Opinion | If the field is Virat Kohli’s workplace, then his aggressive behaviour should be called out
It’s possible to create a company without a toxic culture, and win at sports without being rude
Virat Kohli’s aggression has found wide-spread support from a lot of the cricketing fraternity, though a few influential voices like Sunil Gavaskar and Sanjay Manjrekar have been critical of Kohli’s on-field behaviour. The extent of support for Kohli’s antics among the general public can be gauged by the savage manner in which Naseeruddin Shah was trolled for strongly expressing his disapproval of Kohli’s behaviour.
The corporate world too has its share of stormy petrels. Travis Kalanick, the founder-chief executive officer (CEO) of Uber is an outstanding example. Uber was growing gangbusters and its valuation was skyrocketing. Everyone knew of Uber’s cavalier attitude towards rules and regulation. There were many early signals of this toxic culture. But nobody uttered a word, like what’s happening today with Kohli’s on-field behaviour. Kalanick, like Kohli, was untouchable. Uber’s culture explicitly called out phrases like “principled confrontation” and “always be hustling”. Over a period of time these phrases were used liberally to justify any behaviour to get short-term results. Until an ex-employee, Susan Fowler, in a blog post accused Uber of creating a “bro culture” of unmitigated gender discrimination and sexual harassment. That was the beginning when investors realized the implications and instituted an inquiry. Eventually Kalanick had to resign.
The sad reality is that companies, and now it seems even sports bodies, are reluctant to crack down on bad behaviour if the person demonstrating this is delivering exceptional results. In some roles, the results are pretty unambiguous like in sales and sports. And, the more senior the individual or the more striking the results, the more difficult it becomes to mobilize support to take corrective action.
I recall an incident in one of the companies I worked for, where the top salesman and rainmaker was consistently coming across as un-collaborative and churlish. Most large enterprise deals are won based on collaborative efforts between different teams, though this individual had managed to win a couple of them solo. His churlish behaviour was creating tensions in the teams. The CEO I worked with then, took the call to let him go and we were much better off!
That CEO believed in evaluating leaders on three parameters: performance, potential and values. We would discover a few leaders who were top performers and showed all the signs of high potential but were poor on values. We had to have a “come to Jesus” conversation with these leaders and if things didn’t change they had to go. Jack Welch called such a leader a “horse’s ass” and had said that if you get such a leader out of the place, the game changes for the good.
The point I am trying to make is that you can create a great technology company without having a toxic culture. And that you can win at sports without being uncivil or rude.
Bjorn Borg allowed his racquet to do the talking on the court. It was such an awesome sight watching “Ice-Borg” play calmly and crush tantrum throwing opponents like John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. Similarly, Sachin Tendulkar’s aggression was all about focusing and letting his bat do the talking. Recall how Tendulkar single handedly-crushed the Australians at Sharjah in a spectacular desert storm. Both of these sportspeople demonstrated unambiguously that one didn’t need to be boorish to be a winner.
We already have so much of uncalled for aggression everywhere that it doesn’t help to have one of the country’s biggest role models further aggravating this by influencing impressionable minds and getting them to believe that aggression is what you need to win at all costs. India is a country where there is intense friction in everyday life. There is no need to fan the flames by suggesting that unprovoked aggression is the way to doing better in life.
In my opinion, no matter what, bad behaviour must not be tolerated. It creates long term damage on the collective psyche of a company, or in the case of Kohli, the country. No one, including Kohli, is indispensable. Someone should certainly have this conversation with him and I have no doubt we wouldn’t be worse off for this.
T.N. Hari is head (HR) at Bigbasket.com and adviser to several venture capital firms and start-ups.
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