The Biggest Leadership Challenge

So the cricket season is now in full swing, which reminds me of my childhood days, when my Dad used to take me to Headingley to watch the test matches.  Around that time there was one particular person who my Dad used to wax lyrical about – Ian Botham.   He was a brilliant cricketer back in the 80’s and one that many still hail as one of England’s finest.  He won praise and admiration for his ability to play with flair and often saved the team from defeat, either with a brilliant bowling display or a huge innings with the bat.


However in 1980 he was made captain, probably (although we don’t know officially), because he was the best player at the time.  It was disastrous for him, he lost his form completely, often not scoring any runs at all and he struggled to gain the respect of the team, with his ‘style’ rubbing people up the wrong way.  By 1981, less than a year later, he resigned as captain.


Following this resignation he returned to being a member of the team and in that same year went on to have his greatest moment at Headingly helping England secure the Ashes with an amazing batting display.  He was named as BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 1981 – the year he resigned as a failed captain!


He makes a fascinating story and his experience reflects what we believe happens to a lot of leaders in organisations. For us the biggest transition an employee faces in their entire career is when they first make that decision to step into a role that involves leading other people.


Prior to this decision employees are generally just asked to complete their relevant tasks to the best of their ability, meeting targets and working collaboratively with their colleagues to ensure overall team success.  However the transition from employee to line manager is in our opinion huge.  Their job fundamentally changes, as now they have to inspire, motivate and manage others, which involves a completely different set of skills.


Only in the jump to a first line leader, do the skills and tools required change so dramatically, as once an employee has made this initial transition and they begin to climb the hierarchical ladder, they essentially use the same set of tools for the rest of their career.


This first transition to leading and managing others is where we believe most organisations miss a massive trick.


Just going back to Botham for a minute – it’s fair to say the role of captain in cricket is similar to that of line manager in the workplace – suddenly you are faced with new responsibilities that take you away from what you have previously known and what you are good at.


Ian Botham knew how to play cricket, no doubt about it, but when he became captain he needed to realise his role changed – he was now responsible for selecting the team, motivating the team, making decisions on the pitch, issuing directions to the individual players and dealing with any disagreements that arose.  Things that had very little to do with how well he could bat, bowl or field.


What he needed more than anything was the support and guidance on how to do these things effectively, not to mention been given the tools and skills to do them too.


When an employee first becomes a line manager most organisations set about training them to complete a new set of tasks – i.e. completing spreadsheets to record the team’s progress, completing performance management paperwork correctly, auditing processes etc…  On the face of it this seems to work really well, as let’s face it most people have been promoted because they have been really good at completing tasks!


However in our experience what this newly appointed line manager really needs, just like Botham, is help with understanding their role is now completely different – it’s not about the completion of tasks, but about leading and managing people.  It’s not about their personal success anymore it’s about the success of the team.  This is a fundamental mind-set shift for most people and is not one that can be made overnight or without the right levels of support.


Too often we come into contact with leaders who like Botham, were brilliant at their job, have been promoted into a line manager position and then are struggling to cope with their new found responsibilities, with little or no support to help them.


We can all learn from Ian Botham’s experience…


Speak to you soon




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