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Do nice guys make the best leaders?

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8th December, 2019

Kane Williamson typifies the notion that nice guys can be great sportsmen.

The Black Caps skipper is acknowledged as one of the nice guys of international cricket. His display at the recent Cricket World Cup was professionalism personified amid a result that could have brought out the worst in a captain.

New Zealand skipper Kane Williamson.

(Photo by Action Foto Sport/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

There must be a certain level of niceness to be a national team leader such as Williamson. There aren’t that many bad boys who have become captain. If you think of international captains throughout history, the majority have all had a respect and like for other people.

But Williamson appears to have taken it to another level. Has there ever been a controversial word uttered from his mouth?

What held Shane Warne back from being captain of the Australian cricket team? Manoj Badale, the co-owner of the Rajasthan Royals franchise, once informed Warne that he was “the best captain Australia never had”. With his cricket brain and ability to motivate players, what personality trait was missing that could have made him a great leader?

Ian Botham was the same: great individual talent like Warne, but was niceness missing? Is it an ability to remove self from the equation and think of others?

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Will the bad boy – surrounded by controversy and negative headlines – be truly as great as the nice guy? Nick Kyrgios and Bernard Tomic are prime examples in comparison to Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. John McEnroe is an exception, where greatness was achieved while being a controversial figure. Tiger Woods has gone through a transformation from an arrogant, selfish person to now being a more likeable, reflective character.

Tim Paine is an example of a certain type of nice guy leader who needed to change a team culture that was destroying itself.

Tim Paine

(Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

The objective was to create a team environment rather than one of self-interested individuals. Someone such as a Michael Clarke could never have brought about a similar transformation. Paine, Williamson and Joe Root appear to be similar characters wanting to implement the same team cultures where winning can be achieved through fair play.

It will be interesting to watch the Kane Williamson approach in the upcoming series against Australia where older Australians will still remember past sledging and underarm days replaced by the nice guy style.


There is a part of me that would want the Black Caps to shock the Australians and adopt a full-on sledging approach.

The following article in The Guardian back in 2004 details what happens when a nice guy approach is dropped.

“There is a story that soon will pass into cricket legend,” Mike Selvey wrote.

“Last winter, midway through a one-day international against South Africa in Auckland, the New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming, Test cricket’s man-in-black, cool-dude skipper, let loose such a tirade of abuse in the direction of his opposite number Graeme Smith, who was about to embark on a run chase, that the Proteas captain lost his composure, his wicket and eventually the series.”

Can’t see Kane doing that!