Line-In-The-Sand Leadership

A day at the cricket.

We know that attitude, culture, and engagement underpin the performance of a team.  Despite knowing this, the announcement yesterday that four key players in the Austalian cricket squad currently touring India will be excluded from selection to play in the third test-match of the series was chillingly clear and startlingly decisive1,2.

Together, the coach, captain, and team manager triumvirate detailed the situation, the behaviour, and the impact on the team — the essence of which is reproduced here, statement-by-statement, and with the cricketing context removed:

  1. This is a line-in-the-sand moment.
  2. We have given the team absolute clarity.
  3. We have given the team a huge amount of time to buy into with what we want to achieve.
  4. We have given a vision to the team that is spelt out.
  5. We’ve given an expectation that is spelt out.

The four suspended players failed to meet the expectation, which of itself could be viewed as trivial, and the consequences punitive, but the leadership fundamentals here are strong, sound, and clear:

  • attitude and culture really matter
  • engagement is crucial for performance
  • every team member must be on board
  • clarity of vision, values, strategy, and aspirations is essential
  • opportunities to live the values and buy into the vision must be provided
  • clarity of expectations is essential
  • good leadership involves taking hard decisions, and acting upon them

…and, crucially:

  • individual performances are too expensive if they come at a cost to the team culture

i’m often finding analogies between the honourable and proper form of cricket (the five-day test match) and the execution of projects and other change initiatives, though not always very good analogies.  The variety of roles required within a cricket team necessarily mean that different team members have different specialisations, yet must share and be bonded deeply by common values.

Here, we’re seeing a spectacular demonstration of long-term thinking and strong leadership, setting the agenda not for the next two test matches, but for years to come.  It’s a risky, courageous, galling, dramatic, and bold step, taken to bolster, sustain, and grow the team as a whole.

It’s leadership.

  1. Barrett, C. (2013) Up In The Air: Watson flies home after Test axing, The Melbourne Age at http://www.theage.com.au/sport/cricket/up-in-the-air-watson-flies-home-after-test-axing-20130311-2fw9i.html
  2. Coverdale, B. (2013) It’s Not Just About One Incident, ESPN cricinfo at http://www.espncricinfo.com/india-v-australia-2013/content/current/story/624571.html
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