When do you resign from the job of your dreams? When the job of your dreams turns into a nightmare.
Andrew Strauss's surprise resignation from the captaincy of English cricket has been attributed by some observers to the saga over Kevin Pietersen, whose derogatory text messages to South African players entered the public arena. No doubt they played a part, and the neat symmetry here – Strauss was appointed captain after another KP episode, this time with former coach Peter Moores – won't have been lost on England's dressing room. The main problem with KP has never been his ego; rather it's that the man with the talent to be England's greatest batsman ever happens to be a South African.
But with characteristic dignity Strauss this week explained that his own poor form and waning powers as a batsman were the principal cause of his departure. I sometimes wonder what role the sudden and accelerating balding of his head has played in diminishing his confidence. His honesty about being past his best is refreshing; and if he has offered some lessons on when to leave, his exemplary reign, in which England won the Ashes at home and abroad and became World No 1, offers some lessons on how to lead too. When he comes to set up the Strauss School of Management, and get paid handsomely for presentations in the City, I suspect he may have some of the following things to say.
First, there is no substitute for good character. Strauss has a decency honed by schooling at Radley, an economics degree from Durham, and a strong family. He was also a brilliant, clear communicator, articulating an inspiring vision at the start of his tenure: make England the best side in cricket. You can't take people with you unless you tell them – all of them – where you're going and why.
Other lessons he also personified from the outset: work harder than every member of your team, because no team can carry a lazy leader. Strauss's professionalism was evinced by how hard he trained, which in turn helped to make him the most successful catcher in English history.
People respond to responsibility, so give them the space and freedom to excel. Be ultra-personal, identify each individual's strengths and then nurture them. Strauss showed his emphasis on the personal with hand-written letters to every member of the team that played at Lord's.
Finally, be lucky – captaincy is 90 per cent luck, as my hero Richie Benaud put it – and at all costs don't let your enemies infiltrate your ranks on false pretences.