Just a few weeks ago, English Cricket was in deep crisis. The team had only won one Test match in 17 games. The team was thrashed by Australia last winter and beaten by the West Indies in the spring. The Director and Coach were sacked and the Captain, Joe Root, later resigned.
The team were demoralised, worn out and ground down by the poor results. Not many England fans had much hope for this summer’s series against New Zealand, the World Test Champions.
But yesterday, England wrapped up a comprehensive 3-0 series win against the Kiwis.
What was more, England won playing the most attacking and exciting form of cricket possible. Suddenly, the team was brim full of confidence and exuberance.
Players who had previously struggled, like Jonny Bairstow and Jack Leach, played better than ever. England played thrilling and astonishing cricket.
But why did England suddenly start playing in complete contrast to how they performed just a few weeks before? What led to this transformation?
It was not due to a wholesale change of players. In fact, the vast majority of the team remained the same.
The transformation came about through a change in leadership. Rob Key became Director and appointed Ben Stokes as captain and Brendan McCullum as coach. And these changes have made an incredible and immediate difference.
In one sense, sport is meaningless because throwing, hitting or kicking a ball is just arbitrary physical activity.
But the meaning of sport is that it represents and illustrates so much that is relevant to human endeavour: passion, bravery, teamwork and performing under pressure. And, of course, the importance of leadership.
The recent revival of English cricket is a great example of what fresh leadership can bring. And the factors involved are relevant far beyond sport:
1.The difference between a groove, a rut and a trench
All leaders have shelf-lives, and a groove easily becomes a rut. Some leaders become so entrenched that no one can imagine anyone else doing the role. This over-dependence is dangerous because teams, organisations or businesses are always more important than any one person.
Fresh leadership often creates a ‘bounce’ of renewed enthusiasm. The past is assessed more objectively, unwanted baggage can be discarded and a vision of the future is less limited by what has happened before.
2. Enabling and inspiring others
It is easy for leaders to do too much and become ground down, disillusioned and resentful. This compromises their main role which is to create the right environment for others to flourish.
High quality teams are full of people who step up, take responsibility and have ambition and drive. This is what good leaders draw out of others: ‘Great leaders do not create followers but more leaders’.
3. Simplifying everything
Fresh leadership can often see where things have got bogged down with over-analysis, unnecessary bureaucracy and blame-culture. They have a clear vision which can be articulated simply and concisely. General Colin Powell said
“Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers, who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand.”
4. Renewing mindsets
Like everything that involves pressure, sport is chiefly played in the mind. Nothing is more critical than helping people believe that they can achieve their potential. Through their words and example, great leaders change mind-sets about what is possible and what can be achieved.
As St Paul said in his team talk to the early church in Rome:
‘Be transformed by the renewing of your mind’.
5. Creating momentum
Success works in compound effect: it breeds confidence and leads to further success. This is why significant change can sometimes come quickly when just a few key factors are changed. Positive momentum creates a virtuous circle in which it feels like everything has changed, even if many of the same people are involved.
We should be mistrustful of hero-worship or putting anyone on a pedestal.
But, as English cricket has shown in the last few weeks, fresh leadership is often a key factor in creating change. Sometimes, it can bring hope and transformation to the most hopeless of situations.