27 Mar Leadership, Cheating, and Emotional Intelligence
I like winning as much as anyone, but I feel a sense of sadness and disgust at the ball tampering incident that has occurred in the recent Australia versus South Africa cricket test match in Cape Town. Anyone reading this from the US may not really appreciate cricket and what the Australian team has done. I am not a die-hard fan of the game, but this blog is not about cricket; it is about leadership in general and the lessons we can all learn about leaders we are, or leaders we follow, from an emotional intelligence standpoint.
Is this an IQ or EQ issue?
Steve Smith, the Australian captain and some of the leadership group hatched a plan to tamper with the ball (change its quality by use of an external agent – in this case tape and grit) to gain an unfair advantage.
Many sports people push the margins of the rules on the field or court. They foot fault, play off side, sledge and intimidate, and sometimes physically step over the line. I certainly do not condone these behaviors, but these actions are usually caught and penalised at the time of the indiscretion on the field, or are psychological ploys to get in the opponent’s head.
This latest issue is not the work of one player who has had a rush of blood to the head. This was a blatant plot by the leadership of the team to disregard the laws of the game and gain an advantage. The fact they were caught on the field of play does not put it in the same category as the issues above. To me it is up there with drugs in sport. It is a pre-meditated and systematic way of trying to gain an advantage in concealment.
But is it an IQ or an EQ issue? And what can we learn about leadership through it?
To me, it is a matter of both. The drive to do it is an EQ issue and the ham-fisted procedure for doing it is an IQ issue.
In my bestselling book Emotional Judo®: Communication Skills to Handle Difficult Conversations and Boost Emotional Intelligence, I discuss the concept of significance positioning. Significance is a primary need in all relationships. We can position ourselves or be positioned by others in significance in both positive and negative ways.
Unless people are aware of this, they will strive for their significance over others and automatically push another person into insignificance or at least, less significance. I argue that in communication, we need to be aware of this and do things to have others feel significant but not at the expense of our own. The result is collaboration, win/win, and mutual respect.
However, this is not the case in competition. The context of competition dictates that there will be a significant player or team and a less significant player or team. This gets further complicated in professional competition or national sporting rivalry, because more significance is attached to an outcome than simply the result of the game. Incomes are affected, careers and family well-being are impacted, and national identity and morale (think US and USSR cold war Olympics – and even today) are at stake. The same is true in the world of business and politics.
Although competition is a prime instinctive survival trait, in our current societies, it is definitely a quest for significance that drives competition; that want to win an argument, defeat an opponent in sport, be in government, have a leading and profitable business, or be held in high regard in a social group. And as Judith Glasser outlined in an HBR article on Being Right, our brain will give us some powerful rewards when we feel significant such as, adrenaline and endorphins.
Some leaders will use negative significance to gain advantage; they are openly aggressive and intimidate. Some will use positive significance, such as previous credibility or astute decision making.
Increasingly many, unfortunately, will use a mask of positive in order to hide their negative actions. In Emotional Judo®, I cite Lance Armstrong and Richard Nixon as two prime examples. But I recently saw a documentary called “The Most Dangerous Man in America” about Joseph Ellsberg’s part in releasing confidential government papers that ended the Vietnam war.
The fascinating thing was that each successive President from Truman to Nixon was deceitful to save their own face, that the war “was not lost on their watch”. This means that their behavior was seemingly positive but concealed the truth in order to gain significance. Whilst not as heinous as continuing a war to save face, Steve Smith and his players actions are prompted by the same drive.
In, Medical Doctor and Psychologist, Robert Plutchik’s wheel of emotions, he advances the notion that all primary emotions we may view as negative, have a positive primary emotion opposite them on a continuum. Of course, all emotions have a positive reason for being there but societally we see some as being negative and some as being positive.
It is only my conjecture, but I see the type of behavior that Smith and his team have engaged in is prompted by the fear of losing face therefore being insignificant. This gets flipped into anger, a more powerful emotion and both sides were engaging in this, through intimidation and sledging. This is not new; it is simply “fight or flight” but in this particular instance there is something further.
The team’s trust in their capacity to win broke down. Quite possibly this was exacerbated by the burden of carried trust they felt on behalf of the nation. This has then flipped into disgust, and according to Plutchik when we combine disgust and anger we now have a recipe for contempt.
We could define contempt as looking down our nose at people; putting ourselves into superior significance and them in insignificance. But we also have “contempt of court”, which is the deliberate avoidance of the rules to gain an unfair advantage; again, placing our significance over others. This is a prime example of “negative significance”; it is what Armstrong, Nixon, and Kenneth Lay of Enron did, and now the Australian cricket team has been contemptuous of the rules and the public that support them.
When very smart people operate like this, with access to power, the deceit can be cleverly hidden for years and years, as in the case of Armstrong, Lay, and the American presidents.
When you have people who… well let’s just say they don’t think things through very well, then you have a situation where people behave stupidly.
If there is one redeeming feature, Steve Smith has not hung Cameron Bancroft (the person who did the ball tampering) out as the fall-guy, like some politicians tend to do. He has admitted his liability and he will pay the price.
So, what can we learn about this in leadership?
As Peter Drucker said, Management is about doing things right and leadership is about doing right things. Knowing and understanding the integrity of following not only the rules but a morale code, is important.
Certainly, the captain has made a bad decision, but the decision is made within a culture, which extends beyond the team. This does not make him less accountable for his actions but what level of pressure is applied within the larger community of Australian cricket?
Whilst these players are young and great at their chosen sport, they are not academics and they are being paid ridiculous amounts of money. That raises the pressure on them, so they should be constantly reminded by the older people around them the importance of the morale code. They should also be made aware of their emotional drivers.
Good leaders need EQ, IQ and a strong moral compass.
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