16 Leadership lessons from MS Dhoni for startups, entrepreneurs and managers

MS Dhoni

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 like. But on closer analysis of his success, we see a clear pattern emerging.

Dhoni’s leadership style offers invaluable lessons to managers/entrepreneurs at all levels. Here’s why:

1. Gets Shit Done

Dhoni is great at delegating but when faced with pressure situations, he led by example. For example, take the case of promoting himself in the batting order in the World Cup final versus Sri Lanka.

2. Strategic Thinker

Dhoni makes plans before they are required. He always has a plan and knows the strengths and weaknesses of his troop as well as his opponents more than the opponent knows themselves. Remember the time he told Robin Uthappa to bowl during the bowl-out in T20 final against Pakistan? He had seen Uthappa repeatedly hit the stumps in the nets.

3. Right Ambition

He has no personal ambitions. He does not care about being the best batsman or the best wicketkeeper. He enables his team to become those, caring only for the success of the team. I remember a time when he got nicked off at 99 and the bowler asked him if there was a nick and he said, “Yes” He plays for something bigger than himself.

4. Courage & Instinct

Dhoni has the courage that is needed to take risks with partial information. He calculates and plans, but sticks to his guns if he believes it’s the right thing to do for India. For instance, take Rohit Sharma’s case – he was out of form but Dhoni believed in his calibre when the country was making fun of his decisions.

5. Manages His Psychology Well

How easy would it be for Dhoni to lose his cool? Billions watching his every move and a billion hearts expecting India to win. His most redeeming quality is his calm, when faced with a mountain of pressure. If you’re an entrepreneur, managing your own head is the toughest thing to do, and Dhoni does it really well.

6. Uninhibited style

Hailing from a humble background, Dhoni never let this aspect hinder his style or behaviour. In fact, he managed to channelise this raw rustic energy to his on-field performances.

He was never shy of expressing himself in any given situation. In a competitive world, you are often judged by your past or stereotyped and it is important to maintain a positive ego at all times.

7. Managing egos

In a hierarchyled 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 organisations face this challenge at the workplace.

8. Change management

Dhoni did not rush through with change in personnel and team culture. He first established his credibility and over time dealt with these issues 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.

9. Managing success

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 a 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 behaviour towards colleagues and customers. We have seen that, at times, young managers who see success early lose their balance and face early career burnouts.

10. Managing pressure

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.

11. Focus

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 workplace.

12. Instinct

There are occasions when managers forget the ‘gut factor’ in decision making when confronted with data. Dhoni has often followed his instinct and on most occasions has been proved right.

At the recently concluded Champions Trophy final against England, while data would have dictated that he choose Umesh Yadav to bowl one more over, he chose Ishant Sharma for the crucial over which turned the match for India.

13. Managing failure

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.

14. Invokes respect in the rivals

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.

15. 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 based on the trust shown by their leaders on them.

16. Versatile

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.

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