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Management lessons from Ricky Ponting
November 02, 2006
Captain of the Australian cricket team Ricky Ponting and managing director and chief executive officer of the ING Vysya bank Vaughn Richtor spoke to CNBC-TV18 on leadership and other qualities that help in building a strong business and cricketing team.
Excerpts from the interview with CNBC-TV18
Ricky, you're the number one cricket team in the world so, what's the mental block with the Champions Trophy?
Ricky Ponting:: No we haven't got a block. There seems to be some little problem going on with this tournament but I've asked this question a lot since I've been in India. It's not as if we haven't played well in the Champions Trophies in the past, we've been knocked down in the semi-finals in the last two and we've just made big mistakes in the semi-final games that the Australian team really hasn't been accustomed to making, and it has cost us that chance to play in the finals. Hopefully, we can rectify it this time round and hopefully take it one step further.
How important are mental blocks? Do they get in the way when you are sort of aiming at a target?
Vaughn Richtor: Absolutely. I think the first thing you've to be very clear about is unless you believe you can do something, then you are not going to get off the starting line. So, you really have to have the mental toughness to say yes "I'm going to get over all the hurdles and really go for it."
Ricky, increasingly guys like Warne are looking at you for inspiration. For those looking at sportsmen and the entire sports fraternity for inspiration and role models, in what areas do you think you can advise them?
Ponting: What's amazing is when you talk about sports and business, you do see the parallels between each. We, the Australian cricket team a few years ago, undertook a leadership course down in Melbourne and we had some heads of business and big company and corporations came along with us and they wanted to quiz us and at the same time we wanted to quiz them - about values and visions and things that they had needed going forward in their respective business. And when we matched them up, it was amazing to see how close our thoughts were and the way cricket and businesses operate.
Who do you think took away the most, you or them?
Ponting: I think we probably did. It's not that everybody in a team thinks as a leader and it will be the same in business as well. There are certain people in charge of business and for a reason - that's because I think in a certain way that's exactly the same within a cricket team as well. But what we found very helpful for us through that leadership course was that it forced the rest of the guys to think as leaders.
So, when you have that many minds thinking the same way, it is amazing what you can achieve and it is amazing how many different thought processes can come up and all I know is that the captain is not going to be right 100% of the time. I'm going to be the one who makes the big tough decisions, but I like to know what other people are thinking.
Is it a good thing for everybody to think like a leader?
Ponting: I think it is a good thing for everybody to think that way-whether or not they approach me with their ideas is another thing. I'm not going to Glenn McGrath and asking him what he thinks about the game-that's just not what I'm going to do-but other players like Gilchrist and Warne and Mathew Hayden - more of the senior guys in the side, it is good for them to think that way.
When I was just a player in the team, I always tried to think when I was out in the field as if I was the captain - just so I had a really good understanding of what was going on in the game and if any leadership roles were ever going to come my way, I would actually feel as if I was pretty prepared for it. I would feel as if I've been there and done it all before. So, I think it is good for the younger guys in the side to be thinking along the same lines as well.
So you wanted to be a cricketer from what I've read ever since you were 8-years-old and you wanted to be captain ever since you were 8 �?
Ponting: One thing I ever wanted to do, was be a cricketer for Australia, there is no doubt about that. I had set my sight for that from a very young age and I'm one of the lucky ones who actually got there. When you think about it, there are less than 400 players that have ever represented Australia in Test match cricket so, me to be sitting here as the captain of the current team makes me one of the lucky ones.
It wasn't until 3 or 4 years ago, when I captained the team, maybe for the first time that I thought that there maybe a leadership role for me around the Australian cricket team and right at the moment - everything is going down pretty well.
Are you all born leaders or do you know you want to lead? How does it happen?
Richtor: In my own case I never went out with any ambition to be an MD or whatever, I just had a philosophy which is everything that came along I did to the best of my abilities and just grabbed every opportunity that I could and just did my best - that's all.
You must have an idea, a vision or a strategy that you want to execute and that can only happen if you are leading isn't? So isn't that motivation very strong?
Richtor: No matter where you are - in every situation you can't always be the leader - so you may even be the defacto leader but I'm sure the same is true in cricket. In certain situations you might differ to somebody who at that point in time assumes the mantle of leadership, in that particular situation. So, you've also got to be able to adjust your own position depending on where you are because in certain situations you need different sets of skills and frankly you know it is hard for one person to be perfect.
Ricky give us a favourite sporting anecdote or inspiration.
