Big Leadership Lessons from Little Sri Lanka

With the celebrations of winning the world T20 2014 Cricket title still riding high and the entire nation positively charged, it would be a good time to reflect on the leadership lessons.

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Lesson 1: Never give up: After having won the cricket 50 over world cup in 1996, Sri Lankan cricket has had ups and downs. Ups, mostly because of the cricket infrastructure in the country producing brilliant talent and downs mainly attributed to cricketing politics and administration. Sri Lanka has come to the finals of many a world level tournaments and ended up runner-up. This time around too, many were having fears of another loss in a final, but things went Sri Lanka’s way, not by accident but by design. Therefore leaders keep learning from mistakes, growing with challenges until they reach the target.

Lesson 2: Team work : While Sri Lanka became the world T20 Cricket champs no Sri Lankan player featured in the top 5 run scorers or wicket takers in the tournament. This is due to all players contributing their very best when conditions required them. Therefore a player like Kumar Sangakkara who failed to score much during all the games during the run up to the final, showed up and became the match winner at the final. A player like Rangana Herath who bowled Sri Lanka to victory in the crucial match against New Zealand was not very suitable for the conditions in some other matches. The player of the tournament was from India, the runner-up. Therefore there are no individual winners, but the team wins. Lesson 3: The leaders must let go so that the team can get going: While it is not known the circumstances under which the Captain who started the tournament, Dinesh Chandimal stepped down, various media reports say that it was a joint decision that included himself given his poor form. However it was amazing to see Chandimal being enthusiastic about every milestone that was achieved and the manner he celebrated the  victory although he was not the captain nor in the playing team. There was no bitterness seen in him at all.

Lesson 4: Situational Leadership: with the stepping down of the captain, Lasith Malinga was appointed to lead the team and he did it with amazing competence and confidence in the last 3 matches in the tournament, including the finals. Lasith had 4 former captains in the team and he took guidance from all of them, listened to the other players and made the right decisions. There were situation where former captain Mahela Jayawardena was seen providing leadership and that is a true quality of leadership to delegate leadership to those who suit the situation.

Lesson 5: Know your playing field: The Sri Lankan team had done their homework, they knew the playing conditions and its opportunities and threats, they knew their competitors strengths and weaknesses and they knew their own strengths and weaknesses. This enabled them to play the right team for every game. The fact that Ajantha Mendis, the player with the 2 best performances in this format of the game, not being played in the semi-finals and the finals is an indication of the knowledge and confidence of the team.

Lesson 6: Creative and risky decisions well executed: Contending Indian batsmen of the calibre of Virat Kholi, Yuvraj Singh and MS Dhoni in a final is almost an impossible thought. But the Sri Lankan bowlers made it possible by adopting creative but risky bowling tactics, which were executed superbly. While the strategy was excellent, the bowling had to be of high precision, as the slightest error would have resulted in a lot of runs being scored by the opposition.

Lesson 7: Recognising not just rewarding performance: This was the game where 2 of the stalwarts of Sri Lankan cricket Mahela Jayawardena and Kumar Sangakkara was retiring from the T20 format of the game. The team recognised this factor and gave all they had to give them a good farewell gift, winning of the ‘world cup’. While the victory was for the entire nation, using that opportunity to thank these two great players. In addition, these two players recognised the new captain for leading the team and for the young blood in the team for making the biggest contribution to the victory. At the press conference held on the arrival of the team, the new captain Lasith Malinga recognised the earlier captain Dinesh Chandimal for the excellent planning that he [Lasith] merely executed and leading the team at the beginning of the tournament. Finally the country recognised the entire team starting with the water salute [by fire engines] for the Sri Lankan Airlines air craft that flew in the team, the welcome as they came off the aircraft, fit for a head of state, the journey in an open bus through the millions of citizens lining the roads that took 5 hours [as against the usual 1 hour] and the gala musical concert attended by an unprecedented crowd at the Galleface Green.   These are lessons we can easily relate to and therefore we can easily learn and adopt them into any leadership role in our lives. Happy leading and happy winning!

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