Leadership Lessons from the Legends of Cricket

Leadership Lessons from the Legends of Cricket

Leading people, an assorted array of personalities, is no walk in the park. To bring them together in a way to achieve success is not restricted to changing them, but oneself, so that the fist becomes more than the sum of its fingers. 

A collective entity more than an individual one decides the success of any venture; creating this collective entity, though, is the task, the success of which becomes the standard of measure of a leader. It is no mean feat, for wars are won this way, and so are matches, and any small or seemingly insignificant project undertaken by a team. The ways to do this are plenty; and there is no one right way.

A lot of these different aspects of leadership can be learned from the captains of cricket, men whose ability to lead results in a glorious victory or a crushing defeat. To be humble in the former and dignified in the latter, giving credit where one should and accepting responsibility when one must, is a quality one must cultivate, and there is no better venue to learn this from but from men whose every movement is captured on camera and dissected for the layman’s inspection.

To be persuasive or to be pushy?

A major chunk of a captain’s job is to get things done by others. The members of a team can be talked to but quite literally with a mind of their own, sometimes they need to be actioned into too.

Sourav Ganguly was never a favorite with the public or with the selectors, because his descriptions ran longer than his accomplishments – snooty, arrogant, aloof – but once promoted to captain, he had an uncanny ability to rally the troop, and bring together a group of talented but mismatched players. Under his captaincy, the Indian cricket team began to win Test series away from home. The team huddle in the beginning of every match was a common sight when Ganguly led the team, and his reference to his team as ‘the boys’ turned out to be the magic words that made them feel as a part of something. Ganguly was persuasive and inclusive to the point that his team was willing to set aside differences for a larger cause.

Subtlety in your persuasion is always a wonderful gift to possess as a leader, but it might not always work in your favor. M.S. Dhoni knows that. Ganguly’s successor and no doubt, another great captain, Dhoni’s method of keeping up the required run rate is either cunningly brilliant or impishly naughty. When his co-batsman slows down to earn a half century or a century, Dhoni discards the method of verbal persuasion and chooses to be downright pushy. As soon as he gets the strike, he blasts the ball out of the field in a four or a six, warning his partner that if he doesn’t throw caution to the wind and keep up the run rate, Dhoni will. Quite an audacious captain, Dhoni is known to have applied the same method even on Sachin, by far his senior in both experience and talent, when Sachin was nearing his double century against South Africa in Gwalior in 2010.

While Ganguly was naturally gifted with the ability to lead, that is not the case with everyone. It can be acquired with the right training, which focuses on highlighting those aspects of leadership that are hardwired to succeed. These might be simple pointers, like how to communicate effectively (because often, much is lost in translation), or how to improve your team’s performance.

To delegate or to overburden yourself?

Once a leader, delegation becomes the order of the day. It is not only about unburdening yourself but also about letting your team grow.

The leadership qualities Imran Khan displayed were transformative enough to change Pakistan’s reputation from an average team to one of formidable reputation. An all-rounder who is undisputedly one of the greatest, Khan’s captaincy has been best described as innovative and flamboyant. He was known to brief his teammates precisely on the tactics he wanted them to adopt before each series. Though he was regarded as a tough and aggressive captain, one can’t argue with the results, especially since Pakistan won its first and only World Cup under Imran Khan.

Compare Imran Khan with Sachin Tendulkar and one sees them on two ends of the spectrum. Perhaps bestowed with the burden of talent, Tendulkar had the unfortunate tendency of playing Atlas – bearing the weight of responsibility all by himself. Delegation didn’t come easy to him and once relieved of the mantle of captaincy, his game, which had suffered quite a bit as a leader, improved to its God-given best.

As a leader, the biggest compromise one will have to make is shifting the focus to the team and the goal instead of one’s own individual capabilities. The foundation of a team’s success is its ability to collaborate and co-create.

To lose the trouble-makers or to accommodate them?

Parenting your team is a long, hard, and energy-consuming process because human sentimentalities are at stake, and so are the goals at hand. Diplomacy must be the weapon of choice for any leader when there are talented yet temperamental ‘problem children’ in the team.

When Ganguly took over the Indian team’s captaincy, he had his hands full with a couple of volatile players like Harbhajan Singh and Virender Sehwag. Their unique talent was marred by their inability to get along with others, which somehow, Ganguly was able to handle so well. In fact, it came to be that these two players became fiercely loyal to the captain who most selectors had problems with.

But the same cannot be said about the relationship between Australia’s Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds. Though close friends off the field, Clarke as captain struggled with Symonds’ behavior – his problems with alcoholism and his refusal to acknowledge it. There were times when Clarke had to dismiss Symonds from team meetings just to discipline him.

Accommodating team-mates with behavioral or attitude problems is not an easy task and sometimes, it calls for tough actions. Aggressive leadership helps with sustaining a team without outward incidents as proven by legends like Kapil Dev. Under him, the only thing that mattered to the team was winning; there was a collective goal. Temperamental themselves, Ricky Ponting and Virat Kohli have been quite successful in handling a multi-faceted team.

Aggressive or accommodating, the most important thing to do is to make the requirements known to the team in no uncertain terms. It is easy to get lost in the game for anyone, to make your priorities more important than that of the team. The slight nudge towards the right direction, the subtle yet constant reminder that the collective goal is more important than the personal achievement, is the right and responsibility of a leader.

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