Leadership: An Encounter with the Wall

Leadership; is not just the ability to be able to guide/direct a group. It is the ability to be able to sub consciously inspire in attaining the teams goal. Perhaps, the limited exposure that I have had within the cricketing circle quite early in life has always led me to believe that there is no problem that cannot be addressed by applying the learning’s of the game. And, I have been fortunate to have spent few years in the same club as Rahul Dravid and those few years have been the seeds to this write.

To be a leader, one need not necessarily be on the front line. People like Rahul stay on the sidelines, remain focused and put in unbelievable amount of practice, which I like calling “the process” in order to stay one touch above the opponent.

He has an amazing ability to do what the team is in need off and would remain flexible and always willing to adapt. There is an aura of positivism that comes from a mix of childish curiosity and an intense determination to master “the process” with laser focus on living in the present, ball by ball.

It is a known fact that he is one of the greatest to have graced the game, but I feel he is one who would have found success in whatever field he would have chosen. This is because of his routines; a majority of us do not get an insight into what goes into his preparation. If he is able to bat and steer a test match against a country like Pakistan in Pakistan playing out for 2 days under the scorching heat of Rawalpindi, we need to understand the preparation that has gone behind it. He was certainly not a natural talent neither was elegant and in no sense was exciting to watch but he got the job done and that’s what leadership is all about. It was very important to him that he stayed in “the Zone”; which meant that he had his routines in place and believed in doing the hard work behind the scenes. I remember his statement that what should matter to one is that the ability to stay true and spend time in “the process” and forget about the results, they are bound to take care of themselves. This statement is a lot true and I have always realized it in whatever I have done. It just seems to have rubbed off.

Rahul, was embedded with strong values from an early age and this reflected on his every behavior. His work ethics defined every performance, his perfectionist role gained him immense respect among the competitors and he was one of the very rare teammates whose passion elevated those around him. He came across someone who was down to earth and stayed humble true to his gentleman’s stature.

Most of us think Rahul was soft and avoided conflicts, but in my opinion he was one of the most aggressive characters that have ever played the game. It is just the way he shows his aggression is a lot different from what others do. There was one instance I precisely remember when Rahul was caught at point chasing a 4th stump nothing delivery towards the end of the 4th days play and he was furious because he had done all the hard work in setting up his team for victory but could not complete his job. Although his team had won the match comfortably on the 5th day he did not get over his frustration and over the next few days with a help of a bowling machine and cones placed at odd places (in between gully and slips/in between point and gully) he kept hitting the cones (I presume in an attempt to find the gaps in the field) and would walk by himself and place the cone back and would continue this drill. There were ball boys working in shift to support him right from the break of dawn to sunset. If this is not aggression, what is?

He is inwardly aggressive; the rants from the Australians had never gone well with him. But, it takes a different level of thinking to bring out that aggression in a structured manner and in cricketing terms “talk with the bat”. This is precisely one of the reasons that he always had tremendous success with the Australians. I am certain, a lot of us going about our jobs are exposed to unwarranted ranting and we all could definitely take a lesson out of it. It is important to answer the fault finders in our group with stellar performance rather than confronting them. This way we set out in developing a unique habit that on the long run would take us many levels higher.

Rahul has always been someone who connects with his team mates on a deeper level. Through his work he has earned immense trust within his team and is always the first to be looked upon for any technical advice. The essence of any successful leader is to be able to build the “trust” factor; it is that factor when you know that all your team mates are putting in as much effort as you do for a common goal. At this stage, one would not require much of oral communication; every team member knows exactly what to do. You realize that you are performing as a unit and enjoy the process. This is the feeling that every management leader aspires for and may use fancy jargon’s and make it seem complicated but the truth is simple. Let me share with you one of the examples that Rahul had shared during the TCS leadership meet. He was asked if it would be a good idea for corporate to set targets and review them quarterly or to go with the flow pushing themselves and finding what they can achieve. Rahul felt that target setting should never be in numbers rather; they need to be in experiences. He believed that every team member is to be thinking as a leader and the unit should be very efficient that they could literally read their team mates thoughts and this would increase the productivity of the team in whole, and the role of leader of the unit is to ensure that all the team members feel empowered in taking their team forward. This is easier said than done and many a time does not work well, the plans fails, team members take incorrect decisions, but they will eventually develop the skill and over a period of time the unit start seeing the results. These are the same techniques that were tried by established leaders around the world. For this to take place the leader should be selfless. He should be willing to take one step down and back an emerging talent (Just the way Rahul had stepped down from wicket keeping after the 2003 world cup, because he did not want to hold up Dhoni’s raise).

Rahul is one of those persons who had insight that for one to be successful in any line of work, there are two aspects that are to be worked on. From our school days we are always taught on developing our technical skills but seldom are we taught about the mental aspect of working. It is very important to develop our mental aspects as much as we develop our technical aspects. It is easy for everyone to stay focused and be discipline when things are going according to the plan but it is even more important on how we carry ourselves when we fail. We need to pull up our socks and introspect into the reason for failure; sometimes it could be fear, it could be lack of application and it is important that we identify these factors and have a plan and get over it. There are many people who have lost focus on their lives when they have failed to strike a balance between these two or simply have not been able to accept failure. Failures are as important, if not even more important than victory, because they make you go through a process to better yourself. This is an important aspect that the younger generation of today’s corporate world has been struggling to deal with, people hate to be told that they are not good enough for a job but do not invest time to understand how can they better themselves.

Friction management is an area of focus for units to work together and he had a very simple style, he believed in being honest across the table and even the worst of ego clashes he dealt liberally over an informal set up and he truly believed that there is nothing a good conversation cannot solve.

Rahul Dravid has been an unsung hero. Even today, after his retirement his area of focus has been on passing his experience to the younger generation by coaching the National Junior side. Leaders do not always work from the front line. People like Rahul stay on the sidelines and focus on “the process”.