By K Sudarshan
Managing Partner- EMA Partners India & Regional VP – Asia
MS Dhoni, India’s most successful cricket captain is well on his way to be regarded as one of the greatest leaders the game has seen. In the past, people have attributed his success to luck, timing, good fortune and the likes. But on closer analysis of his success, we see a clear pattern emerging. Dhoni’s leadership style offers invaluable lessons to managers at all levels.
Hailing from a humble background, Dhoni never let this aspect hinder his style or behavior. In fact, he managed to channelize this raw rustic energy to his brutal on-field performances. He was never shy of expressing himself in any given situation. In a competitive corporate world, you are often judged by your past or stereotyped and it is important to maintain a positive ego at all times.
In a hierarchy led environment, Dhoni was catapulted to captaincy ahead of several established players in a team laden with stars and former captains. He took his time and didn’t interfere in their proven methods and managed to extract the best out of these stars at most times without ruffling feathers. Many young managers who inherit legacy organizations face this challenge at the workplace.
Dhoni did not rush through with change in personnel and team culture. He first established his credibility and over time dealt with this issue and managed the transition through the process of natural attrition and performance management. Most CEOs confronted with change management issues at the workplace will do well to take a leaf out of MSD’s book and not take the ‘bull in a china shop’ approach while dealing with change.
Dhoni dealt with his early success with a lot of maturity with his feet firmly on the ground, which eventually led to his elevation. It requires great degree of level headedness and humility to handle fame and money at an early age. In a corporate context, early success need not lead to brash behavior towards colleagues and customers. We have seen that, at times, young managers who see success early lose their balance and face early career burnouts.
Ability to stay calm and keep his cool with a seemingly uncluttered mind is Dhoni’s greatest gift as a leader. This soothes the nerves of the rest of the team and ensures that they stay focused and continue to believe in themselves. Dhoni is a lesson for all leaders in terms of their ability to manage extremely stressful work environments. Managing periods of high stress without losing your composure is the key to long term success and good health.
Dhoni has immense ability to insulate himself from the surrounding environment and continue to focus on the job. The current Champions Trophy campaign is a case in point in the wake of the IPL controversy. In a corporate context, it is vital for managers to stay positive and focus on the task at hand and avoid distractions and negative energies in play at the work place.
Many times managers lose sight of the ‘gut factor’ in decision making when confronted with data. Dhoni has often followed his instinct and on most occasions has been proved right. While data would have dictated that he chose Umesh Yadav to bowl one moreover, he chose Ishant Sharma for the crucial over which turned the match for India.
After the heady success of the World Cup 2011, it was just downhill for Dhoni and his team. After a string of embarrassing losses, it required great character and attitude to bounce back. He did this in style and answered all his critics with the sheer weight of his performance once again. At the workplace, failure has to be dealt with the same fashion as success and one has to continue to be focused on the job at hand.
Invokes respect in the opposition
By his mere presence, calmness and body language Dhoni invokes great respect and fear in the opposition camp. In a work environment, it takes a great deal to be respected by competition who would be itching to have you on the other side of the fence. This comes through sheer performance and acknowledgement from your internal and external stakeholders.
Backs his people
He places immense trust on his people and backs them to deliver. This allows them to express themselves freely without the fear of failure. At the workplace, team members reciprocate and feel a sense of responsibility basis the trust shown by their leaders on them.
Dhoni is hands on, is versatile and can adapt to any situation. He plays all the three formats of the game, can bat in any position, keep wickets and can roll his arm over if required. Versatility and adaptability is the key for long term success for executives.
As a leader Dhoni is aware that the spotlight is on him but he never hogs the limelight. He keeps a check on his emotions all the time both in victory and defeat. He still has lot of cricket left in him and perhaps, for us, there are more lessons to learn from him!