Be the bigger man, like Virat
Virat Kohli led by example when he stood up for Steve Smith who was booed by Indian fans. You can be a statesman in your own workplace, too
The Indian cricket fan is an unforgiving species. This doesn't apply only to a situation where their own team has done badly, because as was the case recently, their brickbats have been directed at opposing teams too. What happened is that India was up against Australia in a World Cup match. Steve Smith had just returned to the game after serving a one-year ban for an incident of ball tampering. And at a point when — after having lost the captaincy to Aaron Finch — Smith was sent to field near the boundary, the Indian fans started booing him loudly and calling him a cheat. This was long after he had atoned for his mistake by serving the ban and apologising, even breaking down in a press conference.
Virat Kohli gesturing the crowd against booing Steve Smith
What happened next is what displays how Virat Kohli is a natural leader. The batsman, who was at the crease, went up to the heckling fans and gestured angrily at them, asking them to put a lid on their behaviour. Keep in mind here that Smith is his rival. There was really no need for Kohli to break his concentration and stand up for somebody from the opposing team. But a sense of fair play prevailed over him, and he displayed a sporting spirit that behoves someone whose job includes setting an example.
(Top) After winning the Grammy for Album of the year in 2017, Adele dedicated the award to Beyonce (left). Pic/AFP
This trait can translate to other fields, outside of cricket. All leaders need to stand up for people being treated unfairly in a work atmosphere, regardless of any rivalry. Karthikeyan RK, a human resource executive with a corporate firm, tells us that in this case, Kohli was able to look at the larger picture. "He was able to see why we are doing certain things in the way we are. Say, there is a conflict between two stakeholders. It can be a delivery team, or support function, that you're dealing with, and you have to give them a critical piece of news that's unfavourable to all of them. When this happens, if their leader doesn't understand the bigger point of view and conveys it accordingly, the work will not get done. This is why you need a leader like Kohli," he says, adding that the Indian captain realised that all the players were gathered there to celebrate the spirit of sportsmanship that both teams have. That was their primary job, and Kohli did what needed to be done for the greater good.
Karthikeyan also gives us the example of an American comedian called Joe Klocek, who was heckled at a show. Instead of merely calling out the person, Klocek called him up on stage to demonstrate his own comedy skills. The guy flopped like someone who loses in straight sets at a tennis match. But when the audience started booing him, Klocek told them to give him a fair chance and let him continue with what he had in mind. In doing so, Karthikeyan says, the comedian displayed a crucial leadership trait — that of not having biases. "There are different sorts of biases. One is confirmatory, where you come up with an opinion of someone based on your own perceptions, without hearing the other person's point of view. And the other is unconscious, where it may be that because of the appearance or the place an employee comes from, you choose to have a certain bias. Any leader should have an open mind to go about appreciating differences. Someone else may be wrong. But their viewpoint still needs to be heard before you take a decision."
Similarly, leaders have to put forward their own point of view. Communication is the key. Life coach Farzana Suri tells us of an example where a certain employee had taken up a quid pro quo offer that went against company policy. His boss learnt of it, but instead of complaining against that person, he sat him down and explained why it wasn't the right thing to do. It's a different matter that the employee went ahead and did it anyway, getting a pink slip in the process, even after which the boss tried to help him get another job. What matters is that the employee was remorseful, just like Smith had been. "The boss realised that the dismissed person had made a foolish mistake. He got inside the person's head to understand why he did what he did," Suri says.
She also refers to the example from February 2017, of popular artiste Adele paying public tribute to Beyonce Knowles while accepting a Grammy Award for Best Album. Technically, the two are rivals. Nonetheless, Adele showed the same sporting spirit as Kohli in acknowledging the importance of being humane, one of the most critical things in any walk of life. But when the cricketer had reprimanded the Indian fans, he had also taken a risk as someone in a position of authority. What if India had lost? What if he had scored poorly? Or in the worst-case scenario, what if both had happened? The Indian fan, to repeat, is an unforgiving species. And Kohli took the chance of facing their ire just to stand up for what he felt was the right thing to do. The reason, Karthikeyan says, is that the captain realised that respect for your competition is mandatory. "The book, The Art of War [an ancient Chinese military treatise], clearly quotes that if you don't respect your enemy, you are not worthy enough to fight that person," he tells us, quoting a philosophy that has stood the test of time from the 5th century AD to the Cricket World Cup in 2019.
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