5 Leadership Lessons from MS Dhoni

This post first appeared in DNA India on January 12th, 2017.

One of the most successful international cricket captains, Mahendra Singh Dhoni announced his resignation as the captain of the ODI and T20 teams. It was very typical of the man that the announcement was made with the minimal of fuss. Aught about his career as a captain I realized that Dhoni is a wonderful example of a great leader and had time and again demonstrated exceptional leadership qualities that we could all learn from.

Staying calm: If there was one word to describe Dhoni on and off the cricket field, it would be calm. Dhoni epitomized calmness in the middle of an excruciatingly close game of cricket. It might well be that Dhoni was doing his best imitation of a duck, paddling furiously underneath while maintaining a calm demeanour, but that’s what leaders do. In the face of incredible stress, they maintain their calm in order to guide the ship through the storm to safer waters. Dhoni, by ensuring the situation never got to him, at least outwardly, communicated that calm to the rest of the team.

Lead from the front: The best leaders lead from the front. In tough situations, they stand up and take charge just like Dhoni did during a tricky chase in the finals of the 2011 ODI World Cup. Dhoni, who had had an indifferent run of form in the World Cup, promoted himself up the order when the second wicket fell. His decision could have backfired if India had lost the match. But again, it showcased what great leaders do. They are willing to take the risk and put themselves in positions to lead their team to glory.

Show trust in your team: Great leaders show trust in their teammates and in doing so, enable them to reach heights that they would have been unable to otherwise. A wonderful example was his asking Joginder Singh to bowl the final over of the T20 World Cup when he had more experienced bowlers at his command. Again, this was a decision which at that time was questioned by the commentators.

Let the team have the limelight: Great leaders lead from the front and take the hits when things go wrong but they know when it is time to let their team bask in the glory. It is very rare to see photographs of Dhoni holding the cup from tournament wins under his captaincy, Each time, he was quick to hand over the cup to his celebrating teammates and seemed to recede into the background.

Succession planning: Above all, exceptional leaders abhor a vacuum and do their best to make themselves irrelevant by grooming the next generation of leaders. This is precisely what Dhoni has done by ensuring mentorship to Virat Kohli when he was young and green, and relinquishing the leadership role to him when he knew he was ready.