Management lessons to learn from cricket

Management lessons to learn from cricket

On-the-field

Management lessons to learn from cricket

In a country like India where Cricket is a Religion and where a child learns the names of the cricketing idols before it knows its own name, we have cricket matches being played and watched incessantly throughout the year.

When a match is over, we switch off the TV sets and get back to our other mundane tasks that we had deferred to watch “that final over”. From the cosy comforts of the sofa, its back to the daily grind. But it would be good to pause and ponder over the lessons that we can learn from this most loved game of the nation.

There are ten clear lessons we can learn from cricket.

1.Lead from the front, take calculated risks: What differentiates a great leader from a good leader is the “Ability to lead from the front” and the courage to take “calculated risks”. Every risk has a probability of failure but if you don’t take risks, you don’t achieve anything.

During the finals of 2011 World Cup, when India lost its 2nd wicket, in walked skipper MS Dhoni to bat. The entire Wankhede stadium let out a gasp, just like the billion viewers watching the match on TV. What made an out-of-form Dhoni to take the bold decision of promoting himself up the order ahead of the inform Yuvaraj Singh – this was the question on most of our minds.  It was a brave but risky move, especially since Dhoni was not in the best of forms. However, this is what great leaders are made of. Dhoni wanted to lead from the front, which he did so well and was one of the main architects of an Indian victory.

2. Work with your strengths, be a “Change Agent”: In today’s competitive world, we are so much interested in addressing our “areas of improvement” that very often we forget to build on our strengths. Knowing our strengths and using them to our advantage are important as working on our areas of improvements. Do what you are good at, you need not succumb to “herd mentality”. This is the only way you can develop “Centres for Competence” in different Technologies and Domains.

It is also important that each of us behaves like a “Change Agent”.  Having an attitude of “we always do it this way” can be the biggest deterrent for improvements and enhancements.

During the 1996 World Cup finals, when Arjuna Ranatunga, the Sri Lankan skipper won the toss, he went against “conventional wisdom” and took the risk of bowling first. Past history of 5 World Cup Finals had shown that the team batting first had invariably won the Championship. However, Arjuna knew that his team’s strength was in chasing rather than defending scores. His ability to not only recognize his team’s strengths but also challenge the conventional approach coupled with Arvinda de Silva’s classy century helped Sri Lanka achieve its maiden triumph.

3. Learn to work without your best resource, Ethics / Compliance more important than competence: Every Manager likes to have the best resources in his / her team however we should learn to work without them to handle contingencies better. There are many occasions when our critical resources may violate the Company’s norms but we treat their illegal behavior / non-compliance with kids gloves for the fear of jeapardising the projects and deliverables. However, we should realise that Compliance comes first, irrespective of the person’s competence.

Sharne Warne, the star of the Australian team and arguably the best leg spinner in the World was slapped with a one year ban when he tested positive for doping. While the Media was ready to write off the Australian team even before the first ball of 2003 World Cup had been bowled, their Captain Ricky Ponting was unruffled and went about his task. Australia won the World Cup. It is important to note that the Australian Cricket Board (ACB) had no hesitation in showing the door to Warne, despite him being the most important member of their team.

4. Loyalty versus Productivity: A good leader should realise that though loyalty from team members is good, it should not be at the cost of productivity. He should be able to “separate the grain from chaff”. Learn to distinguish between “wanted” and “unwanted” attrition. Misplaced loyalty can result in loss of productivity.

In the 1975 World Cup played at Lord’s England, Gavaskar scored a painstaking 36 and remained unbeaten at the end of 60 overs against England but that did not help the team’s cause. It would have been better if he had got out. Compare this with the scintillating137 by England’s Dennis Amiss in the same match and you will know who won the match.

5. Don’t lose your temper, nobody wants it!: Even under the most challenging and adverse circumstances, learn to control your temper. Losing your cool will not only make you lose objectivity that results in poor emotional decisions but can also cause great errors in the Quality of your output. Cool head always wins !

