Last Friday, thanks to Deutsche Bank, Sunil Gavaskar visited our Chennai office and I was fortunate enough to be present there. Gavaskar had lunch with us, was curious about our office and the work we do, and fielded many a tough question with the ease with which he dealt with the West Indian fast bowlers. This blog is about the leadership lessons I learnt during that short interaction.
1. A leader can tell stories:
Gavaskar told us the story of when his uncle Madhav Mantri (who had played twice for India) was chief guest at a school function. The year was 1979, and by then, Sunil Gavaskar was idolized for his centuries and record breaking spree. The Principal of the school needed to introduce Madhav Mantri. So Mantri told the Principal, you need to ask the students, “who is your favorite cricketer”, and when they say “Gavaskar”, you just need to say “Madhav Mantri is his uncle.”
The Principal thought this was a good idea, and asked the students, “Who is your favorite cricketer”? The students responded, “Kapil Dev”.
Apart from telling stories, Gavaskar demonstrated his ability to crack jokes at himself.
2. A leader has a sense of humor:
One person in the audience asked Gavaskar to describe his “36 not out” experience. Gavaskar took it with humour and said it was “indescribable”. He also went on to list other embarrassing moments, like getting out in the first ball of a Test match three times, but said no one ever has a question on those.
When asked if he prefers T20 or Tests, he said T20 – there’s less fielding to do in it! He continued that all ambitious cricketers will aspire to perform in Tests.
3. A leader is self aware:
I asked him why he never chose to coach the Indian team. He said he is not a good observer of cricket, and a coach needs that ability. He said, as a player, he’d carry books with him, and often get immersed in the books if he got out early.
4. A leader is grounded in reality, and gratefully shares credit:
Someone asked why India has produced only one Sunil Gavaskar, one Sachin, and one Kapil Dev. Sunil’s response was revealing. First he went on to mention names of several other outstanding Indian cricketers and said they are as good.Next he said these stars, including himself, could not have been successful without the support of the ten other players in the team.
He went on to reveal another interesting aspect of success. He said for every star, their second season is the most testing. By this time, their game has been analyzed by the rivals, so they have a different level of challenge. And it requires an excellent family support system, he said, to keep your feet on the ground with all the adulation and attention you have started receiving.
5. A leader is well read, and has good communication skills:
While this is obvious, I mention this as many highly skilled professionals believe such skills are not important. And Sunil Gavaskar’s skills at these are quite visible – which is probably why he has been outstanding at more than one career.