Sandpapergate – a good lesson in bad leadership

The proverbial hit the fan over the weekend when the Australian cricket captain admitted to deliberately cheating. It’s now being dubbed “sandpapergate”.

Aside from why we care more about this, as a society, than arguably more pressing issues, the issue itself is interesting.

What does leadership mean in this context?

Even bad leadership is leadership.

It’s not how we like to think of leadership. Usually, when we say the word leadership we have a positive, heroic image in mind. Nonetheless, leadership it is.

The reality is that the captain (and who knows who else was more broadly involved) was involved in creating a plan, then directing a team member to undertake that plan. Smith is the leader and was providing leadership to the team. Just not very good leadership.

Cricket Australia has some soul searching to do.

Leaving aside for a moment the issues of values, morality and being a role model; the question has to be – is this what we want leadership to look like?

Some questions to ponder:

  • What sort of organisational and team culture exists that this sort of thing is tolerated, let alone actively participated in?
  • Where does power enter into the equation of of bad leadership? Both that this would be considered in the first place and that no one felt it was ok to question?
  • How has a broader “win at all costs” long term approach affected the short term tactics of the team?
  • Where does the accountability lie?
  • Who will take responsibility for this?

And the most obvious one of all:

  • What were they thinking????????

Where does this leave us?

  • We often learn as much from bad leadership as we do from good.
  • Examining why this issue causes so much distaste in our mouths is a useful exercise in our own values and views on leadership.
  • As it’s often quoted: “the standard you walk by is the standard  you accept.” What standard are you walking by?

As an aside, I came across this definition of leadership. It seems so very ironic in the context of sandpapergate, and a good place to leave us pondering what we think leadership is.

“one or more persons engage with others in such a way that leaders and followers raise one another to higher levels of motivation and morality” (Burns, 1978)

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