27 Jun 2019 21:08 IST

When David is really a Goliath

With humility, grace and equanimity leaders can make a big impact in organisations

The cricket World Cup has thrown up many examples of leadership that would serve us well in our own leadership journey. Let’s look at some of the leaders in the World Cup and a few of their leadership moments.

Humility

Martin Crowe, the late New Zealand master-batsman and canny captain, wrote about Kane Williamson, the current New Zealand captain: “We are watching the dawn of New Zealand’s greatest batsman.” But the lines that caught my attention were: “Due to his humility and lack of ego, it is harder for bowlers and captains to get ramped up about the absolute necessity to remove him….(He) has the X-factor, which no one can quite pin down. Frankly he is David playing like Goliath.” What a telling tribute from one of cricket’s greats about one who will go down as another great.

Williamson’s leadership is so credible because he performs but never gives the team the feeling that he’s doing all the heavy lifting. He’s David in his humility, in his cheerfulness, in his treatment of others, but a Goliath in the impact he makes.

This is something few leaders achieve. Many pride themselves on the size of their titles, offices and cars. Their bloated egos often overshadow the team. Confidence invariably degenerates into arrogance. A huge need to impress leads to immature decisions. The lack of humility, creates blindspots that affect both personal and team effectiveness. It creates sycophants rather than fearless team-mates. Leaders must recognise that the first rule of leadership is that ‘it’s not about me’. It’s about the contribution I make to the team and the way I serve and support the team’s success.

Recently we promoted a team member. Soon there were cries of frustration and annoyance from team-mates who resented a high-handed style and a bossy approach. Clearly, she had misunderstood what her promotion was about. It wasn’t a rung up the ladder. It was a step down to the foundation that would hold, support and serve.

Humility in leaders creates dramatic results for their teams. It creates a rub-off effect less focussed on building oneself up and more focussed on others and outcomes. It creates an atmosphere of learning. It creates a culture of openness. It tries harder and is not afraid to fail. It listens. And it is always wanting to improve. In fact, humility is the only quality, that the moment you think you’ve got it, you’ve lost it.

Grace

It’s unusual to have grace mentioned in the same sentence as Virat Kohli. He’s known more for his sometimes brash behaviour, his take-no-prisoners approach with the opposition and celebrating each opposition batsman’s demise like there’s no tomorrow. But it was he who had one of the best moments in this World Cup. And it had nothing to do with his batting. It had to do with his leadership.

When India were playing Australia, the Indian fans gave Steve Smith — just returned from his ban after the sandpaper incident — the right royal booing. In the middle of chants of ‘cheater, cheater’ it was Kohli who walked towards the crowd and firmly gestured to them that they should be applauding Steve Smith instead of booing him. He even apologised to Steve for the crowd’s behaviour. Now that’s what you call a class act.

In the movie Schindler’s List, Oskar Schindler (played masterfully by Liam Neeson) works hard to persuade Nazi officer Amon Goeth to mercy (a riveting performance by Ralph Fiennes) by saying “Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don't.” Grace is being able to channel strength towards good, when the temptation is towards exploitation. A competitor is down in the dust. Is it an opportunity to grind him out completely or to reach out and show grace? The company has just let you go, do you strike out with words of venom and violence on Glassdoor (a website where ex-employees and employees often vent their frustration) or do you show grace?

Showing grace, means not joining the mob. It means standing up for someone who is down. Showing grace, is about being respectful and considerate. In the dog-eat-dog world of business, grace often counts low on the list of desired qualities. But with more and more workplaces placing a premium on integrity under fire, grace often wins over more exciting leadership qualities. Today’s diverse, stress-filled, resource-scarce workplace needs leaders who can unite and heal.

Equanimity

Pakistan captain Sarfaraz Ahmed has had a torrid World Cup, both on and off the field. Ex-players have been criticising him, one even calling him ‘brainless’, the media focusing on his yawns and not insubstantial girth. But when a fan in a mall called him a fat-pig, that seemed to be the bottom of the pit. Pakistani captains are not known for keeping their emotions in check, yet Sarfaraz calmly ignored the insult and walked away. In his press conferences too, he has been remarkably composed when dealing with provocative comments that have been thrown at him.

The ability to pause and show balance when events or people threaten to throw you off balance, is another mark of the mature leader. This is equanimity.

In Hyderabad, two corporate hospitals have been vying to be the healthcare provider of choice. One hospital has been taking out big hoarding ads aggressively targeting and taunting the other. One huge hoarding was strategically placed right outside the competitor hospital. The leaders at this hospital could have chosen to react with a counter-set of ads. But they chose to remain calm and carry on. They acted rather than reacted. They chose equanimity over anger. In today’s VUCA world, equanimity is going to be something every leader needs. Otherwise there’s the risk of the organisation lurching from crisis to crisis as the leader’s lack of maturity threatens to engulf the team.

In many ways these three qualities overlap. With humility, comes grace and equanimity as well. This is a more low-profile trio — small and unassuming like David, but leaders who imbibe them can play like Goliath and make a big positive difference to the organisations they lead.

Recommended for you