The week in sport has been punctuated by the stark ending of Kevin Pietersen’s England cricket career. This has caused no end of controversy, as he is ENgland’s premier batsman and has been a box office player for nigh on a decade. At 33, he is hardly old: There has been a number of batsmen who have scored significant runs post-33, including Graham Gooch, who added a further 5,000+ runs to his career aggregate after this age.
Why then have England taken the decision then to relinquish such a player of his duties, when he could be coming into the prime of his run scoring form? The rumour is that he is poisonous to the team atmosphere.
Sport, along with most other things in life, relies heavily on the effectiveness of a team to achieve anything great. It is the ability to work as a collective, rather than an individual, which enables things to get done.
A team is a collection of individuals with different skills. In order to achieve anything great, the team needs to harness each of these skills and apply them to the solving of the particular problem with which the team is faced. This requires a clear direction (i.e. the end point or result needs to be clearly defined), and each individual within the team needs a clearly defined role and task within that team. Without an end destination, a team wanders listlessly, going through the motions as they have no context in which to place their current efforts. If they don’t know what they want to achieve, they are less likely to go out and achieve it.
In order for this to happen, a team requires a strong leader. The leader of a team is the holder of the vision – the direction where the team is going. It is his job to keep this destination in mind and ensure the rest of the parts are moving in that direction. This requires a strong set of ethics and values. Strong ethics and values keep behaviour within the team consistent and everybody on the same page. Weak ethics allow for self-interpretation and creates factions of individuals doing their own thing – a sure fire recipe for disaster. The leader is wholly responsible for ensuring this doesn’t happen.
Each individual needs to contribute to this ethics system and direction. Everybody needs to feel valued. Humans have an intrinsic desire to feel valued and wanted. If a person’s thoughts and views are ignored, belittled or bypassed, they become disillusioned and feel down valued. This is the point at which they start to deviate from the team ethic and culture.
Kevin Pietersen is a strong individual with clear ideas of how things should be. His well-reported ego is responsible for a controversial attitude that seems to rub other people up the wrong way. But should it? Often, this brashness and strength of opinion is misguided as arrogance, but often, people like this have amongst the strongest set of convictions and ethics going around. They rarely behave inconsistently.
These are exactly the kind of people you should be encouraging within your team. They should be involved heavily in the creation of the team’s value set, the teams direction and ultimately the day to day running of the team.
Effective teamwork is essentially communicating effectively with a group of other individuals. There are challenges to doing this, and there are indeed times when this is positively difficult. This difficulty arises often due to a difference in morals and values. However, if the team has been set a strong and definite framework within which to operate, these situations should be easily resolved. The key to handling situations such as these is a strong degree of empathy: why do people choose the behaviours they do? If you can place yourself in the shoes of the other person, and see their points of view, you will be able to deal with pretty much all situations.
Sport can often be perceived as hard-line and tough. However, toughness without empathy is rarely, if ever, successful. Misplaced toughness is just bluster and should be avoided. It really rubs me up the wrong way when people talk of “dressing downs” and “knocking people down a peg”. How often do you hear that successful people are brimming with confidence? Why then, would you want to knock them down a peg?
Kevin Pietersen needed to feel important. Needed to feel that his views mattered and that he was a vital part of that England team. He needed listening to. I would imagine if you listened to his thoughts, but disagreed at the end, he would be fine as you have taken the time to consider his opinion. Everybody in your team needs to feel important, like they have a role and a part. You should empower the people you come into contact with to flourish, not to hinder them.
This comes down to your own confidence. Do you have the confidence to listen to other people? To accept criticism? To try fresh ideas? To build someone else up higher than yourself? These are the keys to being successful within a team. Build those around you up. Be interested more in other people than yourself. Listen intently to others. Celebrate their successes. DO NOT highlight failures but identify learning opportunities. Make others feel important and above all, see it from their point of view.
There is no doubt in my mind that england could have been miles more understanding towards Pietersen. Doubtless he would have been an awkward individual to deal with, but having said that, if you could get him fighting for you, he would be one of the best allies in the world. For me, England have failed, and sacking him reflects worse on their management and leadership skills than his ego and attitude.