Leadership in the West Indies Cricket Team

In 2010 the rich turquoise Caribbean Sea gently disturbed the moored boats just a few metres below the training ground where the coaches of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) were searching for methods to develop the leadership within the future players.

In cricket the Head Coach takes care of preparation and training sessions but the captain is the leader on the field, potentially for a 5 day match, having to constantly devise and execute strategies, be a mentor, inspire, set, and then live the values and culture of the team. To do this successfully takes a lot of sacrifice, desire, and support from all corners of the organisation which is a lot for an experienced CEO to take on, let alone a teenager.

These talented players, packed with potential, aged 18-22 had joined the West Indies High Performance Centre (HPC) to complete a 6 month holistic programme aimed at developing both on and off the field. The players were put through a battery of tests and assessments to enable the staff to build the necessary programme. It became clear that this group lacked leadership ability, and as it later transpired their peers across the nation did to. When the major cause of the players’ leadership deficiencies were analysed, it was apparent why so many were struggling…There lack of exposure to making decisions.

Throughout the vast majority of the young adults’ career education they have been told what to do by parents, administrators and result-oriented coaches (bosses), who had constantly faced a paradox between individual player improvement Vs winning every match.

As you can imagine, if you were the cricket coach with decades of experience it would be easy for you to bark your orders, reposition fielders and instruct the team who will bowl the next over rather than having to rely on ‘some kid’ to make decisions that could, at least in your mind, affect your job security as well as leave your ego unfulfilled. However, all choices have consequences and although the short term wins feel nice, the repercussions have affected future performance and the individual leadership qualities of aspiring players.

The boards decision to measure success not on HPC team results but on players proving their ability to step up to the next level, international cricket, and be able to compete physically, mentally, tactically, and technically was a brave one. The decision to measure life skills was a moral obligation that the HPC chose to embrace and insisted on these players becoming improved people as well as cricketers.

These decisions have, in part, led to winning 2 World Cups with a number of players coming through the system.

In professional cricket the coaches job is in the build up to a game and the captain has sole charge in the heat of the match. The coach will be sitting 100 metres away with minimal to no control, vast difference from youth cricket with coaches standing in the middle of the pitch umpiring and giving orders.

In the professional ranks on match days the young captain is responsible for team communication, strategic initiatives and there execution, mentoring individuals, setting the team values and culture and then role modelling the behaviours. After a lifetime of being told what to do and being trusted with minimal responsibility, crossing that white line can be a daunting task, like running your first managers meeting. We see this same pattern in the world of business, promoting a talented individual contributor with a specific skill set into a leader of people without considering the potential lack of exposure to a deeper level of thinking.

How can bosses delegate responsibility, set challenging tasks, foster courage to experiment, and find time to recognise their achievements whilst also gaining the required results?

In the HPC, they constantly gave responsibility to the players and set the designated captain a challenge to lead the team through various situations. Subsequently they would help them analyse performance and investigate the reasons behind their decisions, giving an opportunity to learn and reflect in a safe environment.

This week we will see various young adults perform at the Rio Olympics and expectations will be sky high. Some will have had wonderful coaches supporting their aspirations and helping them grow as athletes and as people…whilst some will have completely forgotten the ethos of the Games and be solely rating their worth as a person (and even country) depending on the colour of a medal.

The West Indies Test team now has an exciting young captain, Jason Holder, who came through the inaugural cohorts at the HPC, is leading a very young and inexperienced team. Hopefully he continues to exert the right values and gains the full support he requires to succeed as he continues to develop his leadership skills whilst also adjusting as a player within the international arena.

The leadership experiences Jason had during his time within the HPC will give him a solid head start in his international captaincy. Current leaders should realise they weren’t born a leader, they evolved into the leader they are through their experiences. The big question is what are they prepared to insist upon within their organisation to increase responsibility, decision making, and support the growth of new leaders.