Captain Cook

I read a Shane Warne article in The Telegraph this morning it is about the building leadership crisis in English cricket, where the captain, Alastair Cook, is under pressure after a string of bad results.

I haven’t actually got to see much of the cricket so far this summer. I have heard a few spells of TMS. The results aren’t good and there are always rumblings.

While writing this I was also chatting to @FridayFood about leadership. A dangerous subject, another one of those words that’s so dense and complicated, you ought to need a certificate to be allowed to use it. See also culture, strategy and love. 

Anyway, the tiny sliver of leadership we’re discussing is about (because it’s not all about anything) the creation of safe environments. The odd thing about safe environments, where trust and interdependence are high, is that we use them to take risks, do exciting new things, make new friends and in lots of ways, win.

I don’t think Cook feels safe, so he takes fewer and fewer risks. The rest of the side are waiting for it to go bang on his desk so also take no risk, doubtless wasting energy on gossip instead of supporting each other and getting better at what they do together. The result is a low risk approach to the game, oddly, a safe one, and that’s not good enough in the competitive heat of top class sport (or a fast moving business). The worst thing that’s happened to England recently is beating Australia by accident last summer.

Over all I think he should step down, likely take a break so as to come roaring back for what he is. One of the THE BEST batsmen in the world.

As to who’d replace him, I haven’t a clue.  As we’ve seen recently in several top sporting contexts, the intense heat leaves little room for the necessary ambiguity and risk of effective succession. But that’s another story.


4 thoughts on “Captain Cook

  1. I have to admit to thinking really hard about responding to this one. The simple reason is, that I’ve read oodles of booked, papers, websites and opinions on leadership but I’ve never read one that is articulated quite like this. The pertinent word is risk.

    We live our lives mitigating risk. Risk that we’ll run out of money. Risk that we’ll get run over. Or partake in a plane crash. Or risk that our kids will become One Direction. Or risks that our house will become infested with daffodils. In almost every case, you can point to a leader or leaders to help guide the way to safety. That leader could be you, or your wife/husband, or the pilot, or the gardener, or your boss. But you look to them for guidance, for expertise, for clarity.

    I know it sounds simple when you describe it like this, but it’s just that I’ve never heard it spoken about in these terms. But, you have to admit, it makes devastatingly perfect sense.

    Leadership is something I take very, very seriously. I am a father, and I am a manager of a division in a large corporation of over 400 people. I remember the very first “Town Hall” (as our American cousins like to describe a meeting involving all the people who work for you) that I did. I woke that day and thought, “it’s media, and it’s out of the office” so I wore jeans and a t-shirt. Not uncommon in media. When I got the feedback from the Town Hall, I got several comments about what I wore. Not in a bad way, in fact several used it as a proxy as to my style of leadership i.e. relaxed, comfortable being an open book etc.

    I recall that story because it really brought it home to me that leadership is not all about the big stuff. It’s not always the winning run or goal. Or the final 5 minutes. Sometimes it’s the little things that you, as a leader don’t actually notice. But they matter hugely to those that look up to you for all the things I describe above.

    I replayed this back to someone I trust deeply shortly after, who also works at my company. She said that I should never overlook the fact that a) you were that twenty-something once upon a time, and probably thought exactly the same of the leaders who you looked up to, and b) that you are always, always, always leading. You don’t need to be physically present. But the office door being open vs always closed, or the email thanking someone, or the all department email celebrating success, or the hello in the lift, are all the things that make you a great leader.

    So back to risk. If you think about all the above, risk means different things to different people, and it doesn’t matter how junior or senior you are. Provided you understand that, and you act in a way that shows you know it, and are prepared to behave in a way that mitigates it for the people you lead, you will be successful. And, I should add, that is equally true as a parent as it is a CEO.

    I think in the context of your cricket analogy, all the above is entirely true although the only other factor pertinent to Mr Cook is probably confidence.

    (Cue: next blog post topic.)

  2. Maybe you need to update this one after the last test! Sometimes being challenged in leadership is the best way to improve your leadership style. By the way, I know nothing about cricket and, in fact, rate it only after golf in dullness, but the principles still apply.

    • He is a great batsman and a lousy leader.

      My guess is he’s stopped trying too hard at the latter and either got lucky or was so liberated that his form returned. He is neither tactically adept nor bold. Despite it’s gentlemanly image, it’s brutal. It’s leaders have to be fearless.

      Cricket is a fabulous and much misunderstood game. When it’s dull (and it can be) it’s time for a long natter to whoever you’ve gone with. When it’s thrilling, I know of no other sport where triumph and disaster are so present, where heroes step up and the weak crumble. But then the next day, the tables can be turned.

      Now golf… Don’t set me off on golf.

      Meanwhile I must comment on your latest. I was taken by the story. I like a good story.

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