During the quarter finals of the 1996 World Cup, India played Pakistan at Bangalore. Amir Sohail had just spanked local boy Venkatesh Prasad for 3 consecutive boundaries. At that moment, he lost his cool and pointed his bat threateningly at Venkatesh Prasad. The cool headed fast bowler, with the support of 50,000 local fans rooting behind him, bowled an indipping yorker and Sohail took a wild swing at it only to watch his timber shatter. This was the turning point of the match from which Pakistan, which seemed to be coasting towards a comfortable win, never recovered.

6. “Straight from the gut”: There is a famous Book with the same title from Jack Welch, former CEO of GE. While hiring, though its good to look at the resume and past achievements, learn to listen to your gut “feel”.

Imran Khan the former charismatic Pakistani captain was known for picking boys from his backyard and catapulting them to the highest echelons of cricket. During the 1992 World Cup he plucked Inzamam from nowhere and though the latter had hardly played any formal first class cricket, he showed his talent by single handedly winning matches for them and was a key member of the Pakistani squad which won the World Cup that year.

7. Keep the differences within the team, don’t succumb to external factors: There are bound to be differences and dissidence within your teams. Its important how you manage them. Never allow the external forces to take charge of the situation, it never helps.

During the 1996 World Cup semi finals at Calcutta (now Kolkata), the unruly fans took advantage of India’s poor batting display and disrupted the match. The match referee had no hesitation in abandoning the match, but not before he declared Sri Lankans the winners of the semi finals. India crashed out of the championships and Sri Lanka went on to win the finals and the World Cup.

8. Multi skills help: Whether you are playing cricket or developing software, its always good to have people who are multi-skilled, known as “all-rounders” in cricketing parlance.

A good Developer should have the necessary skill to do testing and a good Test Engineer should understand the nuances of a good design.

Mohinder Amarnath’s “all-round” ability of providing solidity to the middle order and at the same time snaring wickets with his innocuous looking medium pace helped India clinch the World Cup in Lord’s England in 1983. He was the “Man of the Match” during the semi finals and finals. Similarly Yuvaraj Singh’s multi skills helped him garner four “Man of the Match” Awards during 2011 World Cup and it was fitting that he was at the wicket when Dhoni hit the winning six to bring back the Cup after 28 years.

9. Differentiate personal adversity from professional work: We are taught to maintain the right amount of balance between professional and personal life. Apart from that, we should also know how to keep the two isolated. Never let your personal adversity reflect on your professional work and vice versa.

During the 1999 World Cup being played in England, Sachin Tendulkar’s father died. Sachin made a quick dash to India and was back in England in a jiffy. When he scored an unbeaten 140 century on his arrival at Bristol, England and looked Heavenwards at his departed father, he had the entire crowd at its feet and even the most “stiff upper lipped” could be seen wiping a tear or two.

10. “Rolling stone gathers no moss”: This is a very famous saying that we have heard since time immemorial. No article in today’s fast paced IT can be complete without talking of attrition! In today’s IT era, it’s a fashion to be changing jobs at the speed of changing clothes. Gone are the days when our parents would work for 25 years in one Company.

At the time of retirement, the Company would reward their 25 years of loyalty with a Two Hundred Rupee HMT watch that they would proudly display on their wrinkled wrist. In any field, whether its sports or IT, its important to continue in the “same field” to acquire good functional and domain competency. A best example of “continuation” comes from none other than Sachin Tendulkar, the God of Indian cricket. In his 21 years of Indian cricket, he has conquered most of the World records, more than what the rest have achieved put together. However, just for a moment, pause and think how little Sachin would have achieved if he had been changing his sport every 2 years !

Whether it is a game of cricket or professional work, the core values, ethics and principles remain unchanged!

(The writer is Head of Quality & Process at ABB’s R&D Centre)

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