James Anderson’s rise to elite performer
Within both sport and business, individuals are quickly identified as ‘high potentials’. Despite this, many fail to navigate the tricky transition from raw potential to sustained performance. This is certainly not the case for James Anderson, the English cricketer, who has very recently overtaken Sir Ian Botham as England’s all-time leading wicket-taker. A recent BBC article documented his rise from a talented 16 year old, to a record-breaking bowler. Below, we look at Anderson’s journey and explore how he translated his potential into sustained elite performance.
It is undeniable that Anderson was born with greater ability than most, playing for his local club’s first team at age 15. However, both former team-mates and coaches note that they could not have predicted Anderson’s future world-class performance, from his current ability. What is more, at an international level, Anderson’s first 20 tests for England were underwhelming. Ability was no longer enough for Anderson to succeed. This begs two questions: firstly, what accompanied Anderson’s natural ability to facilitate his transition from high potential to high performance? And secondly, how can organisations learn from this to develop their own high potentials?
The first factor was Anderson’s ability to learn and adapt to the highest level of cricket. Whilst the raw pace of his bowling brought success in the past, this was failing him at an international level. Rather than continuing to rely on the pace of his bowling, Anderson learnt to swing and cut the ball with great precision. A failure to achieve this may have led to a premature end to his England career. In the workplace, high potentials must also demonstrate such learning agility as existing skills may not bring success after transitioning to new roles. Indeed, an inability to learn new skills may lead to an unsuccessful transition, or worse, derailment.1
It would be a mistake to believe that Anderson’s path to the top has been a smooth one. In 2006, injury ruled Anderson out for an entire season. Anderson’s coach soon identified what had caused his injury, leading to a refinement and improvement of Anderson’s bowling action. Anderson’s coach, Kevin Shine, even admits “if Jimmy hadn’t got injured, he wouldn’t be half the bowler he is today”. This suggests to me that Anderson’s ability to bounce back is underpinned by remaining open-minded and using adversity as an opportunity to learn and develop. Similarly, within the workplace, those who appraise setbacks as ‘learning opportunities,’ are more likely to transition from high potential to high performance.2
Finally, opportunity is a necessary part of fulfilling potential. In the case of Anderson, his home county Lancashire originally chose not to offer him a place in their youth academy. Nonetheless, when Lancashire did offer him this opportunity he grabbed it with both hands. Michael Brown, a former team mate, reports that the improvements Anderson made were drastic. It is equally vital for organisations to provide their employees with the opportunity to reach their potential, may this be through coaching or providing challenges to stretch and test their current abilities.
In conclusion, James Anderson’s success highlights the key ingredients which are often forgotten once high potentials have been identified. Nevertheless, Anderson’s success truly highlights how extraordinary the results can be when ability is accompanied by a Learning Mindset, Personal Resilience, and opportunity.
1 McGrane, K (2013). Derailment: The Dark Side of Leadership. Lane4 White Paper
2 Dweck, C (2012). Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential. Robinson