What Corporate India can learn from MS Dhoni’s leadership style

26 Jul,2013


By Dibeyendu Ganguly


How does Mahinder Singh Dhoni maintain an aura of calm even when the Indian cricket team is getting a drubbing? Why doesn’t the captain exhibit signs of anguish in the face of defeat, like Rahul Dravid and Saurav Ganguly quite often did before him? Doesn’t he care? “Winning is important to Dhoni,” says for player and cricketer commentator Sanjay Manjrekar, “but losing is not that important. It’s a very rare leadership quality.”


A calm mind is the most dangerous and Dhoni’s ability to stay cool when the heat is on allows him to make the uncanny calls that others find hard to fathom. “For champions, the big day is like every day,” says cricket commentator and author Harsha Bhogle. “The great captains of the world know that if you fear losing, you will be agitated, which invites losing. We can never know what’s going on inside Dhoni’s head. If he is stressed, he never lets it show.”


Dissecting Dhoni’s leadership style for a corporate audience at the ESPNCricinfo 20th anniversary event in Mumbai earlier this month, the two commentators, along with Prakash Iyer, managing director of Kimberley Clark, agreed that this sense of detachment in times of crisis is the hallmark of the captain’s leadership style. Manjrekar says that one of the reasons Dhoni remain unruffled is because he insulates himself from extraneous influences. “Dhoni is either unaware of what commentators say about him or he doesn’t care. He didn’t seem affected by the conflict of interest scandal, when he was in the headlines. In that way he’s different from a captain like Ganguly, who was always attuned to what the press was saying about him.”


Dhoni’s ability to insulate himself and his team from extraneous influences in order to focus on the game is one of his biggest strengths. He is also known to back his players, giving them time to gain full potential. “The players know that Dhoni will not hastily judge them,” says Manjrekar. “They just need to have the right attitude and show courage in the field. He empowers them. He’s not a controlling kind of captain.”


Dhoni may empower, but when it comes to key strategic decisions, he is his own man, seldom seeking advice. Manjrekar compares him to Azharuddin, who would always huddle with senior players during the drink break and ask their advice on what to do next: “Dhoni doesn’t do that. He doesn’t need advice. And after losing a match, he doesn’t need comforting.”


In cricket and in the corporate world, there is always a tendency to promote the best player to captaincy. This often creates tension between personal performance and team performance. In the corporate world, people do look askance at leaders who fail to perform. “A corporate leader needs to personally effective. People in office would point at a CEO who fails to swing an important deal,” says Iyer.


In cricket, however, a captain’s personal performance and team performance need to be separated. “If you’re not doing well yourself, you still have to get performance from others. These are two different things. I remember Gavaskar in 1985-86. He was willing to sit back and let everyone else get ahead,” says Bhogle.


Is Dhoni the best captain Indian cricket ever had? And is he going to leave the game better than it was? While the rest of the panel is ambivalent, Manjrekar is unequivocal: “I’m a fan. Dhoni leads from the front and he is a much better role model for young cricketers than those who went before him. In the past, the biggest problem with the Indian team was temperament. Which is why we would lose matches we were all set to win. Today, the team is temperamentally stronger, thanks to Dhoni. He is capable of leading Indian cricket itself, not just the team.”


Dhoni certainly seems to enjoy being the captain, unlike Sachin Tendulkar, who was never happy taking charge. Bhogle believes Dhoni is a political animal at heart, which is why he’s so inscrutable: “He wouldn’t do anything to jeopordise his captaincy. He knows when to stay quiet and what to say in any given situation. He prefers to wait and watch rather than speak out.”


Source:The Economic Times

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