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A call for effective leadership in regional cricket

Published:Wednesday | March 13, 2019 | 12:00 AMDr Rudi Webster/Contributor
Dr Rudi Webster
File Windies captain Jason Holder (centre) celebrating with Keiron Powell (left) and Marlon Samuels.

In a few weeks, members of Cricket West Indies (CWI) will meet in Jamaica to select its next president and vice-president, a critical and historic decision that will determine the fate of West Indies cricket. For CWI to claim that West Indies cricket is in good health and that the board and the senior team have performed well in the last decade is an enormous stretch, bordering on the height of deception and hypocrisy.

A few years ago, the board announced that it would use the performance of the senior team as the barometer for its own performance. Unfortunately, that is not a good placard for the board because in the last decade West Indies cricket has languished near the bottom of the ICC Test and One-Day International rankings. The team has had the odd impressive wins, but so far, it has remained trapped in the bottom tier of those rankings.

Effective leadership is more important than it has ever been and yet, it is missing in too many of today’s organisations. It is the biggest problem that CWI and regional boards face. This is a challenge they must overcome if they wish to improve the standard of regional and international cricket.

Leadership should not be confined to the presidents and vice-presidents of CWI and regional boards. Everyone involved in cricket development and cricket performance must share that responsibility. This is the new reality cricket bodies must face, but CWI and regional boards have not yet accepted or adapted to that reality. Adjustment will not be easy. It will require significant changes in their vision, strategies, structures and leadership. But, when that adaptation happens, an extremely powerful force for the revival and rebirth of West Indies cricket will be released. Preserving the status quo is therefore no longer a sensible or viable option.

Close attention

Before making decisions and casting their votes, board members should pay close attention to those important factors. They should examine how cricket is changing, why the leadership of CWI is so important, what good leadership really means, where such leadership will come from, and how best to develop the leadership capacity to change the fortunes of West Indies cricket

But what do we mean by good leadership? According to Harvard ‘s Professor John Kotter, good leadership is about moving people in a direction that is genuinely in their long-term best interests. It does not waste scarce resources, satisfy egotistical cravings, or build up the dark side of human nature. In this sense, one could say that AdolfHitler displayed strong leadership at times, but obviously not effective leadership. CWI members should therefore strive to understand the difference between strong, autocratic, self-centred leadership and effective, democratic, team-centred leadership. This is extremely important.

Good leadership starts with self-leadership. Perhaps board presidents and vice-presidents could learn a few things about leadership from current and former players. MS Dhoni, the former captain of Team India, once told me: “The captain must lead by example to get the trust, respect and support of his team. The people I lead carry the expectations of 1.2 billion people, so I help them by keeping everything as simple as possible and by creating an atmosphere that will give confidence and motivation to each and every one to do his best.”

To this, VVS Laxman, the former India batsman, added: “I believe the captain should be a visionary. He should be able to show his vision to team members so that they will know where he wants to take them. All team members will then move together in the same direction.”

A few nights before he was assassinated at a political meeting by a suicide bomber – a fate that I miraculously escaped – Gamini Dissanayake, a politician who was largely responsible for Sri Lanka’s ascendancy to Test cricket said to me: ‘Who is thus a great leader? ‘ He is not one who says, ‘I did this, I did that,’ or ‘I did everything’. He is one who behaves in such a way that when, at a particular time, his people are asked, ‘Who achieved these great things for you?’ They will answer and say, ‘We did them together’.

Dissanayake’s perception of leadership is one that CWI and regional boards desperately need.

What are some of the personal leadership requirements for the president and vice-president of CWI and for those of the regional boards?

First, they should have a broad knowledge of cricket and a clear understanding of the board and the key sources of power. They should know their members, players and stakeholders and be aware of what makes them tick. They should also understand the systems, structures, culture and history of the board.

Matters of reputation

Second, they should have an excellent reputation and a strong track record in a wide range of sporting activities.

Third, their values should reflect a high level of integrity, and they should be sensitive to the values of those with whom they interact. They must also build strong relationships with stakeholders inside and outside the board. And they should have the trust, respect and loyalty of their teams and stakeholders.

Fourth, they must have certain abilities and skills. They should be able to think analytically, strategically and multidimensionally and should have common sense and good judgement. In addition, they must be competent, should be good communicators, and should possess strong interpersonal skills.

Fifth, they must be highly self-motivated and must have the capacity to understand and motivate others. According to a US Army general, “The best leader in the world could never win a campaign unless he understood the men he had to lead and knew how to motivate them.” Good leaders help members of the organisation to see beyond what the organisation is at the moment to what it can become in the future. They are dealers of hope. They show their organisation and its members a future that they can believe in and benefit from. It would be impossible to find a president with all of those qualities, but the chosen leader should have as many of these strengths as is humanly possible.

In the end, most decisions are influenced by emotions. But emotions should come into play after and not before, the people or the situations have been explored. If emotions come first, we will see things not as they are, but as we are and will make the wrong decisions. That is why I was so worried and irritated by the cricket boards of Barbados, Guyana and Windward Islands for turning down a request by presidential candidate Ricky Skerritt to address their board members, thereby dismissing his ten-point plan and his agenda for change.

This is sad because the combination of an intelligent agenda for change and an energised network of appropriate resources can sometimes work miracles. These boards have set an ill-advised and bad precedent. That type of behaviour is usually associated with autocratic, not democratic, institutions.

Dr Rudi Webster is a former Barbados cricketer and West Indies team psychologist.