“Why not us?” The infectious culture of self-belief at the Western Bulldogs.

Accumulate Account Director Bill Gray reveals the red, white and blue running through his veins, and looks at the not-so-secret ingredients behind the Western Bulldogs’ remarkable surge to this weekend’s AFL grand final.

 

shutterstock_378339850An exciting week lies ahead for Bulldog supporters; for a lot of us it’s uncharted territory – 55 years is a long time between Grand Final appearances.

Not many outside of Whitten Oval would have dreamed of winning three finals to make the Grand Final after a disappointing loss to Fremantle in round 23. In each of the three finals the Western Bulldogs were regarded as the underdogs, unlikely to proceed past the trip to Subiaco in Perth.

Two seasons ago the club lost its coach, captain and CEO, and finished with a 7:15 win loss/ratio, and has had its 2016 season interrupted by injuries to key players. How then is it possible that the club has transformed, not only its off-field business to achieve a record membership, but has also recorded a win/loss ratio of 15:7 and become a challenger for the 2016 Premiership Cup?

The Western Bulldogs President, Peter Gordon, has repeatedly given praise and credit to the captain and coach, Robert Murphy and Luke Beveridge, as the two leaders within the club that have driven the transformation with genuine passion and purpose – authentic leadership that has engendered enormous engagement from everyone at the club, Western Bulldogs supporters and the AFL community at large. Win or lose on Saturday, the Western Bulldogs’ transformation is a  case study or a book waiting to be written.

Luke Beveridge is a different ‘dude’, but success seems to follow him, having been part of the coaching group at Hawthorn and Collingwood when both clubs won premierships in 2013 and 2010 respectively. Prior to his AFL coaching career, he was a three time premiership coach for St. Bede’s in the VAFA, remarkably taking St. Bede’s from C Grade premiers to A Grade premiers within three years. St. Bede’s captain at the time, Luke “Juice” Wintle,’ remarked on Beveridge’s people engagement.

“He’s the master of engagement. He could read individuals and could read the playing group, almost like a management role, you know, did he need to rein them in or let them go? He’s a real deep thinker, a caring thinker, a creative thinker…he really gave ownership. Blokes wanted to play for him, and he made them play for each other.”

Engagement comes in many forms; a great example comes from the recent preliminary final weekend. Western Bulldogs supporters travelling to Sydney by bus from Melbourne up the Hume Highway were each presented with a letter from Beveridge and a $10 note. The enclosed message read, “As a small thank you for your efforts, we would like to pay for your breakfast this morning. The City of Wodonga have put on some great food vans so get out, stretch the legs and have a safe drive. See you at the game. Go Dogs!”

This is a small token of recognition that would mean a great deal to each of those Western Bulldogs supporters who made the effort to travel by bus for over 10 hours to support the team. And whilst it would make the story even more special if, with everything else going on, Luke Beveridge had come up with the idea himself, it’s telling that someone in the marketing team is so totally engaged working at the Western Bulldogs, that they thought of a gesture that was relatively small, but so meaningful.

Bob Murphy is cut from the same cloth; he’s a different ‘dude’ as well, but the similarities don’t end there. Listening to Easton Wood, Western Bulldogs’ stand-in captain whilst Bob is recovering from a knee injury, he could easily have been talking about Luke Beveridge.

“Bob is a very special person and a special player, but as a leader he’s got the best intuition and ability to get a read of the group of anyone I’ve ever seen. He’s never missed. He has this innate feel for the boys and it always seems to be bang on. Especially on game day.”

Just as Luke and Bob have the players and football department fully engaged into the “Why not us – we believe” mindset borrowed from the Boston Red Sox, the Western Bulldogs story has engaged people for lots of reasons. And no doubt the authentic leadership of Rob Murphy and Luke Beveridge has played a pivotal role in transforming a club in disarray 24 months ago, to one on the verge of the ultimate success for an AFL club – a premiership.

We shouldn’t be limited in our thinking when it comes to engagement; we need to think holistically, not in terms of employee or customer – or fan – engagement, but people engagement. That’s when engagement stimulates action.

As a passionate Western Bulldogs supporter, I look forward to the first bounce on Saturday, with a sense of bewilderment and amazement as to how the Western Bulldogs made the Grand Final.

Why not us? I believe.