Saturday, February 28, 2009

M. S Dhoni - Leadership Lessons for Aspiring Leaders

Many of us many a time might have realized that leadership is not about a position but an attitude. It is all about making a difference to one’s own self and others. It is an inner shift, a calling, an urge, a pull, a realization and a cause that kick starts the leadership or changes journey for many. Over the years I have looked for a role model, or a story of a leader that is embedded in an experience that is life changing and learning for every aspiring leader. It might be a great idea to draw some lessons from the leadership style of successful people around us from all walks of life.

My search ended the other day in an In flight magazine while I was traveling from Chennai to Portblair. It was an interview with New Youth Icon of our Country, the Captain of Indian Cricket Team, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Born on 7th July 1981 in a small town called Ranchi at Jharkhand, he announced his arrival into the international arena in 2004-05 with a bang. M.S Dhoni has come a long way with his unique leadership style and aggressive brand of cricket.

Dhoni has made Team India, the best team in the world today with his charismatic leadership. Ever since he became a captain, Team India has performed like a champion in all forms of the game.

A young captain leading a team of youngsters in a game. I am sure,not many hopes were pinned on the team that traveled to South Africa from England, especially after the big three – Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly – pulled out of the inaugural edition of Twenty20.

Still, the team led by a Mahendra Singh Dhoni reached the finals to take on arch rival Pakistan. On their way to Durban, they knocked out biggies like England, South Africa and Australia, and even defeated Pakistan in the first round in a bowl-out.

Against Australia and later against Pakistan in the finals, he trusted the inexperienced Joginder Singh to bowl the last over! This too was ignoring the tested bowlers he has in the team.

He displayed tremendous potential of a great leader after he led India to victory in the finals of Twenty20 against Pakistan. The icing on the cake was the triangular series win against Australia in Australia in 2008. And the journey continues with a clean sweep against Srilankan's in their own land.

The first thing he said to Ravi Shasthri during the presentation after India won the action packed India-Australia semis was “Before I start Ravi, yesterday I read an article on Cricinfo. It says according to you Aussie's are the favorites. I think me and my boys proved you wrong and I think you are happier than us." In fact when I heard it, I told myself, here is one guy who knows how to touch the right nerve of the people!

After the series win, look at his statement - "It doesn't matter whether people say we are the best team or not or whether we have won or lost the previous match. In every match, one has to start from the scratch. It is important that we carry the momentum in the game. During the series we had the motivation, we had the plans and most importantly we executed those plans well." Doesn't it speak of a great leader?

When Ganguly was playing his last match, as a gesture of respect, or so it was claimed, Dhoni asked Ganguly to take charge of the team when the ninth Aussie wicket fell. Whenever he has an opportunity, he showers his players with praises.

Well, I guess its time for Corporate India to learn from this young leader. In business, most of us with no experience head on against the global biggies, just the way as the Indian cricket team had no track record to back them against in-form teams like South Africa, England and Australia in the Twenty20 Cricket. And the fearlessness and confidence have helped the Dhoni's devils that they are globally the best. That tells us, Dhoni's leadership kit mean a lot for Indian Industry and Corporate Leaders.

I think managing under change is a vital attribute to be learned from the leadership under Dhoni. A good leader doesn't mind going out and exploring. Change in business is very rapid. Platforms, markets, products keep changing, and when change happens, a new and fresh leadership perspective comes handy, just the way it did for a new cricket format like Twenty20, which is a completely new and disruptive change. Dhoni's risk taking ability, inclusiveness and time-pressure qualities are good examples of leaders on the business side.

If you notice, instead of pressing teammates to win, Dhoni told them to just enjoy the game. Also, he has mentioned at several forums that he believes to live in the present and not worry about future or past. That's another management tip. Too much strategizing for the future is not recommendable in a dynamic business environment. Dhoni's leadership style represents teamwork, empowerment and confidence.

Remember, he gave the last over to Joginder Sharma who doesn't have much a track record. But it worked ! This is super critical in grooming people. Most leaders tend to move people who are low on confidence to less complex tasks and away from the limelight. That kills their confidence even further and gives them the impression that the leader has lost confidence in them. On the contrary, by putting such a person in front of a challenging task, it tells the person that the leader has confidence in his/her abilities and will be fired up to put in 120 per cent. This happened with Joginder Sharma in two critical matches, where he was hit all around the ground and still given the last over. He delivered on both instances!

Dhoni's style is not just aggressive, it is more rational. Even in the absence of seniors, he could lead the team to success. This tells us, with a "B" team, it is easy to focus on getting the best out of the team - it gives opportunity and environment for the untested to show themselves and become stars.

Learning from this, even in our business, putting the team before ourselves, and putting the organization before the team, is the single biggest challenge in execution. At the end of the day it is about joining the dots (aligning the strengths and weaknesses of individuals) to work for the team rather than against.

