. Secondly, it's vital to communicate and be as transparent as possible with key stakeholders to promote understanding. And lastly, in our business we need to remember the emotional connection attached to performance. Criticism is ultimately coming from the right place; so while you respect it, don’t let it cloud decision-making.

What are the main elements of ‘authentic leadership’, and how did the players respond to this new leadership style when you introduced it in 2016?

Trust is at the core of leadership – you won’t follow what you don’t trust. The most critical element to building trust is being yourself. It's the cornerstone of authenticity, but it requires honesty. It can be confronting but ultimately it says to people 'I care about you and the role you play at our club'.

Richmond’s 2017 victory was a vindication of the decisions you both made in 2016 – what do you believe would have happened if Richmond had a poor showing last year in 2017?

I can honestly say it’s not something that was ever contemplated. But, if it had happened, we would have controlled what we can control, and identified areas for improvement and addressed them - just as we do at the end of every season.

What advice do you have for lifting the motivation of a discouraged team?

Re-state the vision of the club and how every employee plays a role in achieving it. Be positive! Find the positives and share them. Find humour. Have fun. We take our job seriously, as we should, but we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously.

As a former player, do you think it’s easier to influence a team culture as a player, or from your position as CEO?

I think it’s irrelevant - you don’t influence based on what you did as a player; you influence through a shared vision and a shared commitment to seeing it through.

Visit to reserve your seat at The Faculty's 11th Annual CPO Forum on 1-2 May 2018.