Leadership lessons from the Ashes!!


The recent Ashes series throws up an interesting comparison for leaders. On the one hand we have Alistair Cook, the traditional and laid back captain who allows the game to drift away. On the other hand we have Michael Clarke, the captain who takes the game by the scruff of the neck making frequent field and bowling changes. He is one who makes things happen rather than waiting for things to happen like Alistair Cook.

Listening to the so-called experts views on the two captains, you might be misled into believing that Clarke’s side is actually winning the Ashes series instead of losing it 0-3 at the current moment. Additionally, you might feel that England is the side that has lost 7 of the last 8 tests played instead of being unbeaten in the last 12 tests. So that brings that age-old question back in the forefront, how do we define leadership and what traits do leaders show?

The cliched answers crop up very fast.

  • A good leader leads from the front!!

Cook averages a meager 27.25 compared to 49.42 of Michael Clarke.

  • A leader makes the iron hot by striking rather than wait to strike when the iron is hot.

Judging by the number of field placements, bowling changes that Clarke makes, he wins this battle hands down.

  • A leader is always in control of things.

If you believe the experts Clarke has been the captain who has been in control always even when England were piling on the runs and even when his team was crumbling.

  • A leader can psyche up the players and get them excited.

Again visuals of Clarke clapping his hands to dust compared with Alistair Cook’s lost, disinterested look in the slips seems to indicate Clarke is better at that.

But results don’t lie, so what is happening here. For starters, I think the so called experts are mixing up personality traits with leadership skills. While Clarke is more expressive and outgoing, Cook is a bit reserved and less expressive to say the least. While it is true that some personality traits make it easier to be a leader than others, it no way guarantees success.

For e.g. yes a leader can lead by example, but the example can sometimes be a very minute detail which his team recognizes. In the fourth test, when England were desperately looking to take wickets Cook took up the responsibility of shining the ball. He was England’s designated ball shiner till he became captain after which the responsibility fell to Ian Bell. But, in the crucial defense, Cook signaled his intentions to the team by taking up the responsibility and indicating that he was willing to take up any role to help the team win.

In a similar vein when the Aussie team look up to their captain and he steadfastly refuses to move to the third place in the batting line up to shore up the inexperienced batting of his team, the claims for leading by example falls flat.

Another example is the repeated field changes, bowling changes which might make the captain look busy, but are not great strategies on field where you need to allow some time for the plans to evolve and constant changing just keeps letting the steam off before the plan matures. A very good example was the 7 over spell which Ishaant Sharma bowled at Ponting before getting him out at Perth. It was a spell bowled to a set field and kept on frustrating the batsman with consistency before finally picking him off. Aussie bowling rarely seems to do that now. Of course, they no longer have the Pigeon to be impeccable, but at least they have a Bird to try it with.

To be fair to Clarke, a few set of circumstances could have had Australia leading 3-1 in the series. Had Haddin stuck around a bit longer in the first test, had weather not interfered in the third test, had the batting not been brittle in the fourth test. But usually luck also plays a major role in shaping any leader. It could be the luck of the circumstances, luck of the talent or just luck of another’s misfortune, but luck does go a long way in shaping up leaders.

Additionally, I think a bad leader can cause more damage than a good leader can do good. But a good leader will always try to provide his team with the best chance to succeed. Depending on the person, it might be making a statement like taking off the shirt and twirling it overhead to make an attitude adjustment or it might be a simple gesture as taking up a lesser duty like shining the ball for the team cause. But, one thing is for sure, you will never be a good leader when you think of a team mate as a cancer or let personal egos come in the way of the team. And at this moment, this is a painful lesson that Clarke has to learn to move up the leadership charts!!

So in a nutshell, leadership is different from personality traits and there is no single trait or feature that makes leaders successful. Also a leader without luck soon finds himself without leadership. 🙂

Cheers!

Ram

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