Unless you’re a tennis fan, you may have missed the fantastic win the British Davis Cup team had over the favourites, Russia, earlier this month. I managed to attend all three days of the competition and am convinced that the leadership provided by the team captains heavily influenced the win.
The star performances came from the two British singles players. To emphasise the achievement, the British pair were ranked 214 and 325 respectively in the world while the Russians were ranked 67 and 80 with the former, Dimitry Tursunov, having been a top twenty player in his heyday.
From the stands, I saw the key difference being the faith the two captains displayed in their players. The GB captain, Leon Smith, had picked a talented but poor performing player, Dan Evans, to go with the British number two, James Ward. Ward performed brilliantly, but Dan Evans gave the performance of his life. Of Evans, Smith had been quoted as saying “He wants to do it (but) he might need more support. Not everyone is capable of doing it on their own.”
The Russian captain, Shamil Tarpischev, in contrast had a team for which he demonstrated little excitement. Having captained the team for 34 years, he was used to winning (2002 and 2006 – and runner-up on three occasions) but was now reduced to competing to get back into the World Group. A Russian spectator confided on the way out that Tarpischev wanted give up the post but couldn’t find a successor.
The contrasting body language in the two pictures probably says it all. One was excited, encouraging and pushing the boundaries, the other was clearly fed-up, uncommunicative and living in the past. At one point, a Russian player got up and walked back onto court in the middle of a rare piece of communication from his captain.
The relevance to business leadership?
- People know what you’re thinking even when you’re not saying anything
- Don’t try to lead if you’ve lost passion for the business
- Talented people may need help to improve their performance
- Always make sure there is at least one successor waiting in the wings.