Leaders need to be assertive yet humble and must rarely allow their personal egos to be an obstacle for the success of their organization and that's what M.S. Dhoni showing us through his current leadership style.
Another learning from Dhoni is about, Optimal utilization of resources, which is vital for any business. Instead of giving excuses for lack of best resources, especially with the current scenario economic crisis, it is better to perform in whatever resources a leader has to his disposal. Interestingly, Dhoni never complains about absence of a Sachin or Sourav or Rahul Dravid.

What more Dhoni has exemplified that a leader has to be a consistent performer himself and that is demonstrated in the way he has been entrusted with the crown of captain ship at such an young age.

I also believe, another leaf out of Dhoni's kitty is his 'talent management' skills. He utilizes every team member at his disposal and brings out the best performance whether he is a senior or junior player. He provides opportunity for every team member to prove themselves and contribute to the best of their abilities.

His 'people management' skills tell us, he is truly a great leader. When team members see their leader calm in extreme situations, they will not be rattled. It will enable them to focus on their work and do what is expected of them. Dhoni was always calm - whether the bowler started off the last over in the finals with a wide ball or the batsman played a series of dot balls in a slog over.

In short, Dhoni gives the following Leadership tips for every aspiring Leader :

1. We should be a performer and we should demonstrate the same to our team. Performance is itself the most effective communication down the line.

2. Leader has to be humble in way to consider part and parcel of the team and not above the team.

3. Give genuine respect and trust to the team members.

4. Allow them to experiment and take risk.

5. In case of failure, encourage him / her to introspect and do it next time with more vigour and better planning.

6. Make every one in the team feel that , even though we are leaders, we are just one among them.

7. We should also believe in the ones who failed in the Team. At crucial times a team member who was not able to deliver might do miracles.

8. As a leader, be calm in extreme situations and lead the team from front.

9. Share the credit of success with your team members and praise them in public.

10. Above all believe in every member in the team.

In a nutshell Dhoni's story is all about an ordinary man doing extraordinary things and a role model for every aspiring leader. Each one of us could use this model, pattern and design to create our leadership journey.

Fire in the Belly, Sweetness in Words and a Cool Head, Dhoni has arrived with a New Leadership style.

Any takers?


P.M.Ramesh said...

Hi Shamim ,
The write up is truely inspiring and at the same time it remindes me of Steven Covey ( the author of 7 Basis Habits) he recently came out with the "the 8th habit where by he says "Leadership is a choice not a Position" Simply put — at its most elemental and practical level — leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they come to see it in themselves. Think about this definition.
Is this not the essence of the kind of leadership that influences and truly endures?
To communicate the worth and potential of others so clearly, so powerfully and consistently, that they really come to see it in themselves is to set in motion the process of seeing, doing and becoming.
I think this is what Dhoni does knowingly or unknowingly. It is up to the people to interprete his actions and further do research on the neverending debate on the on the true essence of leadership .

Three cheers!!!

Anonymous said...

Fully agree with you, M S is an outstanding leader and every leader should learn from him. After loosing the finals of IPL, the way he pulled together his team mates to motivate them shows what a true leader he is. Thanks for writing such and inspirational story and wish you good luck. Vipin Chawdhary, Delhi

biju said...

Hi Shamim,
another great learning from you. the true fact is that we can find some lessons in every achiever...the challenge is understanding the lesson. By this MS story you have extracted the true essence of his qualities and explained how it can be related to coporate success. another good piece of invention from you..GO follow...Biju Antony

Anonymous said...

I read your article on Dhoni and found it quite a nice one. Well done. Look how well Dhoni batted today to lead India to win over NZ.
You will be glad to know that the first-ever article to be published on my blog was on Dhoni. You can read it by clicking
Let us stay in touch.

Arun said...

Dhoni is an inspiration of how to be positive among pressure ..When my dear friend shamim points out him to be rational, I am fine with that ! but i relate him as an aggression .. an aggression, where he doesn't abuse himself with words or body languages .but he just helps to reorganize ourselves even as viewers.. hes an energy , he imparts a belief ,he makes us feel we just gonna be better next time .even in his press meets u see attitude in a positive way ...when he acknowledges failure of his team .. he doesn't acknowledge failure as failure ..but he makes sure the team gets motivated and even shower praises and respect for the opponents.. and for me its dhoni...aggression unplugged

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Hi Shamim,
Interesting,methodical and inspiring, but bit lengthy.
Regards, Tom

Anonymous said...

Dear Mr Shamim,

Cricket is basically a team game and quite a few captains have mainfested most of the qualities of MSD.Frankly he is too young to be put in a pedestal as you have made out for him.For Leadeship may be you and I should look at Ratan Tata,Kiran Bedi IPS,Narendra Modi,all of whom have success stories behind them and yet have big dreams ahead of them.
Any kind of leadership must have a social angle to it.Without that leadership is not complete.Please do not take any community meaning to the names I have noted.That is just incidental.

Best Regards,

sandeep said...

Hi,Article is nice

Gayathri said...

Inspiring Article!!

Gayathri said...

Inspiring Article!! Keep posting:)

Jigna P said...

Dhoni just rocks man

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