Everyone knows a good captain, but not everyone knows how they became one. That's the mystery of leadership. However, many have studied the phenomenon of great leaders and we as cricketers can tap that knowledge.
In short, understanding the principles behind leadership will help you to become a better captain or coach.
What is leadership?
Despite the idea of leadership being accepted as a vital part of life, business and sport research on the subject is very subjective. There are many definitions. Most revolve around:
- Influence. Leaders influence the behaviour of other people.
- Groups. Leadership is examined in group (or team) settings.
- Goals. The leader coordinates movement towards a group goal or goals.
You can see how the definitions fit closely with the job of a captain: Influencing team members towards the attainment of victory. It's also possible to see here how a good side is often referred to as as 'team of captains'. It's quite possible to be a leader without being captain or coach. You just need to exert influence.
Which leads me on nicely to the other differences between tactical captaincy and leading.
To adapt the ideas of Bennis & Nanus (1985), leadership is about people whereas the nuts and bolts of captaincy (setting the field, changing the bowling) is about producing consistency and control through tactical awareness. It's comparing doing things right with doing the right thing.
The flash of brilliance that leads to against the odds success is often the result of people focused leadership (perhaps not even from the captain). You don't see many great captains who are not great influencers of people. However there are plenty of captains with lots of tactical knowledge who don't get success.
Being a leader, then, is vital to being a great cricket captain. But how do you do it?
What makes a leader?
Early research examined the traits that made a leader assuming that leadership was an innate ability you were born with. Or not. Despite these efforts, no common factor could be found in leaders. They were different ages, sexes, levels of education and intelligence. They had different personalities and confidence levels.
What was found was that leaders focussed on either relationships or tasks. In cricket terms the best example is the captain who tries to give everyone a game verses the skipper who tries to win at all costs. It's nothing to do with traits and all to do with style.
Adapting to situations
The work of Hersey and Blanchard (1988) developed this idea. They argued that the best leaders can adapt their style dependent on the situation. A nervous young bowler would need a very different approach to the senior pro for example. This might seem obvious, but many captains treat all players and situations in very similar ways.
A captain needs to consider not only the tactical situation at any time, but also the players within that situation. John Adair (1982) sees the relationship between these three (task, individuals and leader) as a complicated one. It's the job of the leader to understand and balance the needs of players, team and results.
Although the work of Adair is about business, I see it as just as relevant to club captaincy.
Players choose turn up every week for a number of reasons. A captain who can't see the individual needs of his players and meet them while still keeping them together as a team will soon not have any players to chose from as they drift away from the team. If would take a group of highly self motivated player to keep playing for a captain who is just focussed on winning the game.
Master this delicate juggling act and adjust to the situation and you can be a better captain.