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Romance of Leadership – The Mahi way!

By Krishnan Bangarusamy|9th Sep 2020
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Dhoni, Dhoni, Dhoni…! The Captain who won Champion trophies for India in all the 3 formats of the game! The beat of a billion hearts on the field, The Lion of the CSK team, A Fallen Prince in the recent past, and an honoured retiree from International cricket in the present. For many he is the Persona of Leadership and for a few more, including me, he is a person who defied the Romance of Leadership. Both of these are worthy attributes to derive Leadership Management lessons from.


The word ‘Leadership’ is of a great deal of interest with everyone. A search in Google with the key word ‘Leadership’ throws up a 1,000 million results in less than a fraction of a second. Nothing comes short of it when we interlink the word with Indian Cricket and IPL. The word invokes so many debates, opinions and judgements… even so much, that we have polls around it. Let’s face it, we are passionate about cricket and therefore will be obsessed in our choices and views. Yet in the midst of all these, Dhoni was and will always continue to be a leader who stood tall with his balanced stance that is consistent both at the time of success and adversity. No wonder he is popularly known as ‘Captain Cool’. Who would have imagined that, a boy from Jharkhand could so much change the course of history for Indian Cricket in the last 15 years or so? But what made and makes him successful? And what continues to gain him respect and admiration from all around? Here are two key management lessons we can learn from M.S.Dhoni outside his cricketing records. 

Dhoni is not just a leader but a persona of leadership. The basic tenant of distinction between Leader and Leadership is, the earlier can be a successful Individual who can exhibit a certain influence among others and achieve team goals, but the latter, added to the earlier, is different in a way it also recognizes the importance and the success of the followers. This is clearly the strength of Dhoni’s leadership. He has groomed so many followers in the past decade and a half, leading them to success. And I’m just not talking about cricket alone here but from all walks of life. All of us have a Dhoni within ourselves to excel in our goals’ pursuit. The influence of Dhoni’s behaviour both on and off field has a calming effect on our minds and when pursued consistently, it results in a ‘Never give up attitude’ until we achieve our goals. Like he quoted, "Till the full stop doesn't come, the sentence is not complete." 


Perhaps this is simply because we are able to add elements of consistency and trustworthiness when we drive him within ourselves. Rightfully so, Dhoni has been consistent and a pillar of trust. His ability, integrity, and humility make him the model of servant leadership - someone who is willing to put the interest of others above the self but at the same time is focused on the team’s performance and positive results. It has always been visible and was seen when he took the back stage during the celebrations, giving the credit to the team for success and taking the blame for failures in all humbleness. He did not shy away to accept reality and step down as captain, but at the same time stopped at nowhere to ensure the success of the team, almost every time! And this is exactly the reason why he commands respect among teams, rivals, fans and followers. In plain words, he is just authentic and responsible. He understands that he needs to exhibit leadership not just in cricket grounds, but out of it too. We all know Dhoni’s patriotism, he served the army and holds the honorary rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He realizes the need to impart the right leadership values, especially among the youngsters. As he once mentioned “I tell my wife she is only the third most important thing after my country and my parents, in that order." His larger responsibility is to create leadership from all walks of life and he just does it in the minds and hearts of a country.  


Dhoni defied the romance of leadership. Have you noticed, the moment we say leadership we all tend to hold images in our minds of leaders’ traits and behaviours; we then use these schema as a blueprint for assessing individuals to decide if we will grant them leadership. There is a whole bit of science behind it and in fact a theory called as Implicit Leadership supports this view point. Just picture it when he took over as captain of the Indian cricket team in 2007 from the reins of Rahul Dravid. With less than 3 years of international cricket experience and to lead the lights of Sachin and Sourav, the expectation was very high. No one bet on this young lad to last more than 6 months to a year as a leader. But they were all proven wrong, Dhoni pulled a miracle, he defied the romance of leadership.  


Romance of Leadership states that we tend to over attribute the success or failures of teams, ignoring contextual factors such as environment or followers. As a result, the leaders either get glorified or blamed unjustly, in ignorance of the context… a popular situation with the Indian cricket team leaders back then. Dhoni, as a young rookie and as a captain, was able to shift this perspective by bringing in the team together and move the focus away from the cricketing demi- gods, Sachin, Sehwag, Dada and Dravid to the actual game. He was able to pull all of this not just through cricket skills, but importantly leadership skills. Naturally talented as a situational leader, he empowered the young members in the team and exercised autonomy and discretion to bring a certain sense of ownership. He raised the team game to a new level by engaging the right players at the right time, a key attribute to his success. Through this he was able to break the shackles of individual dependency of group performance. In many ways, his style of leading can be attributed to distributed leadership. Simply put, distributive leadership is not something ‘done’ by an individual ‘to’ others, or a set of individual actions through which people contribute to a group or a team. It is a group activity that works through and within relationships, rather than individual action. When one looks at the details of such a style, one will realise how relationships are central to leadership and that Dhoni mastered it to perfection, thanks to his people skills and down to earth approach. As the Cricket God mentioned ‘‘Dhoni is the best captain I have played under.’’  


The absolute paradox is, he defeated the romance of leadership only to be encapsulated by it overwhelmingly. Today, he has the entire nation admiring him. A romance of lifetime but he continues to inspire millions through his ever poised, composed and unruffled way, or should we say, The MAHI WAY! 

WE LOVE YOU DHONI!!!

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