"Attitudes are contagious. Are yours worth catching?"
- Australian Men’s Cricket Team slogan, 2001 tour of India.
I recently attended a fascinating talk by Adam Gilchrist, former captain of the Australian men’s cricket team, organised by the Australia-UK Chamber of Commerce here in London.
Gilchrist told the story of the Australian team's tour of India in 2001 when Steve Waugh was captain and Gilchrist was vice-captain.
Australia toured India for a series of test and one-day matches that year.
Despite great success at home and abroad over many years, leading into this tour Australia had not won a test series in India in 31 years. The last time was in 1969.
Steve Waugh, captain of the touring Australians, had recalled previous tours of India where Australia had lost time and time again.
For Waugh, Australia winning a test series in India was the 'Final Frontier'.
He had observed that in previous Indian tours Australian cricketers had often found excuses for why the team had not performed well on the sub-continent.
The pitches were rigged, the stadiums were crowded, the hotels were not good, the food was dodgy, the umpires were bad.
And so it went on.
For years Australian teams had been coming up with excuses for why they hadn't performed well in India.
It was also apparent in past tours that when some team members started complaining about touring in India, it became infectious with other team members also starting to complain and find excuses.
It became an infectious attitude among the team.
So when he was captain Waugh decided that for the 2001 tour things had to change.
He decided that rather than try to find excuses for why they performed poorly, the Australian cricket team would reset its mindset and take responsibility for how they performed.
So he and the team adopted this slogan: “Attitudes are infectious. Are yours worth catching?”.
Waugh used this slogan to challenge the Australian players to think about how they approached the Indian tour.
It called on the team members to worry about themselves rather than external factors.
To think about their own attitudes, how those attitudes were affecting other team members and, in turn, what impact that was having on the performance of the team on the field.
Hearing this story reminded me of my own experiences of watching when the attitudes of a small number of co-workers - both positive and negative - started infecting other people in the workplace.
People moaning and complaining about circumstances, focusing on faults in other peoples’ performance, negative gossiping behind peoples’ backs, blaming other people or factors as excuses for their own inability to complete their jobs, not taking responsibility for their own approach and actions – all these things can be infectious in a work environment.
It might only take a small number of people in the office to take this approach before others in the office start accepting this as the accepted norm, lose faith in the purpose at hand and adopt these behaviours themselves.
This can lead to toxic office politics, excuses for not delivering, a culture of mediocrity, lack of trust between co-workers and, ultimately, the team not performing to the best of its abilities.
Similarly, positive attitudes can be infectious and can lead to greater team performance and a fantastic place to work.
Team members who embrace the challenges being thrown at them, accept the problems are there and work out how to overcome them. Being prepared to accept failure in themselves and others as a way of learning, supporting other members of the team when they are down, taking responsibility for their own mistakes or when they don’t quite hit the mark in terms of performance, taking a positive approach to overcoming adversity together as part of a team.
These, too, can be infectious.
Positive attitudes in the workplace can infect people just as much as negative attitudes.
And, in all of this, leadership is crucial.
If the leaders of an organisation or a team are not leading on this from the front and taking a positive, supportive attitude to these behaviours, it’s difficult for other team members to adopt the same approach.
Such was Steve Waugh’s leadership that when he became captain of the Australian team he had had enough of Australia losing in India and blaming others for it.
He wanted the story to change, so he took the issue head on as leader.
As it happened, Australia didn’t win the 2001 test series in India.
Half way through the three-test series that year, Australia looked set to win its second test and clinch the series, until VVS Laxman hit 281 runs (as you do) and Australia lost after choosing to enforce the follow-on, only the third team in history to do so.
India still managed to win that match and, ultimately, the series.
India were, and still are, a bloody good team.
But, as Adam Gilchrist pointed out, he took the same attitude to India when he captained the Australian team for most of its 2004 tour of India.
He took Waugh’s mantra and challenged the 2004 Australian squad in a similar way.
And, in 2004, under Gilchrist’s captaincy, they won.
Australia beat India in a test series on Indian soil for the first time since 1969.
They broke the sub-continent hoodoo that had plagued the Australian men’s team for a more than a generation.
Gilchrist reckons it was Waugh’s decision in 2001 to change attitudes and challenge the team on its approach that led to success in 2004.
For him it was proof that attitudes are contagious and can be both positive and negative.
So, the question is: are your attitudes worth catching …… ???