What Mahendra Singh Dhoni as CEO of the Indian cricket team did to ensure the country won the World Cup will be etched as learnings for leaders across all walks of life. Captains of India Inc, leading business schools and HR leaders have taken note of Dhoni's style of management.
Experimentative, innovative and risk-taking are some of the characteristics being attributed to him. So what really is Dhoni's management style? "He sets stretch goals and works determinedly to achieve them by getting the best out of his team," says Adi Godrej , chairman, Godrej Group, who has also taken on a new role as chairman of The Indian School of Business.
Dhoni is being described as 'a true leader' who did not hesitate to push himself up the batting order in the final, when the team needed him the most. "He led the attack from the front and was not afraid to make this change. He knew well that had he failed, he would have been severely criticized but yet he fearlessly took up the challenge at a critical time in the Indian innings," says Harsh Goenka, chairman, RPG Group.
And what does one learn from Dhoni's leadership skills? "Take measured risks and back your team to deliver," said Gunit Chadha, CEO, Deutsche Bank India. "A leader should maintain his calm. He should know his business well and take appropriate decisions in changing contexts," said Misra.
One could see how these characteristics came to the fore when, in a crisis situation during the World Cup (India had lost two crucial wickets of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag in the early overs), Dhoni kept his cool and led India to victory. "Dhoni has been consistent match after match. He has stuck his neck out and accepted his mistakes," said Deepti Bhatnagar , faculty, Organisational Behaviour, IIM-Ahmedabad. What's more, the captain succeeded in building a team where young people can come up with their opinions. "In a situation where a much younger player like Virat Kohli can give his opinion towards a senior player like Sachin without inhibitions itself speaks volumes about the team culture," said Bhatnagar.
Nehra's comeback against Pakistan is another good example of how Dhoni's faith in him paid off. As co-authors Bill Conaty and Ram Charan have said in their book, 'The Talent Masters - Why smart leaders put people before numbers': "You can liberate your capacity and courage as a leader if you continually plumb the depth of your inner core. Only by doing this can you understand the role it plays in the changing complexities of your job." Dhoni has proved to be a smart leader.
M agnetic Personality binds the team Acceptance as a natural leader is perhaps the biggest strength that any leader can posses. With his down to earth approach, complete trust in his team members, personal standards of excellence and natural motivational ability MSD has enabled his personality to gain acceptance, get exceptional performance and reinforced self belief in the team.
S trategizes intelligently to gain the edge Choosing the team is always a challenge for there are many if’s and but’s that constantly keep lurking till the last moment. Yet, MSD with his astute thinking strategises the team composition as well as game plan in consultation with the coach and senior team members. It is also evident that at times he has gone by his gut instinct to vividly visualise the end result and achieve it even if it meant taking some chances.
Dares to take risks that make the difference Since strategies cannot be fool proof and a true leader has to be willing to take calculated risks. MSD has shown ample evidence of it when he has dared to play Nehra in the semi-finals ( much against popular sentiments and naïve logic) and took a chance with the temperamental Sreeshanth in the finals. In fact he was candid enough to admit that in the semi-finals he read the wicket wrong hinting that he did gamble in the team selection.
H umility is at the heart of his leadership style You will rarely find MSD hogging centre stage; in fact like the perfect leader he lets his team members believe that they achieved it themselves. He has grounded him self with humility knowing very well that when the going is good he will get credit but when the tables are turned he would have to put up with the brickbats that often accompany the leaders job. In most pictures that the press published, of the winning team taken which was taken soon after the match ended, MSD is conspicuously missing or relegated to the background just reinforcing his humility in acknowledging collective team effort.
O perates unflappably to ensure that all are grounded MSD is never animated nor excited no matter what the situation. This makes him an exceptional leader, for controlling ones emotion under stress is perhaps a rare blessing in many leaders. The calm manner in which he readily agreed to taking the toss a second time when there was a mix up in the toss, giving Sreeshanth 8 overs despite having alternatives, promoting himself in the batting order despite having a poor run with the bat are testimony to his maturity and temperament.
N ever shirks from taking responsibility and giving credit By promoting himself in the batting order he was taking a risk since he had a poor run of form but it was his belief that he had to take charge out there in the centre and lead by example. In saying that the coach endorsed his decision to bat higher up in the order, he was merely stating a fact that he respected the contribution of the coach Gary Kirsten and valued his sage counsel. Soon after winning one of his earliest statements about the victory pertained him being relieved from having to answer questions about team selection in case the team had lost thereby implying that he had a major role to play in the team selection for which he took responsibility.
I nspirational, instinctive, impulsive, intriguing style gives the winning edge . In acknowledging Gambirs crucial innings in the finals, he was candid enough to articulate that he would have loved Gambhir to have got a century but that Gambhir had only himself to blame for getting out. Giving Sachin Tendulkar 2 overs to bowl in the finals in front of his home crowd was both a tactical move ( Tendulkar has often broken partnerships) and an impulsive move ( to let Tendulkar hold centre stage).In choosing to promote himself in the batting order was both an inspirational and intriguing move for it could have a backfired badly if he had got out cheaply.