21 December 2020

Ranjan Madugalle’s notes on leadership

Last week we discussed some interesting observations that Ranjan Madugalle made about journeys. A man who has been associated with cricket all his life, as a player, commentator and match referee, must have a lot to say about a lot of things and not just about cricket. Ranjan doesn’t say much and when such as he does, one takes note.

So Ranjan talked about leadership. Briefly. This is what he had to say: ‘Don’t ever think that you are not a leader. Leaders are made by circumstances. Leadership is a never-ending process.’

Ranjan should know. He captained his school in two consecutive years. He captained the Combined Schools teams against under 19 teams touring Sri Lanka. He captained his club team, the NCC. Sri Lanka too. And yet he was not always a leader.

He was just 15 when he first played for Royal. Of course this meant that at some point, barring injury, he would captain the school team simply on the basis of seniority. At the age of 16, just a second year colorsman, he led a great comeback with solid support from Ashok Jayawickrema (who would captain the team the following year) to deny St Thomas’ College. Ranjan scored 71 to steer his team to safety. He took on the responsibility of saving the day for Royal. A similar knock in Sri Lanka’s first test match (he was the first to score a half-century in Tests) with solid support from Arjuna Ranatunga, saved his team the blushes in the first innings. If not for a horrendous collapse in the second innings Sri Lanka might have even won its maiden test.

He wasn’t a leader then. Neither was a leader when, again at the age of 16, representing the Sri Lanka Under 19 team, he took 8 wickets to help his team secure the Ali Bhutto Trophy against Pakistan. He wasn’t the official leader. He wasn’t the captain. He found himself in the middle of a situation where he could take on a tremendous responsibility. He proved equal to the task.

It’s all about that old saying, ‘cometh the moment, cometh the man.’ His record underlines his assertions, ‘leaders are made by circumstances.’ He wasn’t the skipper. It is unlikely that everyone thought he had leadership mettle. He may not have thought either. He did what had to be done. Showed courage and determination. Played with utmost responsibility. Demonstrated character.

It’s all about not getting ahead of yourself, of not cutting corners when it comes to preparation, of doing what the moment demands and going the extra mile for your team. In the process one is bound to acquire all the attributes that an ideal leader ought to have.

It’s a never-ending process, Ranjan is right. His leadership days didn’t end when he retired from Test cricket. Leadership is not something that happens only in sports, obviously. There are business leaders, community leaders, clan leaders and revolutionary leaders. People who have the responsibility to steer a collective to betterment. Ranjan did just that as a match-referee of the ICC. He has given direction, he has set standards. His work will outlive him.

It never ends. We really don’t know when we would be called upon to lead. However, if we erroneously convince ourselves that we are not leaders, that we can never give leadership, then, when the moment arrives, we would let it pass. Who knows, we could be poorer, our friends could be poorer. The world too. 

Ranjan is correct. Don’t ever think you are not leadership-material. Maybe we could add, ‘don’t get caught in the ‘I will be a leader one day’ trap. It’s not wrong to entertain the idea, but let it not be a fixation. That would detract. As would the opposite — ‘I will never be a leader.’ Take things as they come. Be ready. Do the hard yards. Seize the moment. The tag is always more valuable when others pin it on you. Keep that in mind too.


Other articles in the series titled 'The Interception' [published in 'The Morning']

Do you have a plan? Strengths and weaknesses It's all about partnerships
Not all victories are recorded