Leadership lessons from the cricket field

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on November 18, 2020

A leader oughtn’t to have one set of rules for himself and a different one for the team, says WV Raman

Cricketer-turned-coach WV Raman, who has written a book on leadership — well, it’s actually about achieving one’s potential — certainly knows a thing or two about adaptability, a key trait of successful people. After all, he got a place in the India squad as a left-arm spinner but shone as a batsman. The graceful southpaw, who solves cryptic crosswords, plays golf and snooker and is an avid reader, has been a successful coach post his retirement; the way the women in blue, who have trained under him, have been performing is testament to that.

In his book The Winning Sixer, written in a breezy style , as a series of conversations (clearly fictional) between him and a journalist, several ideas and truths about leadership emerge as the two go over various cricketing incidents (these are real-life ones).

For Raman, the five Cs that are important for a leader to possess are: credibility, clarity, connect, control and conviction. As he writes, it is imperative a leader doesn’t have one set of rules himself and a different set for the rest of his team. For Clarity, he uses Pataudi’s response when he lost his eye. “I only lost my sight, not my vision.” That, in a short sentence, explains clarity. Mike Brearley is a classic example of connect — listening to others and engaging with them at their preferred wavelength. As for control, he says, it is MS Dhoni who epitomises it, with his controlled temperament. Finally, conviction will provide the courage, a quality required to lead.

During a catch-up with the cricketer, asked whether leadership can be taught, he says there are billions of situations that people find themselves in and the best learnings come from these. Excerpts from the chat:

When it comes to success, there are a a lot of discussions on talent versus hard work. What’s your view?

Experience is what matters at the end of the day. You have to go through certain things to know what is right, what works, and what doesn’t. Experience punishes you first and then teaches you the lesson.

For example, there may be two cricketers who have both played 50 matches. The one who would have learnt from his failures and worked on areas needing improvement will be successful, going forward. Of course, talent has to be there, but it is also about mindset, and attitude and how good a learner you are.

At the end of the day, luck also matters. I won’t rule that out too. In business, it could be a change in policy that can derail you. But whatever happens, constant learning is what will help.

Since you have thought so deeply about leadership, does that make you a better coach?

Life is never short of surprises. You may think you have seen all sorts of situations and hold answers but you can still be confronted by new problems. When such things happen, one has to navigate according to what the situation demands.

In your book, a heartwarming story is how you helped Lakshmipathi Balaji come back after a serious injury. In the corporate world too, high potentials often drop off. Do you think, if someone were to guide them, the outcome may be different?

The big difference between the corporate world and sports field is that most people in the former are programmed to think in a certain way. They come to leadership after being taught to think in a certain way, whereas, on the sports field, it is all about learning on the job. So the sports person has the edge, in my view. Of course, structure is important. But I am talking about linear learning versus horizontal learning. Let’s face it — there are lots of times when decisions are not taken in the corporate world. But you cannot escape taking decisions on the sporting pitch.

Who are the leaders you admire?

Primarily Richard Branson. If you are looking at the sports field, then Tiger Pataudi.

Do you think IPL will help develop more successful captains for India — after all, suddenly, so many are getting opportunities to lead?

Whether one format will create leaders is debatable. At the end of the day, leadership qualities in the next generation will be inculcated if they are allowed to evolve themselves, and discover themselves.

As a coach, I believe it’s not just about downloading things and learning. Each one is encouraged to do things themselves and see what suits them. The ultimate thing is to optimise their potential.

Published on November 18, 2020

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