What can cricket teach us about effective leadership?
On the back of the England Cricket team's World Cup success, we review what leaders and managers in the workplace can learn about effective leadership from cricket and captaincy.
It’s been just over a week since England won the Cricket World Cup for the first time ever, in a nail-biting final against New Zealand. Across the country, people are still riding on the wave of the team's success and delighting over a game many are calling the most extraordinary and exciting cricket match ever seen.
In any sport, success is reliant on having a united team and strong leadership . In cricket, there are many leaders, from coaches, captains and vice-captains, to the bowlers setting the field.
Yet both on and off the field, it’s the captain that plays the most important role in building a united team. This, combined with making the decisions on order of play, determining strategy and tactics, and inspiring the team to keep learning and growing, means there is a lot riding on the leadership qualities of the captain. And it’s no different for leaders in the business world.
In fact, there’s a lot of crossover between the desired leadership qualities of a cricket captain and a leader or manager in any organisation.
“I think with captaincy you just have to do it your own way. You can’t copy someone. You can learn from different captains as you go along but in the end you have to follow your instincts and do the job the way your character allows you to do it.” Alastair Cook, Former England Cricket Captain
Leadership isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. Not everyone leads in the same way and our personality plays a big part in this. What makes a good leader is someone that knows when and how to play to their strengths.
Leaders don’t need to overhaul their leadership style or follow the exact footsteps of others in the leadership team. What they do need to do is work at being the best version of themselves. Only then can they get the best out of those they lead.
England captain Eoin Morgan echoed the same message in a recent podcast where he compared himself to India’s captain, Virat Kohli:
"Virat is Virat - he is emotional and very engaged emotionally in the game. He's driven emotionally and outwardly very passionate. That's who he is so him continuing to captain like that is probably getting the best out of himself. Me trying to act like Virat would not get the best out of myself.”
“The captain has to pull together ten different individuals with contrasting personalities and personality traits and get them all going in the same direction by treating them equally but differently.” Steve Waugh, Former Australia Cricket Captain
Man management and the ability to get the best out of every individual in the team is as important in the workplace as it is in cricket. Just like any team, there will often be an eclectic mix of people with different personalities, behaviours, attitudes and experiences.
It's so important for leaders to understand these differing personalities so that they can adapt their leadership style to get the best out of each individual. This means being attuned to the feelings and nature of the people you manage. Tools like personality profiling can help leaders with this.
“I am someone as a cricketer who feels it’s very important to be able to adapt quickly to the situation.”Vijay Shankar, India Cricket Player
In cricket, the ability of the captain and all players to adapt as new situations emerge in a match is critical. Whether it’s understanding when and how to utilise each individual’s strengths, adapting to a change of wind direction, or finding yourself in a super over in a world cup final, adaptability is at the heart of leadership.
In the book The Psychology of Cricket, the authors write that adaptability is also about knowing how to lead at different times:
“The same team can require different types of leadership at different stages in its development. A team in transition will require very strong leadership and direction. But as the team becomes more established, and the team members are more settled, this type of approach can be damaging to the team. In this instance, a more democratic and inclusive approach is required.”
The parallels with leadership in the workplace here are clear. Today, leaders are forced to adapt to circumstances, people and technology on a daily basis - and quickly. There is no room not to be adaptable.
“A captain must make every decision before he knows what its effect will be, and he must carry the full responsibility, not whether his decision will be right or wrong, but whether it brings success.” Don Bradman, Former Australia Cricket Captain
We’ve seen it time again, the enormous amount of pressure put on our national sports teams as they head into any tournament. In the cricket world, if a captain doesn’t deliver in a personal capacity, people will start to question their leadership skills. We’ve witnessed this happen to a string of England cricket captains.
The ability to perform under this pressure is vital. Whether on the pitch or in the workplace, we need resilient leaders who have the strength and courage to lead people through the good times and the bad and can stop negative criticism from putting them off their game. Think how Eoin Morgan has withstood criticism for not singing the national anthem...
Leaders with true grit will continue to show strength, courage, and professionalism even when weathering the biggest of crises. Nothing is more rewarding than emerging from the storm as a better leader and a more cohesive team.
Whether it’s cricket, sports in general, or in the workplace, it's the leaders challenge to initiate action, motivate people, provide guidance, create confidence, build morale and ensure the team stays united through every hurdle they face - all while staying true to themselves. It’s not an easy task. Especially when the whole team - or in England cricket team's case, the whole country - is watching.