Ponting: A great inspiration for me in a sportsman was Kieren Perkins in swimming. I think it was in the 1996 Olympic games, in which he scraped into the 1500 meters final. He just scraped through as his team hadn't been swimming well all the way through the Olympics. He made it to the finals and was sort of written off by everybody.
He just performed one of the great swims that the world had ever seen and eventually won the 1,500 meters race easily and in typical Australian style. He had been written off, no one thought he could win - the underdog going into the game - yet he managed to come through, come with his best when it really mattered. So that is something that has always stuck in my mind.
Australia tends to play as a team and yet there are stars in your team. How do you manage your stars? How do you ensure that people can rise above their egos and play as a team?
Ponting: Yes you are right. Man management in our team is vital and is very important. A lot of that work is done by me and by the coach, and I see that as the most important facet of captaincy - that you can't manage people well unless you understand them well.
For instance, I could say that I get to address the team and with what I say, six of the guys will interpret the same message differently and have a different take. So, I have to know the right way to communicate with the guys to get the best out of them and that's the constant battle that you have within a cricket team. For me to understand everyone's personality certainly helps me get the best out of them and that's vital.
Do you have to invest a lot of time in getting to know these guys off the cricket field?
Ponting: Yes you do and it's a big part of my job and say though we are together for probably 9 or 10 months of a year, so I do have a great opportunity to know the guys very well. Whatever team sport you play, whether it being in the under 9 school team or under 17 inter-state team, you have to fit into the team.
If you do not fit in, you just don't make it in Australian sport. So, when these players directly come into the Australian team, they have got a great idea of team culture, what it means to be a part of the team. So guys put their egos aside, then get in and do what is required and what they know is right for the rest of the team, and they know if they do that, they will make themselves better players and end up being a more successful part of a successful team.
But is it really that easy to do, even if I am brought up in a culture, which ensures that I put team spirit above everything else?
Ponting: I don't care where I'm ranked in world rankings - it doesn't matter. I play the game to do the best that I can do for my team and hopefully win a lot of games in cricket - that's why I play and that's why the Australian players play.
In situations that arise in games, I can't think of a time when certain individual players ever put themselves before their team and you just can't afford to do that with the way the game is played at the moment. You've got to win every game and if you don't win every game, then it's going to come back on individuals in a team anyway.
So collective interest serves individual interest?
Ponting: Absolutely, no doubt.
Do you see people in your teams imbibe this philosophy?
Richtor: I do not think it's any different. I think it's right as a leader that you have to care about people and you have to be able to invest and spend time on people, as opposed to what we might call "the more hard tasks of management."
So, if you do have players you want to put or team members that want to put their ego above the team - then in the long run, that's not good for the business or for the team.
But in terms of compensation and rewards and remuneration, that's where you start making the difference. Even if people play for the team or for the company -all these make a big difference. How do you manage that?
Richtor: Sure, but as long as people see that the system of reward is fair and transparent then I think it is acceptable, I think it is no different in sport as well. But everybody gets the same remuneration in a sports team and that's not true in business either. But people have to see that the method of remuneration is fair.
We have heard so much about the Australian team - the thinking approach to the game, the strategizing and the training. But if you had an average team would all that help you make it a winner?
Ponting: I think it makes it better. You have to be as well prepared as you possibly can be. You can't afford to go into games not being well prepared and I think when you couple that with the amount of talent that we have in our team at the moment, then you would expect certain amount of results. But the other side of that is if you have an ordinary team and not as well prepared as it can be - then that's just a recipe for disaster.
So, much of a game is played above the shoulders that some guys you know don't have the natural talent - yet for some reason they are more successful and that comes back to the way they are trained and the way they prepare themselves for the game. As the number one team, we know that everybody sits back and watches what we do and how we train and how we prepare.
You love that don't you?
Ponting: I wish I didn't because then we wouldn't have to go challenging ourselves all the time. We know that if we just stay still, then teams are going to catch-up and individual players are going to catch-up as well. So, we have to keep challenging ourselves daily by finding different ways of preparing. Who knows, if it's going to make you one per cent better everyday, then you are doing a good job.
When you are in the position that the Australian cricket team is in today - that is at the top for almost 10 years - what does an event like the Ashes loss last year do to the team?
Ponting: What its done for us is that it made us go away and take a look at ourselves, and what we were doing including looking at any handbrakes that might have been on us during the Ashes series. If we were placing any restriction upon ourselves that wasn't letting our best cricket come out.
And from that moment on since we arrived back in Australia till now, we are a much better team, we've looked at things that might be holding us back, we released those handbrakes now and we feel that we are a closer, more committed team than we were probably ever before, and that's always a good thing going forward.
