Cricketer Andrew Strauss’ leadership lessons

England vice-captain and Ashes hero Andrew Strauss talks about leadership

Andrew Strauss is thousands of miles away plotting how, with Freddie and the boys, England can keep hold of the Ashes.

In the summer gone he captained the country for the first time in the series against Pakistan. England won handsomely, 2-0, with Strauss notching two centuries. It sealed the Middlesex captain’s credentials as a true leader and few doubt he’ll one day do it again.

Here, the man who became only the fourth batsman to score a century at Lord’s on his Test debut, shares his thoughts on winning leadership and how the principles can be applied in a business scenario.

Describe your leadership style.

It’s completely dominated by my character. I’m a big advocate of leading from the front. You can’t ask anyone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself. You shouldn’t try to give big Churchillian speeches if you’re not a big speaker. There are lots of different types of leaders and that’s not a problem.

What’s more important, tactics or motivation?

Motivation. No doubt about that. There’s a big saying in the England cricket team that it doesn’t matter what you’re motivated by, so long as you’re motivated. You can have the best tactics in the world, but if the guys don’t want to go out there you’re not going to go anywhere. It’s one of the management’s tasks to make sure you have every guy on the field 100% motivated.

What are the key ways that you, Freddie (Flintoff) and Michael (Vaughan) differ as leaders?

Freddie’s very up and at ’em. He’s always having a laugh and joke in the dressing room. But he’s got the ability to lift people by the force of his personality. That’s an important attribute to have. Michael Vaughn is very laid back. He doesn’t get too upset or carried away with things. He’s got a great ability to instil belief in people. He does that by combining the friend/father figure role very well. I’d probably say I’m closer to Michael in character.

Are you more a one-to-one man or a rallying the troops guy?

A bit of both really. The one-to-one area is often the one leaders don’t want to do or get side-tracked from doing, or find an excuse not to do. But that’s the stuff people really appreciate. That’s a crucial aspect of leadership. But you need to rally the troops as a unit as well. If you overdo it, the message gets diluted and people stop paying attention. It’s important you get the balance right.

What leaders inspire you, past or present?

Martin Johnson (England’s Rugby World Cup winning captain) is a great example of a very powerful leader. He was very much a team man. He didn’t do things in order to be seen doing things. He did things because they mattered.

How do the different leaders in the team contribute?

We’ve always had a very strong management structure in the England team. So the senior players are consulted on selection and tactics. It’s not as though I’m going from captaining the side to doing nothing. I’ll still be involved heavily in what goes on and that’s important, because Fred’s got a lot on his plate. I’m looking forward to that role. It’s one I’ve performed previously and it’s important players stick their hands up, help and come up with ideas as much as possible.

How does the management take on board the views of the team?

There’s a management structure in place. Three or four senior players attend management meetings as well as the captain and vice-captain. Their job is to feed information through from other players. It’s a very business- like model. Duncan Fletcher brought it in when he became manager and it’s been very successful.

Duncan was a successful businessman. Have you got any such experience?

I worked in a bank for a while if that counts. I did economics at university and was heading into the City before cricket took over. I do quite enjoy reading the odd management book.

Any in particular?

A little specific to sport, but one of the books I really got a lot out of was The Coach – Managing for Success. It was written by Ric Charlesworth who, funnily enough, coaches the Australian women’s hockey team, but is also heavily involved with cricket and other things. He’s very focused on combining business principles with sporting principles.

Anything from his ethos that you’ve taken?

Quite a few things. He’s pretty radical. He didn’t appoint a captain in his hockey side. Now in cricket you can’t do that, but the principle is that you have 11 captains and that everyone feels they can contribute. If they have an idea it’s important they feel able to air it. It gives more personal responsibility to the players and creates more of a togetherness rather than hearing the same people drone on all the time.

What methods of communication does the management team use to manage, lead and prepare?

Vodafone has introduced quite a few novel ideas. It’s very important for us as we spend quite a lot of time away from home. We have gadgets for email on the go. They’ll even make it possible to download yourself batting onto your phone. They’ve been very good at coming up with devices that can help us or getting training programmes to you from the fi tness guys.

Sir Clive Woodward embraced technology. Is Duncan Fletcher similar in that respect?

We use a computer programme that shows us batting, as well as the opposition players, quite heavily. But it’s important to get the balance right. There’s that whole paralysis by analysis. Our pre-game meetings are very short and concise, with a small amount of library footage showing where the coach and the players feel the team is weak. And that’s drummed into the players’ heads. Dissertations on each and every player would just confuse the issue.

The German football team have a huge amount of analysis of penalty takers. Do you have that same level of analysis in cricket?

We’ve got a team analyst, Mark Garroway, who does a lot of work on how guys get out and how bowlers get their wickets. It does bear fruit. You can’t say: ‘That defi nitely got us a wicket,’ but from an overall perspective you’re more prepared and you’ve got to bear in mind that other teams are doing this as well.

 What are your gadgets of choice?

I would say a smartphone from Vodafone enables me to get texts and emails while I’m away. That’s important for keeping in contact with family. My iPod is very important on tour, too. And anything that’s shiny is not far away from my wish list.

How do you build that team ethic throughout the year when you’re not with the England team?

You build team spirit by sharing experiences together. Success breeds success. The more you experience success together, the more it creates a bond. I’m a little bit wary of going out for a team dinner or whatever in a false environment because people tend to see through that a little bit. It’s a lot about being mates and caring for the guy as a person rather than just a cricketer.

We’ve seen the Aussies in boot camp. What have you done to reach last year’s heights and take it higher?

We’ve been heavily involved in another couple of series’, whereas the Aussies have had a few months off. We’ve had a couple of meetings about things we want to do and it’s very important we know clearly in our mind how we’re going to approach it. The boot camp approach can be good, but in a false environment it can backfi re as well. It’ll be interesting to see how it works for them.

How do you react to victory and deal with defeat?

They’re very similar. There’s always a temptation when you win to pat yourself on the back, whereas you should be analysing how you did well. You learn lessons in defeat, but sometimes it’s not the time to over-analyse. Your confidence is a bit low and that’s not the time to radically change your thought processes. It’s a case of sticking to what you know and what works for you and things will turn around.

Will you prey on their weaknesses or play to your strengths?

We rarely focus on the other team. That can be unhealthy. You make opposition teams play badly through your own good performances.

Finally, are we going to win?

That is the sixty-four million dollar question. I think we’ve got a great chance.

Strauss? leadership lessons

1 Get your hands dirty. Don?t expect others to do what you wouldn?t do yourself

2 Motivate. You can plan all you like, but you need the buy-in of your team

3 Spend time one-to-one with staff. They?ll appreciate it more than tub-thumping

4 Consult the senior team. Make it easy for them to offer thoughts and suggestions

5 Put clear lines of communication in place to feed information from the bottom up

6 Give everyone some responsibility and the opportunity to lead

7 Prepare as well as the competition, but don?t over-analyse

8 Build team spirit through success and experience, not by creating false bonding scenarios

9 Treat victory and defeat the same. Make sure you learn from both

10 Focus on your own team, not on your rivals


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