The greatest Briton: Mike Brearley

If the BBC can do it, so can Personnel Today. We want to know which Briton
you rate as the greatest people manager and leader of all time. Personnel Today
has invited 10 leading figures in the field of management to nominate
individuals they believe are the best, and then convince you they are right. To
vote, visit the voting form where you will also find summaries of all 10
The voting closes on Tuesday 4th March 2003.

This week’s nominee is:

Mike Brearley

By Tim Yeo, Conservative MP for Suffolk South and shadow secretary of state
for trade and industry

Great leaders and managers feature in all walks of life. I have been
fortunate in both business and politics to work for and alongside managers and
leaders who commanded respect and instilled the motivation and confidence to

However, the person I have chosen held a position that can stretch a
person’s ability to lead and manage to the very limits. A post that involves
facing public criticism, handling powerful egos and delivering results in the
cut and thrust of heated battle, often against all the odds.

He was not the leader of the Conservative Party, as the description might
suggest. In fact, he held a public position that is possibly even tougher.

The role is captain of the England cricket team, and the man is Mike
Brearley. He was a cricketer whose batting skills fell short of the top rank,
but he is considered England’s best cricket captain in the last 50 years.
Brearley led England in 31 test matches, winning 18 of them and losing only
four. He was an inspired leader and motivator, and will always be remembered as
the man who brought the best out of Ian Botham in the Ashes series of 1981 – an
astonishing victory which has become part of cricket folklore.

Brearley was a prodigy in his youth, making many runs for Cambridge
University, and a triple century as captain of an MCC under-25 team touring
Pakistan in 1966-67. He then left the game for two years, concentrating on an
academic career, and resumed full-time cricket in 1971 as captain at Middlesex.

He was first picked for England to open against the formidable West Indian
pace attack in 1976, and was appointed captain when Tony Greig departed for
World Series Cricket. He may have been fortunate to take over a talented
England team that faced opponents weakened by the Kerry Packer defections. But
success really resulted from his deep understanding of cricket, his clear
thinking and decisiveness, and his outstanding ability to get the best out of
his players.

Brearley’s finest hour coincided with what many believe to be England’s
greatest Ashes triumph. In the summer of 1981, England were one down in the
series. Their talisman Botham had been sacked from the captaincy, and defeat at
the hands of the Australians looked certain. In these inauspicious
circumstances, Mike Brearley was handed back the captaincy.

After two days of the next test, England were dead and buried, following on
230 runs behind with odds of 500-1 to save the match. However, Brearley’s
influence was already evident. Botham had taken six wickets in the first
innings, and was encouraged by Brearley’s persistence in keeping him bowling
throughout the innings. The captain’s confidence in his brilliant all-rounder,
who had cut a dispirited figure on the pitch earlier in the season, was now
spectacularly rewarded. Botham made 149 runs following on, and when Bob Willis
captured eight wickets on the fifth day, the incredible comeback was complete.

The art of captaincy

Brearley later said that Botham was "very headstrong, a very strong
personality. He needed someone who would put his arm around him and tell him
about the immense talent he possessed. He needed someone who would remind him
of the role he had to play because of his unlimited ability".

Throughout that summer, Brearley reminded Botham of his abilities and led
England to inspired victories at Edgbaston and Manchester. The Ashes were
recaptured – a concept younger readers can only dream about.

Brearley’s skill was in motivating his team and commanding respect, despite
his own limited abilities. While Bobby Moore was as skilful a player as a
captain, the impact of Mike Brearley’s leadership was far greater than his
playing skills.

Following his retirement, Brearley wrote a definitive work on captaincy, The
Art of Captaincy, in 1985. His analysis of the captain’s importance received
attention across the academic spectrum.

In his introduction to the second edition of his book, published in 2001,
Brearley described the similarity between a team captain and an NHS manager.

Both must absorb and understand the anxieties of colleagues and team
members. Brearley concluded: "There is no substitute for the leader’s
capacity to bring people together in a common task, so that people come to take
pleasure in their joint and individual work."

These ideas formed the basis of his successful career in psychological
analysis, and Brearley is still in demand as a management consultant.

At first glance, my choice of manager may seem less serious than some.
However, many leaders are famous for personal skills and achievements, rather
than their ability to inspire their teams.

With a test batting average of 22, Brearley was only a moderately-skilled
international cricketer – but he was a great captain, able to motivate,
innovate, persist and inspire. These are essential skills for great managers
and leaders of individuals.

The last word should go to current England cricket captain, Nasser Hussein.
He said: "The man-management skills demonstrated by Brearley remain an

Sadly, it appears they are still badly needed.

Brearleys CV

28 April 1942 John Michael Brearley
was born in Harrow, Middlesex

1961 Educated at Cambridge

1971 Captain of Middlesex County Cricket Club

1976 Appointed captain of England and went on to lead the team
on 31 occasions

1981 Won the Ashes against huge odds

1983 Retired from the sport and became a successful cricket
correspondent, management author and consultant

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