Leadership lessons from MS Dhoni for startups and entrepreneurs

15th Apr 2013
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This is a part of a new series of articles on Sports and Entrepreneurship -

It was another heated run chase at the Chepauk stadium, where the Royal Challengers Bangalore had the Chennai Super Kings in a tricky situation. With meager contributions from the top order of the team, it was upto the the lower middle order, headed by MS Dhoni, to sort things out in an uneasy run chase for the team.

After getting his eye in, Dhoni deposited a Ravi Rampaul length delivery into the second tier, renewing the hope for CSK fans, who erupted into a wild celebration -- the captain had arrived.

Flashback to 2004, when a strong young man with long hair from Ranchi arrived at the international cricket scene, known as much for his flamboyant batting style, as his flashy looks. Would anyone have ever imagined in their wildest dreams that this man would go on to become one of the best leaders the world of cricket has ever seen? Most people certainly didn’t.

Entrepreneurs are the captains of their teams. While the qualities of a captain wouldn’t be necessary during the early stages of a startup, it becomes quintessential as the company scales. Having followed Dhoni through most of his professional career, here are some traits that stand out, which if emulated, can help entrepreneurs lead their companies better.

MS Dhoni

Lead by example

Dhoni Work
Dhoni at work

MS Dhoni wasn’t brought into the Indian cricket team for nothing. He had tonnes of runs in his first class career and has continued to do the same in his international career as well. He features in the ICC top 10 for ODI batsmen regularly and is lauded as one of the best finishers of the game.

A lesson for entrepreneurs here, is to strive to be the best at what they do. A hands on entrepreneur always inspires. Many employees at popular startups would speak in awe of their founder who’d still be very hands on and willing to get their hands dirty. The employees aspire to match that work ethic and the pursuit of excellence.

There is no leadership technique that can match good old hard work, and I believe that has been one of the reasons for Dhoni’s unprecedented success.

Back your players

Dhoni with players
Dhoni is known for backing his players

When MS Dhoni turned to Joginder Sharma instead of the veteran Harbhajan Singh, to bowl the last over of 2007 T20 World Cup Final, many thought that Dhoni was making a mistake. But we all know what followed.

When an inspiring leader like Dhoni openly backs a player at a press conference, it provides the right kind of motivation for that player to perform. You are driven to perform out of fear for letting down your leader who’d placed their trust on you and more often than not, you succeed.

Throughout his captaincy, Dhoni has placed undue trust on his players. While some didn’t pay dividends, many a match winner has been born because their captain believed in them.


This is one of the traits that define Dhoni. Not many captains have survived 8 consecutive losses in test matches, followed by a series defeat at home. Dhoni, however, maintained a sense of calmness through the calamity. You will rarely see him losing his cool in a cricket match. Bad balls have rarely made him angry. You will not find him overjoyed about a victory or very depressed about a defeat.

dhoni calm

This is very difficult to emulate as most people are used to showing their emotions outside. But having a leader who’s calm provides a sense of calmness to the rest of the team as well. This will allow them to work without stress, even in adverse situations.

While this might take a severe toll on the leader (Dhoni often talks about his graying hair because of stress), a team working in a stress free environment is more likely to produce better work. And at the end of the day, teams win matches, not the captain alone.

Less me and more us

Dhoni Team
Dhoni with team (left extreme)

At the end of a match which has been won, Dhoni picks up a stump and walks away, without much celebration. In the case of receiving a trophy, Dhoni immediately hands it over to his teammates.

Humility is a very important character that a leader must possess. No matter how good you might be as a captain, you are only a leader when your team accepts you to be one. And with most companies, it is the success of the whole team that brings home the winning trophy.

So the next time you crack that big business deal, remember the team that works for you, and has accepted you as a leader.

Be aware of yourself

Dhoni Helicopter
Dhoni playing a helicopter shot

Apart from being many millions of dollars better off, the way Dhoni has carried himself hasn’t changed much over the years. The same goes for his cricket itself. Despite critiques talking ill about his peculiar batting style, he still bats the same way, to devastating effectiveness.

The way he has stuck to his fundamentals is admirable, on and off the game. It is a sign of a leader who is a well aware of his strengths and weaknesses. It is very important for entrepreneurs to know their core strengths and shortcomings.

While you might have shortcomings that may come in the way of emulating the aforementioned qualities, but being aware of it, is in itself a win.

Feel free to use the comment sections to speak about the Dhoni in your team

Do you want to work under an inspiring startup? Sign up for the Starup Jobs Fair.

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