Bowling coach to Sachin Tendulkar – Make sense?

Of course it doesn’t make sense!

Why do anybody want to appoint a bowling coach to the greatest batsman that cricket has ever produced? Why do we want him to get better with bowling when he is so good at batting? He has been pretty decent part-time bowler who bowled few overs and got some crucial wickets (with some special ones like 1993 Hero cup semi finals against South Africa) as well. All he did for his two decades of historical cricketing career was to bat, bat and just bat!

When I look beyond Sachin, here are the key attributes of Indian top order today:

Sehwag/Gambhir (attacking, aggressive) – Apt for first 15 overs

Virat Kohli (controlled aggression, matured stroke-player) – Apt for 15-35 overs

Raina/Dhoni/Yuvraj (excellent strikers who can effortlessly clear the field plus great finishers of the game) – Apt for 35-50 overs

Of course, when wickets fall early, batsman should adapt to the situation and play. Definitely, this batting order is not arrived in a random fashion. It is arranged based on which position a batsman is exactly good at, based on his natural game. It is done with specific intent in mind so that the possibility of success in a match can be maximized.

Cut to corporate! In teams we end up having different set of people who has different set of strengths. For example in a product development team I typically find individuals who are good in different areas – innovation, requirement analysis, customer interfacing, coding, software designing, user experience, crisis handling, quality assurance, critical problem solving ability and some all-rounders who can do all the above mentioned roles fairly well. It becomes extremely important to have right people in right roles (similar to cricket batting order) to maximize success of the team. Again “success” here could mean anything – increased customer satisfaction, increased sales numbers, quality and on-time product launch etc.

Its always a puzzle and challenging task to identify what individuals are actually good at and provide them with right set of opportunities. In my opinion this is THE critical responsibility of leader who should spend good amount of time in doing that. When roles are identified according to individual’s strengths and corresponding responsibilities are defined, it can be completely left with individuals to produce desired result. When individuals feel they are doing the job where they are good at, it automatically increases their self esteem thereby lifting the overall moral of the individual. In summary is multiples result produced by the team. Let me explain this with some example.

Say an individual A who is extremely good at finding new technology and passionate about innovation. Driven by his creative mental ability he can almost always suggest a new way to get things done. However he may not be a process oriented individual, who might even think process kills creativity. There could be another individual B, who is meticulous when it comes to getting things done by following the process with 100% discipline. He would love to do same things again and again and improve it over a period of time. For him the maximum pleasure comes from continuously refining it, whereas for the former case it could be continuously creating something always. Given the core strength of individuals, they need to be placed in appropriate nature of work. For example A can be part of organizational technology incubation team, which demands frequent survey of latest technology and suggest future business possibilities. B can be placed as a customer facing individual who can champion by following meticulous steps with each and every customer, failing which can cause customer dis-satisfaction. Now what if these roles are reversed? The answer is obvious – planned disaster! A will get completely bored and frustrated with customer facing and B will get scared to come up with new things very frequently.

Identifying individual strengths and providing them with right roles is not always 100% possible in an organization, where there could be multiple options. The team/business may not require a particular strength or skill which an individual is good at. In such cases it is much better to rotate individuals to different opportunities inside the organization where their skills can be utilized in a better manner. Or in some worst scenario, it is better to let them go (or they will get frustrated and leave the organization) rather than wasting both individual and organization’s time. In some cases there would be a possibility that the individual skills matches to the role to a larger extent (say 80%) who can be still provided support for making him effective in the role.  In some other cases individuals need to be rotated across different roles (ex: R & D -> marking) to expose them different aspects of the business, which is part of leadership building process. As a direct impact, this will immediately reflect in an individual’s performance ratings. I will talk more about this in a separate post.

When Tendulkar drops a catch, Dhoni doesnt have to tell him to focus

Its a big Test match and India are desperately looking for wickets to tighten the noose around the Aussies. Ishant is streaming in and bending his back on a wicket that is providing the assistance needed for a determined bowler – bounce and movement off the seam. The Rainas and Kohlis have been doing their best with their constant yellings of encouragement. Hussey, or Mr Cricket as hes known, has been the lone source of resistance from the Aussies and they will surely go down in this key test match if hes gone. The ball is pitched outside the off and angling away and the otherwise cautious Hussey pokes it at tentatively. Ninety nine times out of hundred Hussey would have left this alone, but not this time. The ball takes the shoulder of the bat and flies off towards the waiting hands of Tendulkar in second slip for a straight forward regulation catch. Ishant has already sensed a wicket and is almost ready for his celebratory leap when the great man fumbles and the ball loops off his fingers – he had grabbed at it too early. Ishant is distraught and every Indian fielder has his hands on the head. The camera zooms in on Tendulkar and he knows he has screwed up – his face says it all. Numerous replays from different angles ensue. Dhoni and Dravid in first slip just walk to Tendulkar, pat his shoulders and unruffle his hair with a possibly a “take it easy…. come on” and move on to focus on the next delivery.

