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The Business Show 2015: Alastair Cook on Leadership

If you were in the Kensington area of West London over the last two days, you might have noticed a slightly higher percentage of Apprentice style candidates competing with the Made in Chelsea set. That’s because Olympia’s been playing host to Europe’s biggest business show, with masterclasses, keynote speakers and hundreds of exhibitors ranging from angel investors to social media boot campers. We went along to attend one of the most highly anticipated keynote seminars of the show: England Cricket Captain Alastair Cook on Leading a Winning Team.

With a queue that snaked around the show, it was clear from the off that Alastair’s insights on leadership during pressure-filled situations were going to be readily received. As captain of the side since 2012, he has led teams in some of the most hostile environments, and has earned a reputation as one of the game’s most distinguished and resolute captains as a result.

The value of this in business is clear: being a strong leader creates a strong team and in turn produces a successful business. “I wouldn’t change it for anything,” he said. “It’s an amazing feeling. When I started as captain of the England team, I didn’t have a lot of captaining experience, so I didn’t know how I was going to be challenged every day.”

Being a good leader

Rising to challenges is something that being a leader demands. “When I started it was Strauss’ side, with lots of personality and experienced team members like Swanny (Graham Swan). He was very stuck in his ways and you couldn’t argue with him, so I had to learn how to change his mind. For example, I made him think that my suggestions were his idea; I’d send in in others to talk to him. Eventually, he’d come up with the solution as his own idea and be on board.”

Cook stressed that in order to be a good leader, it’s not just down to your own skills: “You need luck and people who know what they’re doing. For example, if you’ve got a good bowler, you can’t go too far wrong. My job is to marshal that bowler and make sure they’re happy with what they’re doing.”

Motivating a team

Yes, being a captain of a winning team is fantastic, but there’s a flipside. One of the biggest parts of being a captain, or a business leader, is being able to motivate a team when things get difficult. “Motivation isn’t that hard in general because there are 1000 other people that would love to be in our position, so you’ve got to remember that. But in some ways it’s no different to working in business. I need to show off their talent in a way that the team feels that they’ve got the support behind them to do that. You’ve got to have everyone singing from the same hymn sheet, pushing in the same way.”

“I always thought that I was strong mentally, but when it gets tough, it’s harder than you imagine. I remember when I wasn’t scoring runs, you’ve got to hang in there. There were days when I did want to jack it in, days when it was affecting my personal life, but then I woke up in the morning and thought that that would be the easy way out. That’s what I’m most proud of. It was hell but you dust yourself off and you try again.”

Never give up

And his one ingredient for success? “Persistence. Anyone who follows test cricket will know. The guys who have played 10 test matches need to play 20-30 test matches to get to the level they need to be. You’ve got to push through.”

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