WV Raman’s latest book on leadership explains what it takes to be a great leader. Through his experiences of playing and interacting with several personalities and later coaching, Raman methodically uncovers the different attributes of leadership, which makes for a remarkable read.
What goes through a cricketer’s mind when he is about to make his debut for his state? He’s young, oozes talent, and has probably done nothing other than wielding a willow or working a ball all his life until then. When his name is announced in the squad in the previous night’s team meeting, his heart must have surely skipped a beat. Every moment till he takes the ground the next morning is going to be nerve-jangling. This is where coaches can turn into leaders to make a difference in players’ lives.
One such instance happened when Murali Vijay debuted for Tamil Nadu in the 2006-07 season. W.V. Raman, a former India cricketer and current Team India Women’s head coach, had just taken over then. He’d decided that Vijay would be part of the team that’d play the next day. So, when he met Vijay in the hallway of the team hotel the previous evening, he just let the young lad be himself. There were no high-pitched praises or encouragements, just a casual greeting that wouldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds. Vijay went on to score a half-century and took a splendid catch in the slips in the game.
After a few seasons when Vijay had gone on to represent India, Raman told him to not seek him out if he hadn’t crossed the 60-match mark playing for India. That was Raman’s leadership style – one that he believed in and set an example for others to follow by letting the player relax before a big game, but let it be known that as a player matures, it is time to go after bigger things.
W.V. Raman – The man, the player, the author
When you hear about W.V. Raman, the first thing that comes to mind is his enthralling knock of 114 N.O. (148 balls) in the third ODI at Centurion during India’s tour of South Africa in 1992-93. In an otherwise disappointing tour of the Rainbow Nation, that had just been inducted into world cricket after a 23-year ban, Raman’s knock was one of the lone bright spots for India. Heading into the game, India had lost the first two ODIs and were battling for survival in a 7-match series, that the hosts would dominate and win by a 5-2 margin.
At a time when cable TV was yet to make an impact, quite a few teenagers, (including yours truly), were glued to TV sets at homes and neighborhoods hoping for a turnaround in fortunes. Those were the days when 214 was a competitive score batting first, especially when you had Allan Donald and Fanie De Villiers bowling with speed and accuracy, along with Craig Matthews and the versatile Brian McMillan to back you. Raman steered India’s chase of 214 under the floodlights and was the last batsman to get out with the score on 194 having seen off their fearsome bowling attack. Victory had never tasted any sweeter.
About the book
So, when WV Raman published a new book titled, ‘The Winning Sixer: Leadership Lessons to Master’, we knew there would be a lot to gain from it. The book is in a conversational style as if the author were speaking to you across a table, and that makes for a simple read for anyone looking to be inspired in the throes of leadership. Throughout the book, Raman speaks to his close friend Ramesh Kannan, a journalist who’s on the verge of taking a leadership role about what it takes to be a great leader.
Raman’s descriptive writing style is easy to blend into and if you are fan of RK Narayan’s work, you’ll be delighted that both their approaches aren’t very different while describing situations and characters.
What makes it unique is the number of insightful anecdotes and stories about legends such as Sir Gary Sobers, MAK Pataudi, Arnold Palmer, Jeev Milkha Singh, Sir Richard Branson, Mark McCormack, Mike Brearley, Bob Willis…the list goes on.
W.V. (as he is fondly known in the book) has used his deep experience of interacting with several former and present players, coaches, journalists, administrators, and other personalities to weave together an interesting concoction of the qualities and attributes that make a good leader.
“Leaders are not made differently, they think and do things differently”
Raman has illustrated that even the greatest leaders can make mistakes. For example, once when Sir Gary Sobers declared a dour test match to make it lively, the move backfired as his team lost the game. So, when an immigration official asked him if he had anything to declare, his witty response was ‘Not after the last one, my friend.’’
At other times, leadership could be convincing an injured player to shed his inhibitions and start believing in himself. How? By being committed to his cause and drawing a roadmap of what needs to be done even if it requires the player to go under the surgeon’s knife. L. Balaji, the former India pacer and the current bowling coach for Chennai Super Kings, was down and out in 2006 with a lower back stress fracture and wasn’t sure of making it back to the pitch. It is during times like these that bring out the qualities of a true leader. Raman worked with Balaji for two years and was involved a host of bio-mechanists, coaches, and doctors to get him fighting fit for India’s tour of New Zealand in 2009-10.
Or, it could be about protecting your team from the opposition. Before the 1996 world cup final, Arjuna Ranatunga fired a salvo at the Aussies, their opponents, saying Sri Lanka had better spinners in their ranks than Shane Warne. It was enough to surprise the opposition and the media attention immediately shifted to what Ranatunga had said rather than on the chances of the Sri Lankan team, who came into the final as underdogs. The move proved to be a masterstroke as Sri Lanka thumped Australia to lift the world cup and send the island nation into delirium.
Or, yet other times, it could be training one’s mind into seeing what others can’t. Sir Richard Hadlee, the legendary former New Zealand fast bowler has written in his book how he’d visualize dismissing batsmen during a game after having gone through videotapes of their playing style. Or, how S. Venkataraghavan turned up with a swollen ankle and willed his mind and body to dismiss the Karnataka batsmen despite being severely injured the previous day.
At times, leaders need to have a vision that goes beyond what others might not have been exposed to yet. The West Indian team of the 70s and 80s evoked aura and often sent oppositions into a tailspin, but it required the vision and fortitude of Clive Lloyd, who had realized early on that they would dominate world cricket only if they had the best fast bowlers. Similarly, Allan Border was dogged in his approach and had a point or two to prove when he led an inexperienced Australian team in India for the world cup in 1987. Border demanded that his lads do not give up without a fight and with every passing match, their confidence grew.
Not all about cricket
Leadership emanates from all walks of life and not just cricket. What keeps the reader glued to this book is Raman’s insights from his interviews of other sportspeople in the country including Kapil Dev, Sania Mirza, Pullela Gopichand, Abhinav Bindra, Jeev Milkha Singh, and Geet Sethi. Each of these athletes has scaled great heights in their careers and provide different perspectives to the leadership narrative.
For example, Gopichand wanted to give back to the sport that had given him immense satisfaction and so he built an academy for budding badminton professionals at the age of 27 right after winning the All England Championship. Sania Mirza understood her limitations well and gave up her ambitions of climbing to the top in singles, and decided to focus on doubles where the likelihood of her success was higher. Similarly, Abhinav Bindra was faced with questions and self-doubt as he began building his career in shooting. In a sport that is expensive to pursue as a career, Bindra kept ploughing through until he realized his dream of winning the Olympic gold.
Raman’s narrative on leadership is a treat for the eyes. There are times when you feel he is making an indiscernible point, but he quickly explains it much to the relief of the reader. The book ebbs and flows easily from one chapter to another as the author explains different concepts using acronyms such as Five Cs, Five Ts, Five As etc. Each of these phrases has a wider description to help the reader learn, retain, and recall them. Each concept is elucidated with examples to help the reader understand the author’s thinking process. Raman covers several leadership concepts that are applicable in any scenario with gusto and in great detail across the book and so it needs careful reading, but once done, the reader will have taken a fascinating look.
The Winning Sixer: Leadership Lessons to Master is available here.