Captain Cook gets a baptism

England suffered a heavy defeat this morning in the first Test Match against India at Ahmedabad. What is it like being a leader at times like this?

Alastair Cook, England’s relatively new captain will be learning some tough lessons:

1. You can’t do it all by yourself.

Despite Cook scoring over 200 runs himself, England were beaten by 9 wickets.

That’s a spanking! Cook is an excellent batsmen. He has a perfect temperament and near flawless technique. But to be the leader, the captain, he needs to cultivate two other key skills.

2. You need your team mates to deliver.

That’s a lot easier said than done. He may even find his excellent batting temperament gets in the way. That ability he has drone-like to shut out all distractions and take each ball on its merits needs to give way on the field to interacting with the guys. And in the dressing room too.

Cook has 10 excellent players, but the game requires him to understand each person and maximise their contributions. Only one bowler delivered wickets: Swann: 6 out of the 9 taken.

Four chances were missed. That’s a leadership issue.

Away from home the cries of the critics will be there but quieter. However the captain will repeatedly have tough questions to answer off the field and in the public domain. No manual trains you for this. Cook’s predecessor, Strauss, learnt and improved how to handle the media over several years. Cook is starting from scratch.

3. Finally, and this is the (relatively) easy bit: Tactics.

These games are so tough, the margin between success and failure is very tight. A supreme tactician can narrow this gap. Cook is bright and will learn the craft of this. It is a relief to know that the coach and back office team are very strong and will coax him through these choppy waters.

To me his hardest job will be working on his team. By playing well himself he has started well, but now the work really begins.

Come on England!

Posted in Extravert v Introvert, Handling Prima Donnas, Leadership, Leadership problems, Leadership qualities, Managing people, Sport mirrors life, Why we need other people | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

There’s no KP in TEAM

We’ve all heard that there’s no “I” in TEAM. After being dropped, there is now no Kevin Pietersen either.

So why did England omit KP from their crucial final Test squad against South Africa at Lords today? Is there a future for KP and can England survive without him? Can they win?

Most people don’t seem to understand teamwork. Generally that’s because they’ve not been part of a team that’s beaten a much better side.

England’s cricketers, on the other hand, have beaten better sides using teamwork to its best. Andy Flower, England’s coach should take credit for this.

But does Kevin Pietersen understand teamwork? Who knows? Do we even care what he said in his chummy text messages to opposition players?

KP is an immense talent. Like most very talented people, he is hard to handle. I think he struggles to handle himself, but really now this is a job for the leadership.

And the job of handling KP goes to England captain Andrew Strauss. Flower is not on the field.

Remember Mike Brearley? He knew how to get the best of that prodigious talent named Ian Botham. Like KP he had his wilder moments. It comes with the territory for captains, and Brears brought out the best in him.

With KP the key is greatness. He could be great but isn’t yet.

In sporting terms I define greatness as Sir Steve Redgrave. 5 consecutive Olympic gold medals. Sir Chris Hoy came close with 6 but at only 4 consecutive games, as he himself graciously pointed out.

KP could achieve cricketing greatness: the most Test runs; the highest number of centuries, double centuries, treble centuries?? The highest average, the highest strike rate of all time, for example. Winning the Ashes again next year.

Greatness in cricketing terms is not IPL, fun though that is. It’s not wealth either. Wealth comes and goes, greatness lasts forever. And KP has the talent to be great.

Andrew Strauss’s task is to get inside KP’s head, to harness that greatness potential into action for the England team. This isn’t about being mates. It’s about leadership, about harnessing the great KP potential into specific objectives for each innings.

Like get 50 in 6 overs. Like get 150 not out. And longer term I would set him a target of getting 200 per test match for the next 5 years. I think KP could do it.

But let’s be clear, without this achievement, KP is not a team player. In other words unless he delivers for himself AND his team, he’s getting in the way.

Sometimes it takes someone else to believe in you, to bring out the talent and translate it into achievement. I don’t think KP can do it on his own.

Strauss needs to do some serious thinking to see if he has it in him to allow Pietersen back in the side. He probably could make do without the man.

But to ascend to greatness himself, to become England’s greatest remembered captain,  Strauss will need at least one Botham or KP and at the moment he has neither!

Posted in Greatness, Handling Prima Donnas, Leadership, Leadership problems, Managing people, Sport mirrors life, Success, Teamwork | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The crumbling imperfections of parenthood

My card: ‘Dad I still love you even though your going bald’!

The toughest leadership challenge is parenthood. It’s also the most rewarding.

Why is it hard? Is it good?

It’s hard because it’s personal. Our children see us exactly as we are, and none of us are getting any younger, as my cheeky darling pointed out.

It’s personal too because we are heavily invested. It really matters how they are.

If our kids are ill or trip up we feel the pain too. More so even.

Parenting is leadership. When we get it right it’s the best feeling. But we have to lead through our own imperfections. These become increasingly obvious too. To them and to us.

But do my imperfections matter? It’s their view that counts.

Posted in Family life, Leadership, Parent | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Do we wash our dirty linen in public?


But it still needs washing.

Posted in Are we logical?, Broken relationships in business, Conflict, Denial, Failure, High staff turover, Integrity in business, Leadership, Leadership problems | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Only the art-less can afford art

It seemed mighty unfair that the girls should lose the task.

Kicking off a new series of BBC’s Apprentice, the first task was to design, make and sell printed items. The girls’ team Sterling produced some excellent ideas.

