Can a Kohli and Kumble co-exist in a team?


It was an apparently optimal combination that could take Indian cricket to greater heights. But the Kohli-Kumble split left you wondering. It was just that same feeling when near perfect couple suddenly announce their divorce.

Your sympathies perhaps lie with one of India’s all-time cricketing greats, Anil Kumble. Mine certainly did. And why not?

For the record, 10 years ago, Tendulkar and Ganguly too were at the forefront of a campaign when they did not want Greg Chappell to continue with the Indian team

So is the message that two strong personalities cannot co-exist in a team?

Is there space enough for just one alpha-personality in a working team

Will one of the achievers necessarily have to play second fiddle to the other, if s/he has to survive?

That’s the topic we explore in this edition of CJP Insights

Can you hire achievers and yet, have them play second fiddle to your key man?

As the proverbial quote says “Ek myaan mein do talawaren nahi samaati” i.e. “No man can serve two masters”.

Many critics describe Captain Kohli as impetuous, immature and overly aggressive. Incidentally, so was Ricky Ponting before he went on to be one of Australia’s finest captains. There’s one word to describe them: mavericks.

But then who do you deal with a situation when you hire a Kumble, who, by every measure, is a beacon of Indian cricket. Someone who has under his belt 130 test matches, ~300 ODIs, ~1,000 international wickets and having led India with distinction during its most sensitive period. Old-timers still remember that day in Antigua when he came out of the pavilion with a heavily bandaged jaw and bowled out Brian Lara. It was no surprise that he had a powerful presence in the dressing room.

So should the coach play second fiddle to the superstar captain and buy peace/survival?

Yes, of course cricket is different from football

In football, you have a coach like Pep Guardiola or José Mourinho or even an Alex Ferguson who will often influence team’s performance more than the captain. This is because, the pace of the game is such that a captain’s ability to make decisive moves in the course of play are limited. Strategy and tactics discussed and rehearsed before a game become crucial in these circumstances.

Let’s face it. The World Cups through 1999 to 2011 were won by the teams that were led by Steve Waugh, Ricky Ponting and MS Dhoni. Who were the coach? And one would scramble for answers. Such is the nature of the sport and there is no running away from it.

Because so much of the decision-making takes place on the field, the role of the coach in cricket is far more peripheral than in most other team sports.

So certainly, it is the captain who leads the troops to battle. Thus, in a dressing-room tussle, the coach is more dispensable than the captain.

The risk superstars pose to organizations

Ramachandra Guha, while stepping down from the Supreme Court-appointed Committee of Administrators (COA) wrote to COA chief Vinod Rai “Surely, giving senior players the impression that they may have a veto power over the coach is another example of the superstar culture gone berserk? Such a veto power is not permitted to any other top-level professional team in any other sport in any other country”

So, no matter how promising be the Kohli in your team, is it wise to give him/her unbridled powers?

One can extrapolate this argument to the corporate world so easily.

This Kohli can be your frontline sales guy, your top notch Chartered Accountant leading GST Implementation or your M&A head who has recently cracked 3 deals.

Same for the role of Independent Directors in companies also. Should they accede to the voice of the CEO?

Any effective executive is never a ‘yes person’. Cheerleaders cannot be effective contributors in any decision making process. Its diversity of opinion that alone can bring glory to organizations.

So how do you protect the organization’s silent guardian, it’s a watchful protectors

Role of HR / Top Management

The flipside of acting tough with mavericks.

Dealing with an alpha male like Kohli carries its own challenges. Like him, Indian cricket has also seen the likes of Yuvraj, Sehwag or Ganguly who also were in the same mould. The reason why they’ve been successful is their bold attitude to the game—and their courage to experiment and deliver. If you curb their natural aggression, they may not be as effective as before

So, what’s the way out?

In the business world too, it is often a delicate balancing act when it comes to managing mavericks. That’s where you need a strong CEO who combines well with the HR head to have that difficult conversation with a maverick executive occasionally. . It is about having the confidence to walk into their room and have that chat. Not to curb their freedom of expression, but to ensure that their individuality does not come at the cost of the organization.

Respect the coach

Shortly after the incident, India’s only Olympic gold medalist in individual events Abhinav Bindra had used the Twitter route to express his opinion in a cryptic manner.

Abhinav tweeted, “My biggest teachers was coach Uwe. I hated him! But stuck with him for 20 years.He always told me things I did not want to hear.#justsaying”

Now, nowhere it’s mentioned that Abhinav intended it for Virat Kohli but sure as hell, there’s a cryptic sentiment attached to it.

Also one might need to flex his/her coaching style: Not get into a “telling” mode but rather focus on listening, sensing and responding. Provide enough points of data to mavericks—they’re usually open to evidence—and make them interpret it himself. That is far more effective than relying on your own experience as a leader-coach to ‘tell’ him/her what to do.

But certainly, it cannot be ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ style of leadership.

Case in point- Rob Parson at Morgan Stanley

In B-school, they teach this classic HBR case- Rob Parson at Morgan Stanley. [1]

Rob Parson was a star producer in Morgan Stanley’s Capital Markets division. He was a lateral recruit and a top performer. His sales numbers were stellar. He had Strong business acumen “securing major deals and generating revenues for his desk”.  Unfortunately, his utter disregard for how colleagues felt and the negative 360-degree performance reviews made the firm deliberate on whether to promote Parson to managing director.


Eventually, they gave him a candid feedback that he must mend his ways and would be promoted next year, only if his team members gave a feedback that he had improved.

Summing Up

Mavericks need to be handled tactfully and given their own space under the sun. That’s the only way they can flourish. But certainly, no matter how well your Kohli is performing, you can’t allow him/her unbridled powers. If you do so, you are endangering your organization’s long term brand value, business confidence and talent attraction ability.