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Cricket captaincy clash: Clarke vs Smith. Which leadership style will win?

Those that know me know that I’m an avid cricket fan.  Every Boxing Day you’ll find me watching the Boxing Day test at the MCG and tuned in for the rest of the series.  So it is with great interest that I have been reading the recent media reports about who is best to lead the Australian cricket team.

A bit of background for those that aren’t as avid cricket fans as myself…  Michael Clarke, the incumbent captain, injured himself several months ago and relinquished the captaincy to a younger Steve Smith.  Michael Clarke is a big personality in cricket and the media.  He was once engaged to Lara Bingle, drives around Sydney in a Ferrari and relishes being the centre of attention.  Clarke’s leadership style is very direct and absolute and this is where he has recently run into trouble with the other leaders in Australian cricket.  He has an opinion and doesn’t mind expressing it.

Steve Smith on the other hand is shy and reclusive – he wasn’t even a regular member of the Australian Test Cricket team until six months ago.  His leadership style seems to be a lot more humble and inclusive.  Observing him in action, he defers to others and seeks out a broad range of views from within his team.

So what can we learn from each leader and why has Michael Clarke’s style conflicted with others.

Let’s start with Clarke.  His direct style when managed, can give assurance and comfort to a team struggling with identity and under attack.  This has been the Australian cricket team over the last couple of years.  However the challenge is to avoid stepping over the mark and and becoming an autocratic leader – Clarke has appeared to be this autocratic leader of late.  There are other ‘big’ personalities in the Australian Cricket team, including Dave Warner and Shane Watson and in the Australian Cricket hierarchy, including James Sutherland, Darren Lehmann and Rod Marsh.  With Clarke dominating the leadership role and the media spotlight, these other leaders have had to assume a subservient role to him – not their natural style!

Smith on the other hand takes a much more participative approach to the captaincy.  On the field, Smith often defers to his vice-captain, Brad Haddin and senior team members.  You feel he has a greater awareness of his role, the boundaries and how he fits in with all of the other leaders.  While Smith doesn’t appear as confident and outgoing as Clarke, he has that steely resolve that belies a self-assured person.  The challenge for Smith will be knowing when to defer to his team and when to make his own call, because at the end of the day he will be accountable for the results, no matter whose opinions he took.

Leadership is a hot topic with many of my business coaching clients. Just like the Australian Cricket captain (whichever one it is), a good leader must guide their team to success. This means at times adapting their leadership style to align with the changing circumstances. Some say there’s no such thing as the ‘right’ leadership style but I disagree: the right leadership style is the one that gets runs on the board.

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