Even the normally hard-to-please Lord Sugar was impressed.

In contrast, the boys’ team Phoenix will definitely need to arise from the ashes of this week’s binned disasters. So plainly bad were their printed bags and teddy bears, that the smudged red ink looked like a blood bath.

With old London buses and Union flags as motifs, the inspiration was absent.

But for the first time that I can remember (in how many series of The Apprentice) the team did a good deal of financial planning. Preposterously high margins were put in place. Money was made.

Both teams made a profit to be fair, but the boys made more; three times more at £600, despite showing no demonstrable design talent.

Ironically the reward for winning was an art-inspired reception for the boys. Did they appreciate it?

There’s an important principle here. It doesn’t matter how good you are in business, if you can’t turn sufficient profit then you won’t be able to stay in business.

And the rewards are only there for those who can.

But let’s look again atPhoenix’sperformance. Its success was not quite as unjustified as I might have made out.

The boys worked quite well together as a team. They pulled together whilst the girls were bickering in the park.

The boys’ designs were unoriginal but tapped right into the tourist market.

And they planned their business and kept on track. The girls’ leader Gabrielle gave the impression she had not managed a group of keenies before. It’s not as easy as it might appear.

The final principle of the week is a classic Apprentice one. When you are sure you know what will happen, then something else will instead.

Thus 9 million people knew that Katie would get fired. But Bilyana was instead. You’ll have to watch the show to see why!

Posted in Managing people, Success, Teamwork, The Apprentice 2012, TV reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The reluctant leader

Ever been to a lecture on “cold calling”?

A few years ago I did just this. I sat through 30 minutes of suggestions about scripts, about what we could say to potential “prospects”. A question was then put to us about what we would say on the phone to some unsuspecting person we had just called up.

Stupidly I put my hand up and just said “say whatever comes into your head!” Well I like to think I put it a little more eloquently than this, but the result was dramatic. I was shouted down. Put down.

But looking back my ignorance on a difficult subject, was bliss. Bliss, that is, until I put my ignorance into action.

It’s the same with leadership. It’s an important and difficult subject, and like “sales” it’s not really taught very well, if at all.

Indeed it seems some people are born leaders, some people become leaders, and some people have leadership thrust upon them.

The latter category is where the greatest risk of failure lies.

The simplest route to promotion is excellence. That is, being very good at whatever subject you work in. Perhaps you are an accountant, a theologian or a surgeon.

But being very good at putting accounts together, composing a sermon, or repairing varicose veins doesn’t mean you can lead an accountancy practice, or a big church, or a Primary Care Trust.

In fact there is very little correlation at all. Leadership is its own skill.

In practice what we see is people in leadership positions who come to hate what they do.

Sometimes we see people who are no darned good, and everyone else hates what they do.

Don’t get me wrong, I love leadership. I think it’s the greatest thing, but many good people don’t really need to be doing it.

The good news is, most mistakes can be learned from, and you can improve your leadership skills. You could also pull out and focus on what you are good at, but that takes courage.

And for those youngsters who fancy a promotion, all the best to you, but know this: you will need at least two key skills to be an effective leader, to have a chance of succeeding at it.

You will need to understand your people and add to them. Secondly you will need to know what to do. i.e. you will need vision.

No one else can do these two things for you.

Posted in Big business failure, Broken relationships in business, Conflict, Cost of leadership, Do I really want the job?, Failure, Getting to the top, High staff turover, Leader resigns, Leadership, Leadership problems, Leadership qualities, Reluctant leader | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

How to manage an extrovert

I sat in on an interview conducted by an extrovert. In all the time he was talking, there wasn’t a single question directed at the candidate! She had a winning smile to be fair, and doubtless an impeccable CV, but I didn’t hear her speak.

She got the job.

Ever done “business networking”? A typical meeting would involve 30 – 70 people all trying to make good “contacts” and even to sell their services there and then. It’s very noisy.

The extroverts are out in force. And they’re loving it! Extroverts are energised by people.

It’s not that they actually derive information from those they are with, more that their audience (and it often is like this) forms a kind of canvas upon which the extrovert paint their thoughts.

It is more convenient, but increasingly noisy, if both parties to an encounter are extroverts, because neither will notice that the other isn’t listening very much.

An introvert might object to the one-sided speech. But more often the introverts can be seen anxiously lurking at the side of the hall, urgently checking their iPhones, perhaps making unnecessary calls to the office on matters of “extreme importance”.

So it is jolly handy being an extrovert if you need to be able to meet people, but your very energy derived from meeting them can get in the way of the important listening that needs to be done.

Most of us have both E and I in our personalities. A natural tendency to the extreme in one of these can actually be altered. You can increase your effectiveness by drawing on the other side of your personality, but it’s not easy.

If you manage an extrovert or are one yourself, you may get comments like “he talks too much”, “he’s a bore”.

A classic sign is people nodding off. Your presentations are 60% too long.

The first step towards change is arguably the most difficult one: recognition.

Particularly if it’s you and you’re the boss no-one will tell you that you need to change.

But it’s not all hard work. The benefits of saying less, listening more and paying attention to others, can all improve your effectiveness. Some of the most effective sales people I have met would probably be described as introverts.

If you talk too much, and I know I do, your family will appreciate you more if you remember what they just said. Listen up!

Posted in Broken relationships in business, Extravert v Introvert, Family life, Handling Prima Donnas, Managing people, Personal development, Recruitment | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment