Skills Versus Leadership: A Case Study on Sachin Tendulkar

Sachin Tendulkar is an Icon the world over, wherever the game of cricket is recognized. He is a great batting maestro who has served his country with distinction, playing cricket with fairness and dignity for over 21 years. There is no greater Personality (Not just Sporting Personality) in the country than him and he is revered and worshipped by the millions of cricket crazy fans all over India. The man generates passionate debates about “Who has been and will always be” the greatest to have graced the game. Statistics and Soliloquies flow in abundance to support his every move on and off the cricket turf.

All the above are the result of the magic he produces as a batsman. This blog edition is however an observation into his leadership personality in a pursuit to understand whether skills and leadership go hand – in – hand. The context of this discourse of course is Performance. At the outset, it is clear that in order to perform individually, a person has to trust his skills and instinct more than anything else in any walk of life. However, the paradox of leadership is that, the person has to trust his team or the organization of people he is associated with equally or sometimes more.

Sachin Tendulkar was anointed the Captain of the Indian team very naturally at the peak of his career and achievements and yet, he decided to step down, not being very successful at it. He took charge of the team when there were allegations of players being involved in match fixing and India had been slipping in World rankings. The need of the hour was clearly leadership; both on and off the field being compounded by the complexity of previous captains and stars still forming a crucial core of the team. Lesser gifted / skilled people such as Saurav Ganguly and M S Dhoni who followed him as Captain of the Indian team succeeded in leading the Indian team to greater achievements and glory. This irony is, this could not have been possible without the consistent individual performance of Sachin Tendulkar. However, Sachin had to give up captaincy alleging that he could not bring his thought and will to bear upon the administration and players alike to draw out the performance and results he expected. Isn’t it ironical that he won the “Player of the Series” when the side he captained lost comprehensively.

Let there be no doubt that Sachin has and continues to be a great thinker of the game. It manifests in his actions, whether he is batting, bowling, fielding or just enthusiastically advising others on the field. He plays every version of the game with equal felicity and passion. The captains who followed him have  always gone to him for advise as well as action when the team needed it most. And yet, one is not sure whether it is the same intellect or his decision making ability that has failed him,  both when he was  the Captain of India and now when he has been the Captain of Mumbai Indians (An IPL Team owned by Mukesh Ambani). This is a paradox that is very difficult to understand. I have tried looking for a parallel in other sporting icons such as Michael Jordan and David Beckham and there appears to be commonality. Individually brilliant sports persons in non-team sports such as Tiger Woods (Golf), Boris Becker (Tennis) have been found wanting in the area of judgement and decision making. This may not be conclusive evidence to label any psycho-analysis but there appears reasonable doubt to delve further, whether the brilliant individuals are so focused on their skills and therefore their own instincts that they fail to connect with the others’ instinct and skills and in the process lack the trust required to make balanced judgements.

Leadership to a major extent is about being decisive; irrespective of whether the outcome is a Victory or Defeat. A good leader is someone who learns quickly and implements the learning while also relying on the current context and circumstances under which a decision is required to be made. The fear of consequences is eliminated by the trust that there is a method to the madness. This is where the bridge between Potential and Performance gets bridged. Risk becomes sexy in success and obese in failure. When the image of the self or the personal aspiration overpowers that of the team, risk could become a multi-dimensional evil to manifest rather than planning for an eventuality. Decisions under such circumstances could be circumspect; one which may not be entirely favorable in a team context. Is this what afflicts the deep psyche of an icon such as Sachin Tendulkar?

It would be interesting to juxtapose the same in a corporate environment or a government context to see how stars / icons affect leadership and their organizations or government. From a team, corporation or a government’s perspective, skills is just one part of the equation for Capability (Capability = Capacity to Transform / Change + Ability / Skills to Execute).  While both the elements of the equation in Capability are dynamic, Capacity for Change / Transformation is more Covert or inherent to one’s personality than Ability / Skills that is overt and therefore more apparent. Perhaps a  deeper analysis of this subject could facilitate a Sachin Tendulkar to become a more successful leader!

About Subbu Iyer

Subbu Iyer is an Innovation & Transformation Leader as with 28 years of serving customers globally. He is currently the Chief Designer & Transformer at Energizing Innovation, an enterprise that is being founded to facilitate continuous growth in enterprises and as a consequence create societal wealth. The Radical Shift that this enterprise intends to employ is focusing on the Potential rather than the Performance of a business. He has been a serial entrepreneur and an intrapreneur in his past life, having founded Nihilent Technologies and Nandaki Systems besides being associated in senior leadership roles with firms such as Coopers & Lybrand, Cambridge Technology Partners, Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro Technologies and Steria.
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5 Responses to Skills Versus Leadership: A Case Study on Sachin Tendulkar

  1. Ram says:

    Nice Article ! To put it more clearly, emotional competences can be split into two: self abilities and social abilities. I think Tendulkar lacks in the social abilities department – seems to me he is unable to communicate clearly what he expects from his bowlers (observable during Mumbai’s IPL matches).

    As a sequel, you could probably also analyse why Real Madrid doesn’t shine that much inspite of having (on the average) many top talented players in comparision to other teams.

    Thanks!

  2. Milind says:

    One point I have here is that in a team game, there is only so much that a captain can do. It also depends on the entire team / at least a majority to contribute for the team to do well. In this case, especially during Sachin’s time as Indian team’s captain, the team he was leading was not necessarily of the same calibre as was the case with some of the other captains. Additionally, I think Sachin expects the team to understand what he needs from them & also what it means to be playing for country & give their best every time just the way he does. Probably he does not realise that others may not have the same passion that he has or do not value the stuff the way he does… Just a thought!

  3. Subbu Iyer says:

    Milind, thanks for your comments. Since you have worked with me, you will understand that I made the same mistake. I expected people to know what was expected of them and to deliver. I always assumed earlier that with all the education and experience, people would / should automatically know. But it doesn’t quite work out that way. As the stakes go higher, people do expect explicit communications; especially in crunch and critical situations. People look up to leaders for direction and a distinctive approach; firstly to make sure that they don’t get blamed if things go wrong and secondly because they believe somebody superior has been assigned to do the job of leading. Having said that, it is not comment on the failure of Tendulkar as a leader. It is just that some aspects are more pre-dominant than the other. You are absolutely right about the fact that it takes an entire team to deliver victory consistently. It is not about winning one game here and there individually.

  4. Vera Labarbara says:

    Tiger woods is definitely the best golfer that i have ever seen. I love the way that his father brought him with having a very positive attitude in life.,:’,”

    Enjoy your weekend!
    http://www.caramoan.ph“>

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