SPECIAL EPISODE - Lisa Sthalekar on leadership on and off the field
By The Australian Institute of Company Directors
Lisa Sthalekar is a former Australian cricketer and is on the boards of the Chappell Foundation and the Federation of International Cricketers' Assocations. In this special episode to celebrate International Women's Day and the T20 Women's Cricket World Cup, Lisa talks about how leadership in sports translates to the wider world, what she admires in a leader, changing the inherent bias in cricket language and the growing diversity of the sport. [01:02] How did you become a world class cricketer? What’s your story? Born in India, Lisa was adopted by a white English mother and an Indian father. Lisa said that when she was young she followed her Dad around everywhere, and cricket happened to be one of his passions so she was naturally drawn to the sport. Growing up going to cricket games at the SCG, Lisa quickly developed a deep curiosity but soon realised the barriers that existed around girls playing cricket in Australia. It wasn’t until Lisa was around 10 that her dad spoke to the local boys team and asked if she could play with them, and while they were hesitant about a girl playing for an all boys club this is where she did end up playing and this is where her passion for the game was developed. [03:09] Did you believe this was the norm that only boys could play cricket? Unbeknownst to the world of women’s cricketing Lisa learned through motivation by both herself and her parents that there were a number of opportunities for her to progress in Australian cricket, however, she also knew she had to get out of her comfort zone in order to do so. [04:31] Was the idea of Cricket as a career unthinkable growing up? Even following her retirement in 2013, Lisa was unsure what her next steps would be. Throughout her career, Lisa was juggling both full time work, training commitments and taking leave when she went on tours for cricket Australia. While Lisa was consistently one of the highest paid women Cricketers throughout her career, the economy of women’s cricket didn’t allow for total focus, however, Lisa notes that seven years on from her retirement some women are getting paid triple figures and opportunities are growing. [05:31] What do you think being a leader of sports team and being a leader in the business world have in common? Lisa believes that a leader, regardless of whether they are in business or on a sporting team, have a clear goal and can communicate with large, varying groups of people on how to achieve this goal. Finding a common goal amongst a group of people and using your passion to extract this from them is difficult, but essential in becoming a good leader. [06:57] Can you give us some examples of how the language used in women’s sport is changing to fit the more inclusive and progressive nature of sports nowadays? Being a commentator Lisa understands that the history of many sports, including cricket, has been dominated by male players, announcers and terminology. However, she’s noticing that with a change in opportunity, people around the game are beginning to understand the importance of using gender-neutral terms. For example, batsman into batter, or man of the match into player of the match. Lisa believes this is important as it teaches the youth watching that there is this opportunity for women to participate and succeed. Lisa also believes it’s the role of the commentator as the first line of reception for these young kids to be the pioneers of this change. [10:29] Who are some great leaders you’ve admired? Former New South Wales and Australia Cricket Captain, Belinda Clark was deeply influential for Lisa as she was an instrumental leader throughout nearly her entire professional career. Lisa believed that Belinda was passionate and showed time and time again what it took to come back from adversity and get better following defeat. She said that her ability to understand her team and adjust her leadership style gave her the longevity and capability to lead both the veterans and the younger players throughout her career.[13:09] Where do you think this growth around women’s participation in all aspects of sports is coming from? Speaking on the progression of the cricketing world, Lisa understands the traditionalist view of men being the dominant participants and commentators of cricket on the world stage. During the 2010’s Lisa recognises the Indian Premier League as a league that acknowledged the potential audience they could reach if they included more women commentary and participation on the world stage. This quickly transitioned into other markets in England and Australia. Not only does Lisa believe the inclusion of women opens up more of the game to a wider audience but it freshens up a sport that was deeply rooted in old models of equality. [15:55] What’s happening at the grassroots level of women’s participation in cricket? Lisa believes that the exposure women’s cricket is getting on TV has contributed to this change in participation for cricket youth. Lisa also recognises that by exposing young girls to this level of professionalism, they’re motivated to press the competitive nature of the game and progress the talent level and commitment based on opportunity. [16:58] With this change, what do you see happening with women and sport in the broader context over the next few years? Lisa understands that further progression of not only women’s cricket but women’s sport in Australia will rely on the level of viewership the game receives. Cricket Australia has given the women’s sport exposure and the next step will be the league positioning itself to increase sponsorship, contracts and investments in development. [18:31] With the I.C.C Women’s T20 World Cup being held in Australia this year and the final taking place in Melbourne on International Women’s Day, the event is aiming to break the world record for the largest audience at a standalone women’s sporting match. What would it mean globally if this was achieved? Lisa hopes and believes this event will be like many other historic Australian sporting moments, likening it to Kathy Freeman winning gold in the 2000 Sydney Olympics, everybody will stop and recognise this occasion as a landmark. The resources and engagement the I.C.C and organising committee have placed on the event reassures Lisa that the opportunity’s and environment being established for the younger generations of women cricketers is one that will sustain and permeate. Key Learnings A leader has clear goals and a clear direction on how to get there and they have the ability to communicate with their team understanding that everybody receives and reacts to motivation differently. A crucial aspect of being a good leader is your ability to adapt your leadership style over time and predicated by the community or person you’re trying to lead. In exposing young women to the professional and growing opportunity for women cricketers this is creating a more competitive pool of talent in the grassroots competitions. Women athletes understand their responsibility as public figures and their roles as models for younger women. One of the key determinants of women’s exposure and growth on the national stage is an increase in viewership. Quotable Quotes “So there is this passion, this love that is festering underneath everything. You've got to kind of use that to an advantage. Leaders of sport are able to enhance or extract that from everyone else.” - Lisa Sthalekar “They're not in the back pages for the wrong reasons. They're not on the front pages, for the wrong reasons, they're there because of what they've done, their skill, their athleticism. I'd like to think in the next 5 to 10 years that female athletes start to dominate this country because we have been dominating for a long period of time but now it's our time to shine.” – Lisa Sthalekar on women athletes as role models. “It's going to be one of those moments. Firstly, if we just break it down to Australian sports, where was I when Cathy Freeman won gold? Where was I when Pat Rafter was playing Wimbledon final? Those types of moments in sport that you go, oh, I know exactly what I was doing, where I was.” – Lisa Sthalekar Resources and Links If you would like to gain knowledge in governance, and develop as a director in your industry or field, visit https://aicd.companydirectors.com.au/. If you would like to learn more about how Commbank is ensuring women are advancing their growth in business, visit https://www.commbank.com.au/women-in-focus.html. If you would like to view Lisa’s achievements and experience or connect with her please visit her LinkedIn, https://www.linkedin.com/in/lisa-sthalekar-b1b0249a/?originalSubdomain=au. If you would like to learn more about Lisa’s cricketing achievements and involvement in the sport see her bio here, https://www.cricket.com.au/players/lisa-sthalekar/NUw3gaspuU-9m8QE8yyP6w. Host of the Board Level podcast, Catherina Fox is one of Australia’s leading commentators on women and the workforce. If you’re interested in learning more about Catherine and the issues she’s currently discussing, visit https://www.abc.net.au/news/catherine-fox/5244818. The Board Level podcast is produced by Nicole Hatherly, recorded at RadioHub Studios with post production by Cooper Silk, Iain Wilson and Matthew Lane.