October 19, 2008

The four kinds of leadership

Before you start wondering why I'm talking about leadership and its forms, I'll get to the point

Hello readers,

A friend of mine who works in a software company once asked a management guru for tips on leadership. To his surprise the guru advised him to talk to his own father and learn a few things from him. My friend's father is not a guru or leader by any standards and my friend explained that to the guru. The guru responded by saying that we all have a leader in us and we often act upon that without realizing it. According to him, there are four kinds of leadership and all of us exercise that from time to time, often unconsciously.

The guru asked my friend whether he remembered ever having burnt his hand or something else with a matchstick when he was a kid; or whether he'd spilled food or a drink on a carpet or a bed. Of course, he had. Well, what happened then? He got a scolding no doubt and was told not to repeat the mistake again. That has happened with all of us. We were told to stay away from matchboxes and be more careful with food and drinks. We didn't ask for a reason and none was provided. We were asked to trust our folks unquestioningly and always do as we were told. That is the first kind of leadership: the 'leadership by direction'.

Then as we grew up and started going to school, the focus was mainly on studies and especially on the subjects we weren't very good at. We were not only told to devote more time and effort on that subject but were also promised rewards if we scored high marks in that particular subject. My friend was weak at mathematics and was promised a bicycle if he did well. He did, eventually, do well enough and got that coveted bicycle. This is the second kind of leadership—'leadership by seduction'.

We grew up a little more, now well versed with the first two kinds of leadership, when we were introduced to the third. Now, we started discussing career-options with our parents: college, institution, organization and all. Parents would give their inputs keeping our interests in mind and finally would have a say/influence on the final decision. This kind of leadership is called the 'leadership by association'.

Once we got out of college and started working, we would seldom go to our parents for advice. We would inform them of our decision to quit or join a certain organization rather than ask them for their opinion. Parents are smart enough to understand that and would patiently listen to our story and would delegate us to do whatever we feel is right. This is called the 'leadership by delegation'.

Now, before you start wondering why I'm talking about leadership and its forms, I'll get to the point. Listening to my friend’s discourse about the four kinds of leadership, I wondered whether it was the same case in cricket as well. All captains would go back and forth from the first to the fourth kind depending on the situation and the person they were dealing with. A kid (read beginner, at any level) would be directed to do certain things. If he's a bowler, he would be told to bowl at a certain length to a certain batsman or if he happens to be a batsman, to play a certain role in the team. The kid would rarely ask questions and would follow the orders to the T. So there's the first kind of leadership.

Some cricketers would be lured into doing something when attracted by a reward, whether it comes as a promotion in the batting order or getting the new ball against a weaker opposition. But that only happens if they do as they're told on innumerable occasions before that. So the law of seduction works here.

But once the guy becomes a seasoned campaigner and knows (mostly) what is expected of him, the captain would discuss strategies with him. He would involve the player in the decision-making process and would, in turn, get the desired result i.e. what the captain wants on the day. This is leadership by association.

Then comes a time when the player is so experienced that he doesn't need to be told, at all. He knows what works best for him and no amount of persuasion would make him think otherwise. To get the best from that guy, the captain must respect his experience and allow him whatever he's comfortable with: if he's at his best batting a certain way or bowling to a certain field, the captain should allow that to happen as far as possible without ruining the team's chances of winning. The player, having played a lot of cricket, acknowledges that freedom and rarely lets the captain or team down. This was the last kind of leadership—'leadership by delegation'.

So, whether it is parents dealing with their kids, the management guru teaching his wards or a cricket captain leading his side, all of them are using the abovementioned tools of leadership to make their respective campaigns successful.

Incidentally, I've also been given the responsibility to lead Delhi this season and perhaps I could use the tools I've mentioned in this post.

Once again....please wish me and my team luck.


Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here