Tuesday, October 7, 2014

English cricket: A bullying culture is a losing culture

Now, I'm not talking about toughness, robustness, accountability or the odd screaming match. Some of the best, highest performing business teams I've been a part of have had regular shouting matches. I remember champion boss Rod Davis and myself pulling up to the office, shouting at each other, walking up and in - still shouting - sitting in his office - shouting - getting up and shutting the door and continuing the match. Evenly matched, no malice, not stacking or politicking. Just a robust work culture. A boss who was prepared to be human, allow others to be, and get on with the job.

Some of the worst performing teams have had all the opposite. An iron fisted ideologue as "leader" with a string of ducklings all tagging along, squabbling among themselves to be the first behind the boss. The boss duck actively encouraging the squabble. I have always considered that to be a losing culture, but those cultures are also self delusional. Where I've seen it, the scoreboard is so confused that the members actually think they're doing OK.

In business or sport it becomes very clear. If our sales were going down or rival companies making inroads to our customers, the team would be losing. We never did.

And so, in sport. As I look at this photo of Andy Flower and Kevin Pietersen I realise how tempting it is to imagine that a bullying culture is good leadership. Flower looks to be decisive there, and Pietersen seems to be paying attention. It's easy to get away with this "pea and thimble" trick when the scoreboard is confusing.

But the English cricket team were losers - at least the last time they played Australia. Furthermore their performance seemed to fall off a cliff between the previous ashes series in England and the most recent here in Australia.

Team games are tough. It involves tough people with their focus and drive. Harsh words get spoken. But harsh words are not the same as a cringeing culture of intimidation, exclusion and idolatry. Often there will only be one person speaking out - such is the toxicity - because once you're out you're out for good, an enemy to all. The culture takes good, or ambivalent, people and makes them a part of the machine. Lessening them in the process. That seems to be what happened with the English Cricket team.

‘I’ve been one of the only ones who constantly through his reign as coach did not say “How high” when he said “Jump”. He built a regime, he didn’t build a team. 'I told him on numerous occasions, “You’re playing by fear here, you want players to be scared of you. And Andy, I’m not scared of you”. And he hated it.

I've spoken about this before with Mick Malthouse when I stated you have to love the ones you lead, and why I will forever hold Collingwood in contempt.

But I like to think that where it counts, where the scoreboard accurately reflects a team's performance, the losing teams actually lose. And where people are allowed the luxury of self delusion, that self delusion actually becomes its own cross to bear.

I may look back on this in months, or years, and amaze myself at how wrong I had it. But it's how I feel right now.

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