Cricket Australia Items/Blogs/justin-langer/2013/6/28/leadership-isnt-a-popularity-contest

Justin Langer

Leadership isn't a popularity contest

28 June 2013

They say a week is a long time in politics, and again, this has been confirmed with the events of the Labor leadership spill over the last few days. Regardless of your political persuasion, the Rudd/ Gillard contest has been a sad incitement on Federal politics in Australia.

Enough said on that.

Equally sad was the sacking of Mickey Arthur during the week. Like politics, whether the move is right or wrong, it is always an emotional time when a leader is de-throned.

For all of his strengths and weaknesses as a cricket coach, Mickey Arthur is a very nice man.  He cares about his troops and he has a kind heart.  Although he has made a few tough calls during his tenure as coach, the truth is he is a soft-hearted man who doesn't necessarily like confrontation if it can be avoided.

In life this is a great strength, but when running the Australian cricket team, perhaps that was his weakness.  Never have I met a coach who seemed so affable.  He is always smiling, always patting people on the back and always in an upbeat mood.  Even when times were tough he displayed a happy and carefree persona.

Early during his time with the Western Australian cricket I asked one of the players about his new coach.  His reply interested me when he said, "it's strange really, because you walk into Mickey's office and he can sack you, but by the time you leave you still think he is the best bloke in the world."  Since then I often marvelled at this skill, but now I wonder if it could have been his undoing.

One thing I have learned about leadership is that it isn't necessarily a popularity contest.  Tough decisions have to be made and the best way to confront tough calls is to look a person in the eyes and tell them the truth.  Trying to sugar coat a tough call might make people feel light and fluffy for a short time but when reality hits it is better to have absolute clarity on where you stand.

Events of the last six months within the Australian cricket team suggest that there hasn't been absolute clarity of what it means to be an Australian cricketer. Not only do you have to be excellent on the cricket field but you also have to make good decisions off it.  Fall short in either of these and someone is going to pay the price.  In this case the spot light, and ultimately the axe has fallen on the coach.

Now that the decision has been taken, and if clarity is one measure of successful leadership, we can be sure that the new man at the helm will be crystal clear in what he expects from his team.

Darren Lehman enters the role with impressive credentials as a coach. His successes with Queensland and within the IPL are a tribute to his simple and clear messages to his players. There are no frills with Boof;  he is a straight shooter, talks the truth and doesn't tolerate fools. He is also a good bloke who doesn't take himself, or others, too seriously.

His style is the Australian way of doing things. Talk straight, work hard and celebrate a hard day’s work with a cold beer and a laugh with your mates.

Add to this a very astute cricket mind, developed through his incredible love and passion for the game, and it would be fair to say the formula is there for a swift transformation in the way the Australian cricket team goes about its business under his guidance. 

Obviously, Darren Lehmann doesn't have a sleeve full of magic dust to throw over his Ashes squad but he has the talent in England to start weaving some optimism back into the Australian cricket family. 

His initial task will be to heal some of the wounds within the group. There is talk of a disjointed team who have been looking over their shoulders  and not necessarily standing shoulder to shoulder with their mates. I can see Boof's solution to this from afar. He will grab them all together, put a beer or coffee in their hands and tell them to get over it. 

The next thing he will have them doing is talking about cricket again. For many years Boof and I have laughed at each other as proud and undeniable cricket 'tragics'. It won't be long before his players are mesmerised and inspired by the coaches simple but fascinating strategies on the game. He will have plans on England that will keep us, and them, thinking.  His instincts for the game are brilliant and inspiring.

The Michael Clarke/ Darren Lehmann combination on the field will be exciting . They will be talking like excited school children at the moment about their plans for England.  Both have strategic minds and as long as they can find common ground the results should be fun to watch.

A week ago, people say Labor were going to be annihilated at the election and the Australians would be thrashed in the Ashes. 

In a few months time we will know the result of both contests and it will be interesting to see if the change in leaders has come too late, or just in time.

From Perth


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia
Read more about: 2013 Ashes Tour of UK , Australia
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