New Manager

Playing a match-winning hand

Updated on: Apr 24, 2011
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The state of our collective spiritual and mental well-being can easily be gauged from the manner in which we play our cricket and in the manner in which this great game is consumed in India.

It is often said that cricket presents strategic and behavioural complexities that no other sport offers. And we, as a race, thrive on complexities!

Cricket is fascinating because of the number of variables at play simultaneously and these variables are not just on account of the complexities of the game, but also the environment. To add to the puzzle is the conundrum of the heritage of the game. The situation on a cricket pitch is extremely fertile and can throw up simulations for any corporate honcho.

Every team-leader worth his iodised salt uses cricketing strategy and tactics, not to mention cricket parlance and examples to inspire his or her team. Ironically, the practice has now transcended the lower hierarchies, just as the masses from small-town India have gained the knowledge to distinguish a square cut from a cover drive and a lofted shot from a slog.

Therefore, when Mahendra Singh Dhoni promoted himself up the batting order in the World Cup final and played a match-winning hand, my heart went out to the captains of Indian enterprises. I was sure that junior managers would slaughter their bosses the next day over kadak chai for not leading their teams from the front in a Dhonisque manner!

At a time when the World Cup final was precariously poised, Dhoni promoted himself up the order and negotiated a tense period to see India through. This was a superb example of leadership. And we love that!

We, as a race, like our leaders to perform heroic acts and there is no act more heroic than that of a leader leading from the front. Consider the IPL teams: Shane Warne leads the Rajasthan Royals from the front. Adam Gilchrist, who earlier led the Deccan Chargers to victory, is now in charge of the Kings XI. Sachin Tendulkar is leading the Mumbai Indians, Sehwag the Delhi Daredevils, Gambhir the Kolkata Knight Riders, Dhoni the Chennai Super Kings, Sangakkara the Deccan Chargers and Yuvraj the Pune Warriors … every captain is expected not just to take his side to victory but contribute individually too.

Just playing the leader in terms of providing vision, strategising or managing people resources is not good enough. We want our leaders to contribute at an individual level too and that, in itself, is construed as a great motivator. However, the absence of individual contribution should not take away anything from a leader's capacity to provide leadership. Bill Clinton may have faltered as a husband and an individual, but he was allowed to lead the US — a job that he, arguably, did fairly well.

Interestingly, cricket too offers a Clinton-like example in England's Mike Brearley. How he spurred Ian Botham at Headingley in 1981, after an abysmal performance in the previous two Tests, is still quoted as one of the classic examples of people management. Brearley is an epitome of leadership. However, Brearley never ever led from the front. He captained England in 31 Tests and won 17, while losing only four. Though his own batting average was just 22.28, his leadership was masterly.

A key player of the Indian team from the Ganguly era once told me that even when he failed as a batsman or muddled while fielding, Ganguly did not hesitate to demand a high level of performance from his teammates. Perhaps, he led so ably because he did not mix up his two roles — that of an individual contributor and a leader.

That is the reason why Yuvraj felt the heat while captaining King's XI in the earlier versions of the IPL and why we don't understand what Sammy's doing in leading the West Indies?! It may hold good elsewhere, but in India we want our leaders to contribute individually more than providing leadership. Hope the Sehwags, Mahelas and Vettoris are listening.

(The writer is a brand consultant and a cricket fiend who lectures on leadership on the corporate circuit.)

Published on April 28, 2011

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