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Trust and authenticity make a leader: Eoin Morgan

England's first male World Cup-winning cricket captain on emerging from the abyss and rising to the top

Kathakali Chanda
Published: Jun 3, 2023 09:38:16 AM IST
Updated: Jun 2, 2023 04:47:15 PM IST

Trust and authenticity make a leader: Eoin Morgan England's captain Eoin Morgan poses with the World Cup trophy as England's players celebrate their win after the 2019 Cricket World Cup final between England and New Zealand at Lord's Cricket Ground in London on July 14, 2019. - England won the World Cup for the first time as they beat New Zealand in a Super Over after a nerve-shredding final ended in a tie at Lord's on Sunday. Image: Glyn Kirk / AFP  
A few months before the ODI Cricket World Cup in 2015, Eoin Morgan was appointed the captain of England. But his first high-profile assignment ended in ignominy as the team exited the tournament at the league stage, with a defeat against minnows Bangladesh rubbing salt in the wound. Four years on, in the most dramatic of turnarounds and circumstances, Morgan led his men to England’s first-ever World Cup victory via a Super Over in the final against New Zealand.  

Morgan’s legacy, though, doesn’t just lie in the silverware he's collected, but in the paradigm shift, he brought about in the game was played—bold and aggressive. According to Wisden, England had scored 350 just once in one-dayers up until their 2015 World Cup exit, while, subsequently, till Morgan’s retirement last June, they crossed the milestone 20 times. How did he transform English cricket? Morgan breaks down his cricket philosophy in this exclusive interview with Forbes India.

Edited excerpts:    

‘Belief takes you far’  

I come from a cricket-obsessed Irish family—my father and siblings all played—and when I was around 12 or 13, I decided that I would play the sport professionally. My dad was my mentor for a very long time, and the one characteristic he instilled in me was belief. Belief is a funny thing because nobody believes in you until you achieve something. But that comes much later in life. You spend pretty much your whole life and career trying to achieve something that will give you returns only 1 percent of the time you’ve assigned to it. For the rest 99 percent, if you don’t believe, you will never get anywhere near achieving your goal.   

‘Be yourself, communicate clearly, and embody what you say’  

My first England captain was Sir Andrew Strauss—I played with him in Middlesex, felt comfortable around him and then played under him for England. Watching how he operated and what he did shaped the captain I am today because I admired what he achieved. But there’s no script or guideline on how one should lead. There are three basic things that I tried to adhere to as a captain. One, be authentic. Humans are very good at identifying when you're lying. You can't fool people, so being yourself is important. Second, give a clear and direct message at every opportunity. And, last, embody that message. But there is one attribute that overrides all three and is the foundation of all three: Listen. Listening allows you to build great relationships.  

‘Building trust commits people to a shared goal’  

How do you get people to lean in and listen to you? You take time, you ask questions—that forms trust. And trust is built on saying what you are going to do, and then going out and doing it. When you are dealing with performances and asking individuals to take on risks—like I was doing when I was the captain of the English team—you need to have this blanket of trust. It enables you to take the fear of failure out, to tell them that it’s okay to fail, just go out and be as courageous as possible.   

‘It’s empowering for leaders to admit their own mistakes’  

In the period that we're going through, it is more important than ever to give honest feedback. We're often being told to mask over by encouraging people to do the same thing when they don't necessarily know what mistakes they're making. How does one improve then? But part of my journey in either identifying good feedback or being ruthless is having the ability to be honest about myself in front of other people as well. If I did make a mistake or the team made a mistake as a consequence of my decisions, I would be open and honest about it, address it and move on. Even if a wrong decision went my way by some quirk of fate, I would admit that openly. When such things come from the top, it is powerful enough for your teammates to sit back and say, “I like this environment. I will take this on.”  

‘Every knock is an opportunity to come back’  

As a captain, you make mistakes all the time. But because we’ve had a little bit of success and won a few things, people don’t believe you make mistakes. The thing is, you don’t get it right most of the time. We’ve been knocked back a lot over the years. When I took over as captain, we wanted to play an aggressive brand of cricket. In one of the matches in the first series we played against New Zealand in 2015 with the new-look English team, we were bowled out for around 300 and lost a lot of wickets in a short space. And in the first interview I did, I was told that you got bowled out in a 50-over game, don’t you think you should have batted out your overs? And I said, “Absolutely not. We were trying to get 350. We fell short this time, next time we’ll get better at this.” 

Also read: Becoming a champion is everyday work: Gilberto Silva

‘In a crisis, give yourself time’  

Remember England’s loss in the T20 World Cup final in 2016, when Carlos Brathwaite hit Ben Stokes for four consecutive sixes? That incident taught me so much about taking time. If you watch the footage, you’ll see I run over to Ben, talk to him, chuck him the ball and run away. Whereas I could have allowed him more time to control his breath, take more information on what he wants to do and just calm the situation. Fast forward to the super over in the 2019 World Cup final with Jofra Archer, I walk over, walk back, hold the ball, and then hand over the ball. It’s a small thing, but one that I’ve learnt from a previous big mistake: Don’t forget to breathe and take your time in crunch situations.

‘A happy team forms a winning unit’  

To build a good team, you need to create an environment in which people feel comfortable enough to be themselves. If someone tells you they’ve had the time of their life being part of a good team, they’ll mostly talk about intangible things—not fancy bats or century stands, but the laughing, the joking in the changing room, or something funny someone said during the over. To tap into that, people need to feel comfortable enough to be vulnerable in an environment. And that’s what brings out the best. If people are timid or afraid in a culture, they are going to be afraid when you ask them to perform in big moments in the game.  

‘The toughest journeys are often the best’  

The one moment I would go back to in my career is the start of the summer of 2015. Earlier that year, we got hammered in the World Cup, and we were starting from the beginning, literally, with a blank sheet of paper—a new team, great energy, and a huge amount of uncertainty. And I would go back there and I would love to relive that journey because it was unbelievably enjoyable. I learnt so much about people who are very good friends now. I always say the cornerstone of my beliefs in the game was developed and built during the 2015 World Cup when we were so far behind everybody else in the world that we were being humiliated on a regular basis. A lot of my belief and energy and drive came from that scar, and the will to try and change that. 

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