It was the most awaited Sunday morn for any Indian cricket team aficionado when India played their all-time favorite rivals in the very first match of the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015. With the television volume high, my house echoed the sounds of the enthralled crowds who were at the stadium watching the match.
Any sport includes numerous intense and dynamic lessons regarding competition, teamwork and strategy. Many of these themes also apply to business — from leadership, cooperation and mentoring to coaching and innovation. In cricket, for instance, the captain is often a hands-on coach on the ground, always available to offer help, advice and bring clarity to each player’s abilities and role. Similarly, a leader in a business environment guides each individual in his team to expose their full potential. With the exception of cheerleaders with pom poms, there are several lessons companies can learn from cricket on leading people -- a critical factor to achieving success, especially in today’s times.
A successful leader is one who can spur his or her team members to work well together toward a common vision, thinking ahead of time and competition. It’s no longer enough to be good in one format – these days cricketers have to compete in T20, One Day matches, Test matches and at home and abroad. But they have risen to the occasion — while it used to hurt Indian cricket supporters in the 90s when the national teams were called “Tigers at home, lambs abroad”, we’ve long since shed that tag and become international victors. The ability to perform well across formats, and out of our comfort zone, differentiates great teams from good teams.
Teamwork is one trait where many falter. One of the biggest changes that Sourav Ganguly and Mahendra Singh Dhoni brought to the Indian cricket team was prioritising the team over individuals. Any glory and performance of a teammate was regarded as success for the entire team because a true team player is one who clearly defines success as ‘success of the team’ even if he/she does not win the Player of the Tournament award.
To achieve this, and at the same time build loyalty, might be a challenge as today’s teams are often multi-locational, multi-functional, multi-cultural or even short-term project-based, which is true for businesses as well as cricket teams. At times a strong batsman has to go through tough times. “A swing and a miss” is often used by commentators to refer to a senseless stroke by a batsman made in a fit of desperation or anger that yields nothing but air.
It is critical to calm your nerves and not let the competition impact your mindset or focus. How often have we seen batsmen giving away wickets after a noisy altercation with the bowlers or fielders? It’s okay to have a bad day at the ‘office’, but you need to learn from them.
It’s during this time that the captain, or leader, needs to back his team. He has to know the psychology of his team members to support them, and to lead them to success. He should play to their strengths — every team is different and every member has different talents. A rigid approach towards work and a narrow idea of success will lead to unpleasant results. Hence, entrusting ownership to team members and empowering them to make decisions and think on their feet becomes critical to success. There is always a strategy but at times it is the bowler who knows best where to bowl, and the captain should back him to ‘set his own field’ accordingly.
Most of us in corporate life have experienced similar challenges and the general feeling of helplessness from lack of resources, impossible targets, intense competitive activity, or unfavorable external environment. A common response is to either give up in favour of an easier target, or make elaborate strategic plans with innumerable unknown parameters to try and achieve these goals. How many of us would have just accepted that simply plodding on, playing one ball at a time to the best of one's ability is a winning strategy? How many times have we placed trust in our teammate to play his role, knowing that we will succeed or fall together? How many times have we given repeated encouragement when our teammate has faltered?
Celebrating small successes in the course of the journey and building on the momentum of success for the next goal are key cornerstones in the remarkable story of the Indian cricket team, and something equally applicable in a corporate environment. Whether it’s sports or business, it is important to live in the present, submerge our own egos in the interest of team objectives, and fulfill our immediate duties with focus.
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