M S Dhoni is one of the most iconic captains of the Indian cricket team. He is the most successful Indian sportsmen that the world has ever seen. It is interesting to think that one time, whilst in school in Ranchi, he was more interested in football and badminton than in cricket. He was advised by his school’s coach to play cricket as well. While playing the sport, his exceptional performance in wicket keeping is what earned him an entry into a local cricket club, which led to being selected to the Bihar U-19 team and to the Assam team and subsequently to the India A team to Kenya for a tri-series tournament. A year later, he was selected to play in the ODI squad for the 2004/2005 Bangladesh tour. He has been awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, the highest sports honor given by the Indian government in 2008.
Such has been Dhoni's unparalleled success; he won't need an introduction even three generations later. Not yet retired from leading the Indian team, Bollywood has decided it's already time to celebrate his achievements. And with very good reason: he's delivered for India times more often than any other player, when it's mattered most. He's accomplished this by being fearless during the tough times, constantly strategising and in always being a strong leader for his team. Is any more required of a startup CEO? Perhaps not.
It would be difficult to explain and put into words how he has accomplished all of this, in a fairly short span of time. These seven quotes by Dhoni would probably be the best way to define his thought process and help today’s entrepreneurs in learning some important lessons to figure out their way ahead and leave their mark in the world.
- On dealing with past failures
Building a new business, particularly without any reference point, involves much failure. The only way to find out what works is to keep trying. When Dhoni was asked whether he was hurt more by the 2011 series loss to England or Australia, he said he hadn't thought about it, indicating that he doesn't dwell on failure. Such an attitude could help greatly in the startup world. Every game is a different one and should be treated like a new challenge.
- On maintaining self-confidence, in yourself and your product
Entrepreneurs need to pay attention to so many aspects of their business simultaneously; it's difficult not to start believing in luck, fate, and form. Dhoni believes this to be counter-productive, as failure tends to come fast when a pursuit lacks belief. And yet it's bewildering how many times the green signal is given to plans despite much skepticism. Instead of just rushing ahead with poor plans just because that's the pace startups are expected to run at, attempt to find a plan that gives you confidence.
- On effective delegation
Leaders don't need to lead from the front by being constantly involved in every decision. They also need to know when to excuse themselves and let others take charge. So if you ever find yourself unfit to take a decision on a certain matter, don't feel the need to do it. And definitely don't take a snap decision just because you can. It is, after all, cheating.
- On solving the puzzle
Why do some companies win over others? It's most likely that they've been able to fit all the pieces. Dhoni believes that it isn't enough to have one special component in your product or team – it all needs to be in sync.
- On coping with pressure
Dhoni has to deal with the hopes of over a billion Indians. Fewer people (your employees and their families) have their hopes pinned on your abilities, but they are much more dependent. This is a lot of pressure. But Dhoni believes that the pressure of these hopes carries him through all the other challenges he must face.
- On accountability and responsibility
If the leader gets all the glory in success, he/she must accept the shame of defeat, too. This is true for cricket, where the captain has a huge role to play. It is certainly true for a startup, whose fate is dependent on the leadership of its CEO. No one would disagree, but how difficult is this in practise?
- On understanding your teams’ strengths and weaknesses
Startup employees may have all the enthusiasm, but that isn't all it takes to succeed at a task. You need to decide who is good at what aspect of your business. Just because you've hired an IITian, doesn't mean he can manage people or run marketing. People may be talented, but intelligence alone cannot compensate for every other shortcoming. Find out the strengths of your team and you'll soon get the best out of them.
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