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Attitude Defines You as a Leader - Exhibit it, don't Flaunt it

Steve Waugh, the most successful captain in the history of Test cricket with an incredible 72% win record, once threw me a line that I now have pinned on the wall behind me. 'Attitude is contagious, it defines you', he told me. He went on: 'As a leader, I was careful how I came across, but I was equally clear that every member of the team needed to display the right attitude.' 

We were having this conversation in the backdrop of him joining Two Roads as one of our speaker-partners, on what had made his Australian team so successful. It included a collection of hugely talented players. Glen McGrath, Shane Warne, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden and Ricky Ponting would walk into any side in the world across time. And indeed such a line up assures brilliant individual performances. Individual brilliance however, as any successful leader knows, is never enough to ensure high performance as a team. So what, I had asked, was the secret ingredient in the mix?

Australia was a consistently losing team until they came into the 1987 World Cup final at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, and emerged victorious with the bookies taking bets at 16:1 against them doing so. Waugh himself had done little to justify his place until then. Selected as a batsman, he time and again failed at his primary task, but his fighting attitude ensure he stepped up for his captain Allan Border, as a very effective 'death bowler', including in the high pressure final. Eventually he would start scoring, and end a storied career with a Test batting average above 51. 

But the team he was part of, kept losing. At long last, wearing his baggy green cap for the 13th time, Steve Waugh finally experienced what it was like to win a Test match. Then, 14-years after making his debut, Waugh became captain of Australia. It was to be the most glorious run for any captain the history of Test cricket. 

More than winning, however, Waugh was known for his uncompromising attitude and unfazed icy determination off and on the field, regardless of the state of the game. He took seemingly large risks, and remained calm when they did not come off. But very often they did, for Waugh did enormous work off the field to prepare for these opportunities and knew the odds. He was also a stickler for continuous improvement, and kept raising the bar for himself and his team. Every match was important, and everyone, starting with himself, needed to be the best version of themselves in his team. His uncompromising, fair, winning mentality, built on hard work, was an attitude that rubbed off on his team. 

There were no holy cows in Steve Waugh's team. He once dropped Shane Warne from a must-win match because he didn't believe Warne (despite his protestations) had recovered from an injury. Each person in his team, Waugh was clear, needed to be able to give 100% to the winning cause. It was a bold message, and one which his team embraced in its clarity. Australia won the Test and the series, and would string together 16 straight victories, a record that remains even today. His strained relationship with Warne would never quite heal. But for Waugh, the team came first. Attitude always triumphed.

Former Australian captain George Bailey once said something interesting about his attitude towards captaincy. 'As a captain, what you do between 6pm and 11am, is as key as what you do between 11am and 6pm.' What he was referring to is the fact that a leader's attitude and behaviour is always being watched by the team, on and off the field. Act, as you would have others in your team act. 

The message is an important one for sports as it is for business. 

Who are the business leaders we most admire beyond the monetary success they garnered for themselves and their shareholders? Names like Walt DisneyJohn D. Rockefeller, and J.R.D. Tata would be top of mind recall on that list. Yes, they were all hugely successful men, but the reasons to remember them go beyond financial achievements. They deal with attitude towards their teams, the measures they employed to get where they did, how they impacted the world beyond, and the legacy they left behind. 

And why is it unlikely that someone like Elon Musk, whose genius is changing the world of transportation with Tesla, or Larry Page who gave us Google, or Travis Kalanick whose idea (Uber) you are perhaps currently occupying the backseat of as you read this, would be on this list of the most admired leaders in history? It was because they each flaunted their outrageous attitude that endeared them neither to their own teams nor the world at large. The balance sheet of their lives don't make for pretty viewing.

A final story about Steve Waugh, the protagonist we started this thought piece with, is worth recounting. 

A brief encounter that Waugh had with Mother Teresa at the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta was to influence how he looked at his role beyond cricket. That part of his life began early in his career in Calcutta, the very city where his cricketing journey had taken off. At Udayan, a charity that takes care of children of parents suffering from Leprosy, Waugh took up the responsibility of funding young girls who had no support. He continues to do that two decades on. The Udayan experience led to his Foundation looking after children in Australia who suffer from rare diseases. The foundation today raises millions of dollars and has changed the lives of thousands of children. 

As Waugh reminds us, attitude (on and off the field) is contagious. As a leader, exhibit it, but don't flaunt it. Attitude Defines You as a Leader

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