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Siya Kolisi: A Leader Who Redefined the Game


Siya Kolisi, the inspirational captain of the South African Rugby World Cup-winning team in 2019, transcends the sport itself. He embodies a leadership style that resonates far beyond the rugby pitch, offering valuable lessons for anyone navigating the complexities of leading others. This essay delves into Kolisi’s remarkable journey and explores the key leadership principles we can glean from his example.

From Humble Beginnings to Unifying a Nation:

Kolisi’s story is one of overcoming adversity. Born into poverty in a segregated South Africa, he faced immense challenges from a young age. Yet, his determination and talent for rugby shone through. He rose through the ranks, eventually becoming the first Black captain of the Springboks, a team that had historically been a symbol of the country’s apartheid past. Kolisi’s leadership transcended the racial divide, uniting a nation under the banner of sport and shared passion.

Lessons in Empathy and Building a Team:

One of Kolisi’s defining leadership traits is his unwavering empathy. He prioritizes understanding his teammates’ backgrounds, motivations, and struggles. This allows him to foster a sense of belonging and shared purpose within the team. He focuses on building trust and psychological safety, where individuals feel comfortable taking risks and learning from mistakes. This creates a powerful team dynamic where each member feels valued and empowered to contribute their best.

Leading by Example and Embracing Vulnerability:

Kolisi doesn’t shy away from leading by example. His work ethic and dedication on the field inspire his teammates to push themselves further. However, he also demonstrates vulnerability. He openly discusses his own challenges and setbacks, showing his team that leadership is not about perfection, but about growth and resilience. This authenticity creates a deeper connection with his teammates and fosters a more collaborative environment.

SPRINGBOK: A Leadership Framework for Success:

Kolisi himself outlines his leadership philosophy through the acronym SPRINGBOK, which stands for:

  • Service: Leaders prioritize serving their team and creating an environment where everyone can thrive.
  • Passion: Leading with passion ignites enthusiasm and motivates others.
  • Respect: Treating everyone with respect fosters trust and open communication.
  • Integrity: Leading with integrity inspires trust and sets a high standard for the team.
  • Ngākau (Heart): Leading with heart means leading with compassion and empathy.
  • Growth: A commitment to continuous learning and growth is essential for leaders and teams.
  • Bravery: Leaders need the courage to make tough decisions and take calculated risks.
  • Ownership: Taking ownership of actions and fostering accountability within the team.
  • Knowledge: Leaders must be knowledgeable about their field and be able to share that knowledge effectively.

Beyond the Rugby Pitch: A Legacy of Inspiration:

Siya Kolisi’s leadership extends far beyond the world of rugby. He has become a symbol of unity, hope, and perseverance in South Africa and across the globe. His story inspires leaders across all walks of life to embrace empathy, build trust, and lead with authenticity. As Kolisi himself states, “True leadership is about leaving everyone better than you found them.”


Siya Kolisi’s journey is a testament to the power of transformative leadership. He is a leader who unites, inspires, and empowers others. By embracing his lessons in empathy, team building, and leading by example, we can all strive to be more effective leaders in our own spheres of influence.