So the Champions Trophy looks like it is going back to Australia is it?
Ponting: I didn't say that.
How much of your time do you invest in nurturing talent in planning for the future?
Richtor: I would say in one shape, way or form - probably half my time because it may not be that you are doing something for tomorrow - but maybe for five-ten years down the line. In any shape, way or form we try and constantly coach people because at the end of the day, we know that we are going to keep on developing people because people grow, people move on and I think that's also healthy. But at the same time, you are going to make sure that your people understand the core values and are able to live those everyday - to build a strong organization.
Ricky they say all is fair in love and war and like we know the Japanese believe that business is war. So do sportsmen believe that sports is war?
Ponting: No I don't think so.
Is there a difference between sportsmanship and gamesmanship? You guys have introduced it to the game.
Ponting: I'm not sure about that.
You've got the aggression; you've got the heckling.
Ponting: There is definitely a difference. There is definitely a difference between gamesmanship and sportsmanship. Gamesmanship I think is more about the mental side of the game and trying to work the mental side of the opposition players out.
Sportsmanship is playing the game within the rules of the game, and the way the game is supposed to be played. So, there is always a lot made about us and the perceived sledging thing on the fields.
One thing, I think needs to be understood is that every time I open my mouth or one of the guys on the field, while talking to an opposition player does not automatically mean that we are verbally abusing or attacking them. We might be just talking about the weather or about a nice shot that was played.
Is there an ethical issue here at all? Is there a fine line between how far you would go in the game of gamesmanship?
Ponting: Absolutely. There is definitely a line there and its important that everybody in my team stays at the right side of the line.
Ponting: Including me, more than anybody else. When I have transgressed in the past I would be the first one to apologies and let the guys know that it is not acceptable and it is not right and that's happened recently. Hopefully it doesn't happen again cause it is certainly embarrassing for me and it is embarrassing for Australian cricket as well.
So, we don't want to be remembered as that. We want to be remembered for being a very good team but more importantly for being good people and playing the game the right way as well.
I was just going to ask you at the end of the day, does it matter if you are the number one team for the longest time or the number one cricketer for the longest time or is it important to be remembered as the good guy who perhaps was not the number. Which one do you choose?
Ponting: Both if you can manage it. If you can manage to be the number one player and the number one team in the world and have a great reputation to go with it then -- that's what I'm asking all the players, basically demanding of the players now.
Even in Australia, in the publics eyes, we haven't got the respect that I think we need to have and so it is important for me and I've said that since I've been captain of the side that we will be remembered for being good people as well as good players.
How much does a person who has got good leadership skills and then manages to become a leader have to then change after taking on the mantle of leader?
Ponting: I don't think I've changed at all around the team and that was one thing I was very conscious of when I took over the captaincy was to make sure that I stay the same person, that all the guys knew and hopefully respected. That was something very important to me. I've never been a great believer in a leader or a captain taking themselves away from their team or from the group.
So tell us what you think from your experience the role the mentor plays?
Ponting: John has definitely been the most thorough coach I've ever played under, he thinks outside the square all of the time. He is always looking at new ways and means of being out to challenge every individual within our team and he has coached some great players. The period of time he has been coach lots of players have been number one in the world.
We've got Shane Warne and Glen McGrath, Mathew Hayden and those sort of guys and John has always been out to challenge those guys, look at their own games and at different ways of maybe how to do things.
One great story from that was last tour to India I actually missed the first 3 test matches that too with a broken thumb and when I arrived in Nagpur I thought I would sneak up behind the coach and see what he is actually punching into his laptop because I was a little bit curious about what he was doing.
At that stage he was actually putting together the players handbook for the next world cup, which is probably 2.5 to 3 years out from when the world cup was actually about to start. So that's how far ahead he was thinking of where the rest of the team went.
Where does the Managing Director and Chief Executive look for a mentor?
Richtor: It's the board, its individuals on the board, its people whom you've worked with in the past and it's other business leaders you've meet. I think in my case it wouldn't be fair to say that there would be any one mentor but there are many and of course you get a lot of surprising tips from your staff too.
Before we go leave us with one thought for the evening?
Ponting: Something that my father drilled into me on a daily basis when I was a young guy growing up and that was in sport or in business or whatever it is that you do in life, you will only get out of it what you are willing to put in and that is something that I believe in.
So I've made a lot of sacrifices along the way from moving away at 15 to the cricket academy and not spending enough time with my family. So lots of sacrifices are there and have been made for me to be where I am, but I certainly wouldn't change any.
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