Cricket Coach Paddy Upton's Lessons in Upskilling and Life Skills
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Player: Paddy Upton
Claim to fame: Head coach in international T20 cricket, a mental coach to professional athletes, a business coach, author, acclaimed speaker and a university professor.
Latest book: The Barefoot Coach
Paddy Upton’s career has included being mental conditioning and strategic leadership coach of the Indian cricket team when they achieved the world’s number one Test cricket ranking, and then won the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup.
He was performance director of the South African cricket team when they became the first team to simultaneously hold the world number one ranking in all three formats of the game and mental coach to professional athletes from ten countries and eleven different sports.
Most recently, he has penned his latest book, The Barefoot Coach, available in all good book stores.
Entrepreneur chatted to Paddy about what makes a leader truly great.
Q. How have you focused on your own self-learning?
Since leaving school and not knowing what to study at university, one of my mantras has always been, ‘keep moving forward, with wings spread wide’.
This kept me on track in terms of advancing my skills and focusing on learning – in any direction. What’s important is to keep seeking to know more and to always be better tomorrow.
Over three decades later, this is still relevant. It’s also led me to complete four degrees, including two masters’ degrees, and to already have had four different and relatively successful professions.
Q. Have you changed your perspective on learning and creating personal meaning?
Until my early 30s I looked for most of my learning and development ‘out there’, in books and new skills.
It was around this age, and soon after resigning from a four-year stint as full-time fitness trainer of the Proteas cricket team, that I hit my own crisis of meaning.
I touched the emptiness that was served up by the world of success, money and fame in which I’d been immersed and realized I needed to make some real changes.
I turned my search inward and embarked on a journey of self-awareness and self-mastery. I wanted to understand myself, my intentions, motivations, values and worldviews.
What did I want to accomplish in this world, and for this world? It’s a never-ending journey, and one I still pursue today.
Q. What advice would you offer other professionals in terms of upskilling?
I am always in search of new skills and knowledge, often from divergent fields and professions, which I then translate back into my work and life. I would recommend anyone, from any profession, do the same.
For myself, examples include translating business coaching to be relevant in sport coaching, and bringing techniques from improvisation theatre, movie-making and even big-wave surfing training to professional cricket.
Q. What has been the most significant thing you’ve learnt over the course of your career?
I have always known that as a leader, specifically a sports coach, I’m least effective when I operate out of ego.
Ego drives four behaviours: 1) to look good; 2) If we can’t look good, then it drives us to not look bad; 3) To be right; 4) If we can’t be right, then it drives us to not be wrong.
In all of these instances, ego drives us to serve our own agenda ahead of others, or the cause we are leading.
Despite knowing this, my biggest (and most emotionally painful) lesson came from one of my biggest professional errors.
I write about this very honestly in my book, where in seeking to gain recognition for the wonderful results that were happening in the Indian cricket team that Gary Kirsten and I had been coaching for the previous 18 months, I leaked some documentation to a media person.
My hope was that this person would write about the great work I was doing in the engine room of the revived Indian cricket team.
Instead, the opposite happened. Some quotes were taken out of context, which in turn fuelled a scandalous (but factually wrong) story that made headlines across the sport world.
Making it so much worse for me was that the scandal did not even mention me, but instead blamed and humiliated people very close and dear to me.
It required me to do a lot apologising and damage-repair to important relationships, and was a very painful lesson in just how effective (and ineffective) we can be when operating from ego.