One of the questions that came out of the ball tampering controversy that engulfed the Australian cricket team earlier this year was how much of the blame should go to the captain of the team, Steve Smith, or the coach, Darren Lehmann. While some people felt that it rested squarely on the player who did the actual tampering, others believed that ultimately leaders needed to be held accountable.
Different sports give different levels of authority to captains and coaches, and it even varies from team to team. Traditionally, the captain in cricket is more than just a figurehead, they have a say in selection and strategy, and generally once the team is out on the ground they are in charge. This has been eroded somewhat by the proliferation of support staff and complex planning, but it’s a rare captain who doesn’t put his or her stamp on the team and set the tone for the way they play.
Looking at the different Australian captains over the past few decades you can see the different mindsets they brought to their eras, from the stubborn tenacity and loss avoidance of Allan Border to the win at all costs and grind your opponent down style of Steve Waugh, or the willing to think outside the box and take risks philosophy of Mark Taylor. The way the captain played filtered through to the rest of the team, and their example led the way.
Just as in sport, it is in life. Even if they can’t control or be aware of every aspect of their team or organisation, the way a leader behaves will set the tone for those they are responsible for. Like a captain who isn’t scoring runs or has a poor work ethic in the field, if they aren’t seen to be doing what they are asking of others their credibility will suffer, and their authority will be undermined. And the values that they are seen to stand for will become the values of those they are leading.
Ultimately, any group—in sport or business or in life—will reflect the example of their leader. Leaders need to find a way to inspire those around them to follow them in striving towards a goal, as well as demonstrating the right way to go about it. And, as the leaders of the Australian cricket team discovered, if they don’t set that direction, someone else will fill the vacuum.