Image of Lendl and Murray

The value of a Critical Friend

I’m not sure about you but I’m finding my identity as a Brit has been challenged somewhat recently.  You see as far as sport is concerned we’ve always been the plucky ones who generally seem to be most at home snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  And yet in recent days we’ve had the British and Irish Lions winning, Chris Froome in the Yellow Jersey in the Tour de France and of course Andy Murray’s sensational win at Wimbledon at the weekend.  Perhaps you, like me, thought that our Olympic and Paralympic success in 2012 would be a mere diversion on the road to mediocrity and yet it seems not.

I’m sure there is much we can learn from all the great sportsmen and women out there whose dedication and hard work have yielded such impressive results, however, it’s not this I want to dwell on because I was particularly struck by some of Andy Murray’s comments about his relationship with Ivan Lendl:

“He’s made me learn more from the losses that I’ve had than maybe I did in the past.  He’s always told me exactly what he thought and in tennis, it’s not always that easy to do in a player/coach relationship.  The player is sometimes the one in charge but he’s been extremely honest with me. If I work hard, he’s happy. If I don’t, he’s disappointed and he’ll tell me.”

In other words, amongst other roles, Lendl took on the role of a critical friend.  He tells it how it is – encourages and praises when things are going well, and isn’t afraid to give an honest critique when it’s needed.

It begs a question, if this can be so effective as to turn Murray from being the ‘nearly man’ to Champion, what about you?  Who is your critical friend?  It’s a particularly pertinent question to those of us in leadership roles; how often do we really welcome challenge from our peers and those we lead?  How do we respond when someone is brave enough to be that critical friend?  Each of us has a choice, we can be open to challenge, listen and seek to understand or we can reject the gift being offered.

When Andy lifted that trophy last Sunday, I bet he appreciated the value of listening to his critical friend.


Image courtesy of the BBC

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