Now you may think that the Kevin Pietersen saga has nothing to tell us about man management except that it is very difficult to cope with big stars. The bigger the ego the greater the clash between the player and the management team. And the very nature of cricket makes this more difficult. Cricket is that unique team game which allows an individual batsman or bowler free reign. A bowler can take all ten opposition wickets without the help of any of his team mates. He could clean bowl a batsman, have him leg before, or catch him of his own bowling. The rest of his team mates have no part in any of these three dismissals and, similarly, a batsman in cricket could make runs entirely through his own individual efforts provided all his scoring strokes are fours or sixes. This would mean he and his partner would not have to cross and get to the other end for a run to be recorded.
Now you may say this is an over simplification, after all you have to have fielders scattered round the field of play including a wicket-keeper behind the stumps and a batsman would have to have a partner at the other end for the batting side to carry on its innings.
But compare this with other team sports like football or rugby. Not even Lionel Messi could score a goal on his own. Even if he dribbles the entire length of the pitch he would need to have the goalkeeper pass the ball to him and the positioning of his team mates round the field would influence the opposition.
Now, of course, these are extreme examples. However they do raise the question: how do you manage a team with members of disparate skills and qualities? Examine this issue and what you discover is that one of the central beliefs of successful management technique is, in reality, a myth.
The myth is this. That what you need is a leader with a simple, galvanising, slogan that motivates the entire team. So Bill Clinton’s faltering Presidential campaign of 1992 was utterly galvanised when a member of the team worked out the slogan: It’s the economy stupid. Or, when the great PR guru Tim Bell, dreamt up the slogan: Labour isn’t working for Mrs Thatcher’s winning campaign of 1979. Or, for that matter, the old ad: Go to work on an egg.
But these slogans would not have worked if they were not allied to a team that made it work. And team work means adjusting to the very different and, at times, contrasting needs of the individual members of the team. Here one size just does not fit all as Pietersen proves. This belief that everyone must behave in the same way for the team to work explains why when the England and Wales Cricket Board drew up their list of grievances against Pietersen among the facts mentioned was that he was looking out of the window, or at times at his watch, as the team coach was talking.
Yes, Pietersen thinks of himself rather too much but this also highlights the fault of the team leadership that they could not adjust to this gifted player, arguably, the most gifted English batsman of his generation, and make sure that his ways were treated as idiosyncrasies not as disloyalty that could not tolerated.
What is essential for good team management, whether it is in sport or in any other walk of life, is that the team manager must know how an individual responds to any given advice. Is he one who is not really confident in his ability and needs gentle coaxing, perhaps, even an arm round his shoulder? Or is to be treated as a person who knows what he is doing and how to do it and would be insulted by too much advice treating it as patronising. The result in such a situation is that a manager would find that far from motivating the star he has done the exact opposite and ending up alienating him.
And, of course, in a team if you have a star not only must you make sure the star feels he is important but his star-like qualities do not set him so apart from the team that his team mates hate him and at the first opportunity want him out. It is clear, although the ECB may deny it, that during the last Ashes series as Pietersen failed, and so did England, the rest of his team mates thinking he is not doing anything for them decided that he had to go. As long as Pietersen was helping England win they put up with him. If England were getting walloped, which they were, then why make allowances for a star who is not performing?
In an ideal world a team will have players or performers of equal quality each supreme in his or her own particular skill. But that rarely happens. And certainly not in great teams. For them to be great they need great players round whom there are lesser players who make their own contribution and help the star blossom.
In recent years the only shining example of this has been Johnny Wilkinson in England’s rugby World Cup winning team of 2003. Nobody can doubt that he stood head and shoulders above every other member of that team yet he was very much part of that team. This explains why his drop goal that won England the trophy was both a measure of his greatness as a player but also an expression of England as a team. It was a team with other very fine players, including the captain Martin Johnson, and all of them adjusted to Wilkinson, one of all the time greats of rugby, and he in turn blended in with the team thus creating the best team in the world.
The contrasting example is that of the 2014 soccer World Cup. Lionel Messi is undoubtedly the greatest footballer in the world, perhaps of all time. But Argentina were not able to construct a winning team round him whereas Germany, who had several very good players but no star like Messi, did. This was the supreme example of team management and should be studied by all in business who ponder how to construct winning teams.
My new column for AtTheMatch. Full article: http://www.atthematch.com/index.php/article/single_article_display/95/265