Blog: What business leaders can learn from Indian Premier League

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What business leaders can learn from Indian Premier League

In IPL, like in business, it's a game of averages, here's what you can learn from the fast paced tournament
What business leaders can learn from Indian Premier League

This week, Mumbai Indians beat Rising Pune Supergiants by one run to claim their third IPL crown in Hyderabad. Each sporting event offers an opportunity to reflect on the leadership and team management style. I had the opportunity to hear Joy Bhattacharjya, Project Director for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup 2017 and former Team Director of Kolkata Knight Riders as part of the Cornerstone OnDemand event in partnership with Aon and SHRM in Hyderabad just before the IPL final. 

Joy shared 10 commandments about winning that organizations can draw parallels from. These commandments are based on his own experience of being part of the Indian Premier League (IPL) since its inception in 2008 and more specifically with Kolkata Knight Riders team right from its early days. 

Whose team is it, anyway? Every team needs to have clarity about the model they operate in. Who is the leader? Who takes the call? Is it the owner of the group, it is the manager or is it the coach? At the end of the day, decisions need to be taken and it is critical to know by whom and how these decisions will be taken.

For example, Mumbai Indians is an owner-driven team. Reliance has a say on how the team is managed, and as a company that is all about scale and power, they aim to spare on expense in putting together their best possible team.  In an owner-driven team, captains may come and go but the ‘owner’ takes the final call. On the other hand, a team like Chennai Super Kings was a captain-driven team, MS Dhoni, the former captain of the team was the leader. When compared to an organization, we could draw parallels to a CEO-driven team. In the latter case, the owners empower the leader to take decisions. A third type is the Delhi Daredevils, which is a coach-driven team. It is driven by Rahul Dravid and the coaching staff. The question to ask yourself is which kind of an organization are you? There is no right or wrong answer, what matters is that you should not fall in between. Create clarity and define that leadership model for your team.

IPL is game for small moments - you attack when you have the opportunity and you change the momentum when you need to. 

Align the leader’s strength to the team’s strength: Joy shared an anecdote about when Kolkata Knight Riders had acquired Gautam Gambhir for 2.4 million dollars. The quantum of investment required the management to reflect on making him the captain of the team. Gambhir had the caliber, the experience, and the track record to be the leader of the team. However, they had to find a leadership style that would bring the best of Gambhir and create the glue between the players. Gambhir was all about being sincere, honest and dedicated and supporting his teammates. The communication to the team was that they were playing for a captain who may not be as cool or flashy as other captains BUT who takes a bullet for the team – this became the informal motto “we take bullets for each other”– and the leader represented that. In organizations, many times one does get to pick their leaders, however, it is important to pick up the strengths of the leader’s style and make that the team’s strength, it soon becomes the team’s ethos.

Identify small changes that reinforce alignment. In IPL, teams need to work with each other for a very short span of time and they just have 2 months to play together. Many times, players are working together for the first time. This creates pressure to set up simple rules that everyone can follow. One way to align people is to set up a rhythm that amplifies the right signals. Joy shared an example where, the coach of KKR, Dav Whatmore told his players, “We will run, not walk, between overs”. This advice helped reinforce the importance of fitness and endurance; secondly, it brought energy to the field; thirdly, it gave a message to the opponents that the team will never let their heads or energy drop, no matter what the circumstances. This is a small example of how a small change can bring cohesiveness. What does that mean in the context of the organization? What is it that you can bring to the team rhythm that reinforces the cohesiveness and ethos of the group?

When a player is looking at the dressing room for directions and he does not get any, he will start playing for his runs. Playing it safe or playing by the books is a consequence of the lack of direction from the leader. 

Simple rule: Trust is all we have got. In cricket, the two batsmen need to trust each other’s judgment on whether to run or not to run. When the batsman hits a shot, if the ball goes behind him, it is the batsman at the non-striker's end who needs to take a call on whether to run or not. If the batting batsman looks back and takes a call, he is losing approximately half a second. Joy noted that a substantial percentage of all the run outs that take place are due to a margin of half a second or less. So, if the batsmen trust each other’s judgment, they will just run based on their peer judgment and save half a second. These are really small things that can turn a match around– and that is huge! In organizations, it happens with SYA (save your ***) emails, or meetings, where one writes an email and cc’s everyone, calling people for meetings. This is a problem that is rooted in a lack of trust. For KKR, getting run out is not a problem, looking back to decide whether to run or not will surely have consequences.

People should have clarity OR they will work for themselves. When a player is looking at the dressing room for directions and he does not get any, he will start playing for his runs. Playing it safe or playing by the books is a consequence of the lack of direction from the leader. 

If people don’t know what is right or wrong for the team based on direction from the leader, they will do what is good for themselves or what will look good in the next year. In the 1996 World Cup, the Sri Lankan team decided they would hit shots, getting out was OK but half cock shots were not OK. That is how they won. When you tell your team to go for it and give them the confidence to fail, your job is to hit the ball. Organizations need to create unambiguity and clear direction. There are a number of examples of players hitting 50s in losing games, what it the point? It does not matter if one hits a 50  but the team is going to lose the match. If you reward people who play for themselves you are surely setting the wrong standard.

Celebrate small victories. IPL is a game for small moments - you attack when you have the opportunity and you change the momentum when you need to. The shift in momentum is the most important part. Small victories are what keeps the team going. If you lose a wicket, and then your batsman hits a 6 off the next ball, that instance can change the momentum of the game. Momentum is critical to our business too. Leaders need to find ways to bring back momentum and energy when there is an opportunity to create a new business or when there is a loss of business.

Get luck on your side. Get as close to the target as possible, and get within the reach of luck. In Cricket, like in business, what follows is the law of averages, there will be good days and bad days. If you win a game on a bad day then you are a winner. And turning around situations when you are not doing that well is the mark of a real winner. Cross that huddle, and win games even when you don’t play well – getting over the finishing line is what it's all about. 

Have you built a team ethos that wants you to try and win without fearing the cost?

Solve pain points that could have disproportionate value: On the day of the play, for example, there are a number of things that a player is thinking about. One thing that seemed to bother players is the number of tickets that are available to them to give away to friends and family. After calculating the possible cost, the team management decided to increase the number of tickets that a player could give away. This, in turn, created disproportionate value.

If your team is superstitious, game it: There can be a number of superstitious things in Cricket, whether it is the fact that a team is playing on their home ground, whether it is to do with a dressing room, in such instances, the management found ways to trick players into believing their belief is taken care of. Similarly, if there are any mental blocks that you might have to deal with to achieve peak performance, it is important to be aware of them and deal with them.

Get people to take risks. Slip catches are all reflex, but when the ball is high in the air, you have the time to ponder on the consequences of failure. Have you built a team ethos that wants you to try and win without fearing the cost? Because to win consistently, you have to have players whose thirst for victory is higher than their fear of failure. 

The teamwork among participant teams in the Indian Premier League shows how leaders need to not only align their own strengths to that of the team but also continue to be agile, driven and motivated. And even if teams come together for a short span of time, they can forge a successful and long lasting partnership. What are some leadership lessons that you have learned from IPL? Do share in the comments below.

Topics: #Current, Leadership, Talent Management

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