Now, this is exactly what most managers DONT do. The typical manager reaction to a screw up is long monologue, a dressing down and a stern warning of a “you better not do this the next time around”. They view this as the appropriate time to “educate” the employee on how things are done. Now, I’m not asking managers to turn a blind eye to screw ups or accept incompetence. However, In most cases the person who screwed up is already aware of the seriousness of his error and what he needs is a dose of confidence and being reminded of his achievements of the past. Back him!!! Help him remember the great slip fielder that he usually is and restore his confidence to be prepared for the next ball – unless this was the third catch hes dropped that day… in which case you want to move him to fine leg and pray that the ball doesn’t go there. Even if there are issues with the “catching technique” of Tendulkar, it is best addressed at the end of the day’s play.

Managers should look at themselves as “Coaches” who are vested in bringing out the best in people rather than “supervisors” who are trying to tell people how things are done.


– NWritings

Building an organization – The Chennai Super Kings way

For those who have been following the recently concluded IPL, the Chennai Super Kings win should have come as no surprise. They were the most consistent team and played every inch the champions that they are. I can think of quite a few areas where businesses can learn from the way CSK played and won. Though Im a big CSK fan, Im not a CSK insider and the following are my observations based on the way Ive seen them play.

1. A strong leadership – Its all nice to say, that the leader is just as good as the team, but that hugely undermines the expectations from a leader. The leader’s role is to ensure that the whole is more than the sum of the parts. He has to understand how each member of his team fits in and help them actualize their potential. Dhoni has done a great job is bringing out the best in the guys. Secondly, when the going gets tough, the team turns to the leader to provide the direction and MSD comes across as someone in control even when the chips are down.

2. Its about the team…. not about the individuals – The CSK team won no individual awards… They don’t have the highest run getter, not the highest wicket taker and not the best individual performance. But won all the team awards that matter, the cup itself and the fair play award. While the 2 top scorers in the tournament were from Bangalore, Chennai had 5 among the top 15 (which indicates a group of strong performers – in fact there are no Chennai batsman in the top 4). The top wicket taker list reads a similar story. I think over the course of the tournament, 6 or 7 individuals from CSK won the Man of the Match award for the various matches (I haven’t checked the exact number).

3. Its as much about continuity as much as about talent – CSK retained almost all their players from the previous season. While this might have come in the way of their acquiring new talent, the focus seems to have been on keeping the winning unit together. Given the option between a star studded team and a team that gels well as a unit, I would any day pick the latter. CSK also played the same playing 11 for the last 7 matches… no chopping and changing. This sends a strong signal to the 11 that they are being backed well and can go and “express” themselves on the field.

4. Its about the role…. not the designation – Bollinger is not the “Opening Bowler” (which is a designation), he’s a bowler who gets the ball when the conditions are good for a fast aggressive bowler (which is a role). On a spinning wicket, Ashwin would be the Opening Bowler. Badrinath is the anchor (a role), and would come in to steady the ship when quick wickets have fallen, while Dhoni would promote himself when a strong platform has been built – to go in and capitalize. So, each player knows his “role” and is expected to perform that role under a given circumstance. An organization should be no different. Its about people being clear about their “roles” and performing it.

5. Think through YOUR strategy and play to YOUR strengths – The conventional wisdom in 20:20 seems to be go all blazing right from the word go. CSK’s strategy on the other hand seems to have been to build a platform over the first 2/3rd to the innings and then push the needle up in the last third. Many of their starts have resembled a test match. However, their batting in the last 5 or 6 overs in most of their matches has been characterized by raw violence. This strategy is in line with their strength of having big hitters in the lower order. You don’t build the next Google, by doing exactly the same things that Google does. Evolve your own strategy.

6. Its not just about winning… its also about how you play – CSK also won the fair play award… for the second year running. Sledging and ranting, which costing you fair play points, also adversely impact the way you play. Ask John McEnroe how many times his temper tantrums have cost him the match (his elusive 1984 French Open being the biggest price).

7. Be humble – Dhoni and CSK have pretty much won everything in sight for the last couple of years. While this team exhibits a strong self assured calm, there is no hint of arrogance. The attitude seems to be to take each game as it comes and do you best…. which is a great way for an organization to go about being successful. Things change fast in a business and it does pay to have a steady head on your shoulders.


– NWritings

Related link: Reflections on IPL (First edition)