Becoming the “go-to” player

Every team’s got one. And I used to be one back in my teens while playing cricket with my friends. I was good — enough to make it to the school’s cricket team and to be the first person picked when teams get formed* right before we commence our session in the neighbourhood playground.

That said, I wasn’t great either, at least not all the time. There were times when I just wasn’t in form to score the biggies or pitch a ball at a decent line and length. And those were the times when the captains would pick me the last or perhaps second-last**! That hurt. A lot.

I wish I knew what I know now back then but that of course wasn’t to be. I translated being in-form to getting picked first although I couldn’t do much about being in the “form.” At least that’s what I thought back then. Little did I knew about the dynamics of performance in the game of life.

I love to draw parallels from sports to life. There are just way too many for me to ignore. One of them is the idea of being a high performer — it takes a lot of diligence, preparation, and grit to be one in sports. They not only get “picked” but also get everyone’s admiration and respect.

The biggest obstacles in a player’s performance are injuries, mindset, and perhaps to some extent weather conditions. They are significant enough to ruin people’s careers! And it’s not uncommon to see athletes with great potential ruin their future just because they weren’t in the right mindset (like failing to perform because it was too sunny?) or got injured.

Being a corporate athlete isn’t any different, except that there’s a lot of agency in what you can do. Injuries are uncommon, weather doesn’t have any influence on the workload that you have, which leaves us with just two things — your mindset and the environment. Thankfully, both can be influenced.

And this means that being a high-performer means you’re going to deliver results not just when you’re in the comfort zone but even when resources are few, momentum is low, when the load is already too heavy, or when your leader is absent, or perhaps there’s just too little time. I know, that’s a massive commitment. Perhaps, too much of an ask? Maybe. But it’s the truth when it comes to high performers. Anything less basically means you’ll be getting picked last.

In sports or business, you don’t become the go-to person by accident. It’s a major commitment on your part to not just show up as your best but also do your best. I honestly think being a high-performer at the workplace is so much more achievable than sports. Why? There’s a lot less competition. Most people aren’t willing to go the extra mile let alone delivering results or lifting the load.

As you can tell, this isn’t easy. Becoming the go-to player requires one to make uncomfortable choices that are totally worth it should becoming a better leader and professional are your top career career goals. The question is — are you willing to make that choice?

* In gully cricket (as we call it), teams are formed randomly. Call it a “self-organising” system. Among the bunch of guys, two of them (usually the oldest among the lot) would volunteer to captain and start picking their players randomly. The first person to get picked is usually their trump card… I was one of them. Most of the time, if not all the time.

** if I was lucky to have another under-performer (or perhaps a good-for-nothing-fella for cricket… a human placeholder so to speak) in the team.

By Sunil Nair

Nurturing leaders of tomorrow.

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