Six days to go. If you’re a cricket fan, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Next Thursday it’s the start of the Ashes – England vs. Australia. More correctly, Australia vs. England, seeing as the first test is in Brisbane and the Barmy Army (if they’ve any sense) will be covered in factor 30.
For me, the Ashes will always mean 2005 – Michael Vaughan, Freddie Flintoff & Co clinching the series at the Oval. Much as Freddie walked off with the plaudits, Sports Personality of the Year and Hangover of the Decade, for me the defining player of that series was Vaughan. Not for his batting – in retrospect he was already on the downslope – but for his captaincy. I’m certain that if you’d switched the nationality of the captains on the morning of the first test it would have been 2-1 the other way – and Fred wouldn’t have been reaching for the paracetamol.
But what makes a good captain? And more to the point where this blog’s concerned, what makes a good leader in business? Are there any similarities? In my view, too many to count – so many that the more I write, the more I’m realising I could write.
Back into the dressing room for a minute. Sometimes your captain has to lead by example. Head bandaged, shirt bloodied, he has to stand defiant. And be seen to stand defiant. But in the very best captains – and business leaders – you need the opposite as well. Sometimes, they’re almost invisible. To quote Lao Tzu:
A leader is best when people barely know he exists: when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, “We did it ourselves.”
Let me give you two examples of the ‘quiet’ leader. Number one – Andrew Strauss, the current England cricket captain. I think Strauss does a superb job. He took over the captaincy after some fairly spectacular high-profile failures: he leads from the front, he has faith in his team – and he’s not afraid to stand back and let others take the credit.
Christian Horner had that on Sunday. He’s the principal of Red Bull, the F1 team. The previous week they’d won the Constructor’s Championship – now Sebastian Vettel had captured the driver’s crown. Did Horner claim the credit? No – he immediately handed all the praise over to the drivers, the mechanics, “everyone back in Milton Keynes.” Anyone but himself.
And Dave was like that as well. He was my first manager in the drinks industry. He was clear in what he wanted, he was democratic – and crucially, he let me make mistakes. At that stage in my career, I couldn’t have asked for anything more – and the combination of direction and freedom was incredibly motivating.
That’s another thing that good captains and great leaders need – the ability to motivate. As even the most incompetent football manager (no names, the libel lawyers are circling) will tell you, some players need an arm round their shoulders, some need the hairdryer.
It’s the same in business. I’ve always been fascinated by motivation – how do you motivate people? In particular, how do you motivate someone you see Monday to Friday, 9 to 5? There’s a wealth of expertise among my Alternative Board members – I’ll be picking their brains in future blogs.
Let me leave you (for this week) with what I see as the three essentials of captaincy – and business leadership.
- I suppose you’d call it emotional intelligence. Captain or boss, you have to communicate – but communication is a two way street. It means listening as well as talking. You’ll never motivate someone if you don’t listen to what they want
- Sometimes being a leader means precisely that – leading. You’ve got to be clear on where you’re heading, and you’ve got to take your team with you – which in turn means communicating…
- Above all, a leader needs to be consistent. We’ve all had bosses who didn’t know what they wanted from one day to the next. Who praised you on Monday and threatened you with a warning letter on Tuesday. Consistency is a leader’s greatest virtue: sport or business, you can’t be a great leader one day and opt out the next.
There you go. That’s my six penn’orth for this week. I sense I could be in for a few arguments, but for now my votes go to Andrew Strauss, Christian Horner and Dave. I’ll leave it with you. Who’s the best leader you’ve ever seen, or ever worked or played with? Sport, business – or any other field you care to mention. The lines are open…