For All His Successes as a Player and Coach, Andy Flower Became Too Dogmatic and Had to Go

By Smith, Ed | New Statesman (1996), February 7, 2014 | Go to article overview

For All His Successes as a Player and Coach, Andy Flower Became Too Dogmatic and Had to Go


Smith, Ed, New Statesman (1996)


Lucky the leader who first experienced failure in the ranks. He has a huge advantage: the inclination to consider that other people have different solutions, perhaps even better ones. Top-flight coaches were usually second-division players. Failure was formative, sharpening their observations and developing their empathy. In contrast, great players who become coaches often suffer from over-reliance on the very instinct that once served them so well: it worked for me before, so it must work for everyone.

Andy Flower resigned as coach of the England cricket team on 31 January and he left office with some notable achievements. With personal directness and analytical clarity, Flower oversaw three Ashes series victories and England enjoyed brief spells as the top-ranked team in the game's three formats. In Australia this winter, however, the England team seemed increasingly cowed by their manager rather than inspired by him. His response was fatal: more work, more toughness, and a narrowly defined emphasis on "character"--the cornerstones of Flower's highly successful career as a player. He started out trying to modernise English cricket and ended up trying to recast it in his own image. This is a classic process that should become a business school staple.

Playing and managing exact almost opposite psychological demands. All of the top four English football clubs are coached by men who had unremarkable careers as players: Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Manuel Pellegrini and Brendan Rodgers. Naturally, there are exceptions. Pep Guar-diola, arguably the best manager of all, was previously a superb midfielder. But the wider point stands: playing at the level below greatness hones the most underrated quality in a leader--scepticism. Great managers, despite their ultra-confident press conference personas, constantly reassess their managerial bag of tricks. When they stop evolving philosophically and become predictable, their effectiveness tapers off.

For once-great players, however, it is harder to learn scepticism. All athletes depend on a trained conviction: this is what works for me. Your particular methodology becomes hard-wired into your DNA. It might be to attack when you are under pressure, or to defend; it may be to nurture anger, or to assume calmness. It doesn't really matter. What matters is the degree of faith that sustains your default position: you need to trust what has worked for you before. The best players have a higher degree of confidence in their routines and patterns of thought.

A manager searches for the opposite position; he must become detached. In his handling of people, he cannot trust one default position as innately superior. Instead of believing he can change everyone's character, he must see how every player is seeking a personal solution to a unique set of problems.

Behavioural economists would describe this as overcoming a cognitive bias. …

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