Last night I attended a talk titled “Parenting in Sport” by Gary Kirsten, one of South Africa’s finest cricketers, and World Cup winning coach of the Indian cricket team.

I attended the talk looking for tips on guiding my five-year-old, whose ball skills already outshine my own, but as I listened, I was struck by the relevance of Gary’s message to the workplace.  TowerStone’s leadership model speaks to leading all the time, and I found myself reflecting on the consistency of my own leadership, between work, home and play.

Gary’s profile description on his Twitter homepage says a lot about his priorities: Husband, Father, SA Cricketer, Ex-Coach of Team India, Ex-Coach of Proteas, Coach @DelhiDaredevils, Gary Kirsten Cricket Academy @GK_CA, @MXIT Ambassador.

Here are some defining questions posed by Gary during his talk:

1. Are you focusing on outcome, or technique?  Gary shared an account of pushing his son (then five years old), to hold the cricket bat properly, when all he wanted to do was hit the ball – which apparently he was doing particularly well without Dad’s interference!

2. Is your self-worth simply a function of current performance? Gary spoke openly about the burden of expectation and how this grew with each accomplishment, to the point that the joy of competing was smothered by performance anxiety.

3. Are you encouraging contribution and creativity, or simply driving performance?  Gary shared a vivid account of hitting 275 runs in a match that he anticipated would be his last, but instead opened the door to a further five years of international cricket.  He attributed his spectacular innings to having let go of any performance anxiety. It was the last game of his international career (or so he thought), and he was simply out to enjoy himself.

4. Do you respect your competition, or look down on them?  Gary pointed out that the word “compete” is a derivative of two Latin words, com and petere, meaning “seek together”, so that it is only with healthy competition that we discover our best performance.  Interestingly, this competitive spirit is something Gary discovered playing garden cricket with his brothers as a boy, rather than having it drummed into him by parents determined to raise winners.  Instead, his parents only ever encouraged him to enjoy himself.

5. Do you have enough credibility to influence, or are you relying on enforcement and fear?  Gary regards constructive criticism as a poorly disguised trap – suggesting that adding the “constructive” qualifier simply obliges the listener to pay attention.  He believes that a strong relationship is the only legitimate platform for criticism.

6. Are your intentions for your followers legitimate? Gary shared the challenge of letting go of the need to have his children imitate him, and rather encourage them to explore their talents widely, so as to discover their real contribution.

7. What are your followers hearing?  Gary shared a reflection that, of all the advice he received over the years, only about 20% was worth remembering, and that 20% he holds onto with both hands.  He is passionate about the importance of values, suggesting that instilling values is about intentionally building a language. What language are you building?
Lastly, Gary lists the following as his goals for parenting in sport: mastering skills, learning to compete, friendship, respect, team accomplishment and health.

What kind of business performance might be possible, I wonder, if we adopted these as leadership goals?

Written by: Malcolm Ferguson – Business Leader