Boundless Leadership: What poisoned the culture in Australian Cricket?

What would cause a professional sportsperson to risk their career with ball tampering? When did winning become more important than integrity? How does one let a decision like this stain their moral fabric?

We’ve seen this before of course. Who could forget Lance Armstrong when he finally confessed to drug doping on the Tour De France, with the explanatory, “Everyone does it.” The argument was that it’s not a fair playing field if you don’t dope.

It’s amazing what we will justify if we don’t have a strong moral code. In my new book, Loyalty, I explain how the best cultures, the most consistent and enduring ones, have a Culture Compass to which they hold themselves accountable. They know their values, they know the behaviours that line up with those,  they know their purpose and who they serve, and they know what results they want to produce. They have a system and a practice of building the Culture Compass into their recruitment, induction, and regular team engagements.

Google summarises its Culture Compass with a few key phrases. My favourite one is, “Don’t be evil”. One of the most successful corporate cultures is the All Blacks New Zealand Rugby team. Their Culture Compass code of conduct is summarised with this: “No dickheads.” Punchy and memorable!

So what of Australian Cricket? How does a winning team go so badly off track? Before we look at them, let’s look at ourselves.

Have you ever made a commitment that you stuck to, and then it gradually eroded away? Like that diet you swore black and blue would be the thing you commit to - this time. Then there was long day, with many disasters and hair-raising moments. You get home. There’s an open bottle of white wine. You know it will take the edge off. So you pour yourself a glass. No one will notice. Your butt did not suddenly morph in to the size of an elephant. No harm done...Until you reach for the chocolate.

We are likely more forgiving of diet breaches. We find it easiest to break promises to ourselves.

But what about other aspects of our life? Do you find yourself exaggerating a little about your child’s achievements? Do you lie a little about your age? About your salary and benefits just to get one up on annoying cousin Susan? Do you take that extra packet of post-it notes home from the office for personal use?

No one will notice. No harm done.

Here’s the thing: How we do ONE thing is how we do EVERYTHING.

If we lie a little, cheat a little, steal a little, it is still lying, cheating, and stealing! These little moral glitches creep to become bigger ones. The little choices had no impact, no one said anything, no one noticed, who is it harming anyway. Before we know it, we step in to bigger cheats: we fudge the edges of a contract, we lie on our tax return, we double charge a customer by adding a few extra hours to the bill.

If we do not have integrity in small things, we make it easy not to have it on the big things too.

My mentor Peter Cook has taken an oath of always telling the truth as part of his Ishaya meditation practice. Being truthful in all our dealings is the calling card of integrity. It is a strong Culture Compass finely tuned. And yet when we live by this kind of Culture Compass, life is simpler because we are always deeply resonant. We are a crystal chime of integrity.

So what led to the Culture Creep in Australian Cricket? Winning became the top value. Arrogance bred insults and poor behaviour. No one really called them on it! It’s like the loud and domineering staff member who everyone resents, but no one challenges.

If our businesses and organisations and teams are to be successful, we need to agree what we want to be known for, what is most important to us, and how we show up in the world. We need to also agree that we will hold each other accountable to these Culture Compass agreements. We need to commit to calling each other out if we slip, for the sake of what we are building together, and for our individual integrity. If we don’t, then the culture creep begins, and we too end up in a pit devoid of respect.

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