As the England cricket team prepares for the test series against India, the spotlight falls inevitably on their new captain, Alastair Cook. Largely untried as a leader at the highest level, general opinion seems to be in favour of Cook’s appointment. Top batsman, good team player, resolute under pressure.
Cook’s predecessor, Andrew Strauss, alongside coach Andy Flower, saw England take the no. 1 position in the ICC Test rankings (a position subsequently lost to South Africa), so Cook has a tough act to follow.
But what makes a leader? In sport, or in business?
There is a clue in the title – a leader needs to lead. Sometimes from the front (opening the batting in a Test match; first into the office and last out); sometimes by offering advice and support; sometimes simply by providing the space for others to flourish.
But a leader also needs to be followed. And that can be the tricky part.
What makes a leader?
David Sorich, writing for the London Business School’s Business Strategy Review (BSR), identified three essential qualities for the leader.
- Leaders show and share love (or passion)
- she needs to show that she cares, about the project and the people
- Leaders possess an upstanding moral character
- or why would anyone trust him, or follow his lead?
- Leaders have vision
- or how would they know where they are going?
Rob Goffee, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at London Business School, quoted in BSR: “…leadership should be seen as something we do with other people. Leadership must always be viewed as a relationship between the leader and the led.”
What makes a captain?
Perhaps the best book (IMO) on cricket captaincy – no, not Mike Brearley’s (excellent) “The Art of Captaincy“, but “How to Win at Cricket, or The Skipper’s Guide“, by E.M. Rose, tackles this question directly.
Again, there is a clue in the title – being a successful captain is about winning. But Rose explains very persuasively that “winning” (in the Club game, at least) is about more than crushing the opposition underfoot. It is about crushing the opposition whilst letting them think they have a chance of winning, so they want to play you again next year and don’t simply give up and leave the League, or stop playing altogether.
And “winning” also means making sure that everyone on your team is involved – so, once again, a successful Club captain, even in a highly competitive League, should probably prefer to win close games, rather than by 10 wickets of 150 runs. Or risk seeing his own under-valued players prefer to go shopping on Saturday afternoons.
I would love to see Rose’s analysis brought up to date to cover winning in the era of limited over and Twenty20 cricket. In the era of a guaranteed result, there does seem to be an even greater challenge for Rose’s “winning” captain – much less scope for creative captaincy, perhaps, and only win-or-lose to play for.
But still the role of the captain is central.
Follow the leader – if you can find a good one, that is!