B-schools have long used sports and great sportsmen as analogies to teach management and leadership concepts to students. Such examples create interest among students as well as help them understand and retain such concepts easily.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s success record with Indian cricket team provides us with a wealth of material for analysis and case studies. A strapping young lad, strictly middle class background, emerging from outside traditional cricket centers in India, bursts onto the scene as an explosive batsman, reinvents himself as a cool finisher of run chases, surprisingly chosen as captain over seniors like Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble. And then builds a new look team India that wins three world cups as well as reaches No 1 ranking in Test and ODI. Clearly stuff from which legends are born.
What lessons can we draw from Captain Cool?
1. The desire to learn: the hunger to upgrade one skill’s is one of MSD’s biggest strengths. He started of as a destructive batsman with scores of 148 and 183 very early in his career, which sealed a place for him in the team. He could so easily have been content with that, the way Sehwag remained. He quickly understood that Team India required a calm finisher rather than another explosive batsman and recast himself in that mould. Think of the discipline that it would have taken for someone barely 25 to curb his natural stroke play. And in double quick time he also became a master strategist, one who could analyze players, teams and match conditions. All managers, whatever are their level need to have a desire to keep learning, because the corporate environment is always evolving.
2. Lead by Example: They say that a team reflects the attitude of the leader. Team India once known to snatch ‘Defeat from the jaws of victory’ now repeatedly wins from difficult situations. Dhoni is captain cool, soaks in the pressure, takes the tough tasks unto himself, as in the match winning innings in the World Cup Final at Wankhade, 2011. Yuvraj and Raina may have been in better form then, but he knew that he was the best under pressure. Today the entire teams shares his ethos: the self-belief, the ‘always in control’ attitude. Rarely does a good manager need to ‘command’ people. When he has earned the respect of his team through example, people will follow on their own. If the respect is missing, even direct orders or threats would not work.
3. Calculated Risks/Trusting his instinct: MSD is a master strategist. And like a master, it is not all about analysis and numbers, he also takes calculated risks based on his instinct and he has the courage to accept responsibility when they fail. But on so many occasions, they come of gloriously. From Joginder Singhs last over in World T20 2007 to giving Ishant Sharma the 18th over in the recent ICC Champions Trophy Final, many of MSD’s risks have become legendary. For all the management books and market research that you do, management is also part art. You can’t always go by the book nor do what the numbers say. You have to trust your instinct and innovate.
4. Managing talent: MSD is great at managing talent, especially young talent. People like Ravi Ashwin, Bhuvaneswar Kumar, Jadeja have blossomed under his leadership. To put simply, he places trust on them and gets them to believe in themselves. Also, he follows the simple rule, praise in public, and criticize in private. In public, he takes the blame on himself when things go wrong and shares the credit with the team when they win. Jack Welch, once said that a leader should spend at least 40% of his/her time identifying, training and mentoring talent.
5. Focus on process, the results will follow: All teams win and lose, even great ones. Rather than worry about the result of each game, MSD’s focus is on process improvements. If the quality of performance improves, you will soon start winning more than you lose. This young team India is still work in progress. They are developing a fine opening pair, they have a great pair of spinners, In Bhuvi, Ishant and Umesh they have the raw material to create a good set of fast bowlers. They are now counted as one of the world’s best fielding outfits. A few more things are work in progress. But with Captain Cool at the helm, we will get there for sure. For managers, success is rarely about one greater moment of inspiration or one knockout moment. Rather it is about consistent performance 365 X 24 that leads to long term success.
Considering Mahender Singh Dhoni, who has set an example for many youngster not only in sports but also in other fields of life especially in corporate. It’s very important for young managers to be soft spoken, modest but have a will of steel to grow.
At Vanguard Business School, we had the honor of listening to KPS Anand, CMD of Asian Paints, a man so modest, that throughout the speech, he never mentioned any personal achievement, not one. The calmness, the humility, etc are characteristics of a leader who is building for the future as a team leader. Also the fact, that the new team India includes a number of players of MSD’s background, middle and lower middle class from small towns – Ravindra Jadeja, Bhuavneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav, Suresh Raina makes him the ideal mentor. To conclude we may say trust, belief and management are the key points which could be inherited from Mahender Singh Dhoni.
The author is Director at one of the leading B-school of the country --Vanguard Business School
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