Leadership: Why leaders need to look beyond success
Read Time: 5 Minutes
The recent Men’s World Cup Final has been described as the greatest cricket match ever. It is certainly the closest. I prefer a game that is also played by two teams of eleven players but with a round inflatable ball and I don’t know a lot about cricket. So why write about this sporting event?
I am a leadership coach and always curious to discover examples of great leadership and teamwork across all walks of life. From experience, I have learned that powerful lessons about leadership often emerge from the crucible of major sporting events. On the Sunday afternoon of the World Cup Final between England and New Zealand, I put aside time to watch the action play out. I wasn’t disappointed.
Much has been written about that final. There was so much drama, courage, skill and determination shown by both sides. No team deserved to lose. It was such a close contest, ultimately decided in England’s favour, by the finest of margins and not without controversy.
It is the leadership of Eoin Morgan before, during and after this match that stands out. Here are some of the reasons why:
Before the competition, Morgan partnered with team coach, Trevor Bayliss, to build trust and confidence in the players by
- Developing core team values: courage; unity and respect
- Building confidence by being slow to drop players when their form dipped
- Encouraging bold play and taking risks
Setting the right tone
Here’s an example of how Morgan helped his team perform under extreme pressure
As the match moved towards the “Super Over” ( cricket’s equivalent of football’s “penalty shoot-out”) he describes how he gathered the players together in a huddle:
” In a very tense situation, the outcome was to try and make the guys smile. I reminded them that we had agreed we would smile throughout the tournament no matter what happened. When I said that they all laughed”
This was inspired leadership. He knew his team members and their temperaments well. The first thing he did was to influence their mood. Laughter reduces stress hormone levels, triggers the release of endorphins, producing a general sense of wellbeing. It is so helpful to be in that state as you face a very challenging situation.
Clarity of judgement
Before the “Super Over” TV commentators were questioning whether 24 year old, Jofra Archer, was the right choice to carry the hopes of a nation when bowling the critical last six balls of the match. Inexperienced at international level, he had only become eligible to play for England three months earlier. Morgan, however, said that he didn’t see it as a big risk:
“He’s our best Yorker bowler. He’s an extremely confident young man. He never seems to doubt himself”
Neither did Morgan doubt him. He made his decision focusing clearly on Archer’s demonstrable strengths, not getting fogged by assumptions about other factors, such as years of international experience. He was proved right and Archer delivered what was needed.
Commitment to learning
Impressive as the leadership qualities that England’s captain showed before and during the final, it was what he did afterwards that stands out for me as the most valuable transferable learning.
” I am troubled by the cricket World Cup win…it isn’t fair to have a result like that”
This is what Morgan told The Times when interviewed a week after the event Eoin Morgan Article (paywall)
He admitted he struggled to make sense of what was an incredible match and seemed to be agonising whether his team’s victory was fully deserved. Since the match, he has had several conversations with New Zealand captain, Kane Williamson. They both tried to understand what happened in the match. Neither could come up with an explanation about England’s win.
Reflecting on the experience
What makes his post-match reflection and dialogue with the opposition captain, a valuable transferable learning?
It’s his intent that matters here. It would be tempting to bask in the glory of England’s first-ever men’s World Cup Cricket victory in such dramatic circumstances. But what seems to matter more to Morgan is making sense of the experience. He is questioning what was it that his team’s success really depended on. Doing that can enable us to learn what we can build on and what we need to do differently.
What’s the importance of him questioning whether it was fair that England won the way they did?
Firstly, he is showing respect for the opposition. It’s refreshing to see that behaviour in high profile sports personalities. Role modelling respect also helps create the conditions for effective teamwork.
Secondly, by showing humility in this way, I believe Morgan is acknowledging that luck played an important part in England’s victory.
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”
Roman philosopher, Seneca wrote this over 2000 years ago and they still resonate today. And perhaps they provide a clue to why England won. It may be that the preparation that Eoin Morgan and his team did and the way he led them throughout the competition to maintain that preparedness, was the critical success factor.
When we experience failure we are typically more motivated to find out why. With success, we can be complacent or overestimate the importance of our own contribution and so the learning opportunity can be lost.
Eoin Morgan, captain of England’s victorious men’s world cup cricket team, didn’t fall into this trap.