As in sports, so in business – the corporate world continues to learn from inspiring leaders in the sporting world. One such inspiring and much loved leader is Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who over the last decade has become a cricketing legend. He’s won it all and is the most successful captain of the Indian Cricket Team. I recently watched the movie “MSD: The Untold Story,” which confirmed my beliefs about MSD from the observations of him on the cricket field.
The movie reaffirmed that leading the Indian Cricket Team to such magnificent heights was not ‘luck by chance,’ but rather a lifetime of practicing what he believed in and working very hard to live up to his self convictions. The movie showcases MSD’s self belief, unfazed confidence, and positive mindset from early childhood, which he maintained throughout life despite struggles, failures, many successes and nerve racking world cup finals.
My real take away from the movie were lessons in Personal Leadership, in good times and in adversity. All of these are applicable in the corporate world as much as in the sporting arena.
This is what I gleaned from it:
Lesson 1: Use all negative experiences and hurdles to inspire you, turn the thoughts on their head to make sure they serve a useful purpose.
In his early days as a young and rising cricketer, despite his talent being known to all, he missed the chance of being selected in the Indian Cricket team by a whisker for many years. In all of those instances, Dhoni marks the occasion either by celebration or with a lesson learnt and redirects his energy into becoming more resolute to do better.
Lesson 2: Where there is a will, there is a way
Like most parents, Dhoni’s mother and father did not want him to compromise on his studies at the cost of cricket. He was faced with a situation where the exams and important matches were on the same day for consecutive days. He had to find a way to be in time for matches. To not to lose out on either, he finished his exams early everyday and rushed to the matches just in time.
Lesson 3: Even if you want to be aggressive about your goals, your manner must remain assertive only
From the movie, it is apparent that even though Dhoni was doing his job as a Ticket collector, he never gave up his dream to be in the Indian Cricket Team. There were times that he was despondent. His mentor advised that this is just a bouncer in your life and that he must duck to avoid it as you would on the cricket field. When his patience is at an end, after many years of doing a mundane job and being limited to playing in the Ranji Trophy, instead of raving or ranting he firmly conveyed to his father that it was time for him move on from being a Ticket Collector otherwise he will never fulfil his dreams.
Lesson 4: Think deep and recognize the internal psychological barriers to success
There is a Ranji trophy match that his team loses and Dhoni realized that the match was lost not on the field but off the field when his team members were overawed by the personality of the captain of the opposing team, the dashing Yuvraj Singh. Without any conscious thought they got psyched into believing the opposing team’s captain was superior. Dhoni never forgot that lesson and always worked on keeping his team psychologically strong.
Lesson 5: Love and respect people
whether its friends, family, colleagues – young or elderly, talented or not, important or not, respect everyone as an individual
All through life, whether it was to rush Dhoni to practice for cricket from his exams, or to support him during tough times, Dhoni always had friends rallying around him. Dhoni depended on his friends for support many times in his life but even when he reached the pinnacle of success, he continued to value them as before.
Lesson 6: Don’t let your own success (and your position) go to your head
Even when someone detached from the world of cricket did not recognize him and asked for an identity proof to issue a duplicate key card of the hotel, he was surprised, but didn’t take offence. He did not pull rank and calmly (and mischievously), followed the procedure of showing his identity proof.
Lesson 7: Even if you have talent, only constant application and striving for success will get you ahead, relax you can, but don’t stay in your comfort zone too long
MSD never rested on his laurels, he always worked hard alongside his team to improve all aspects of the team’s performance.
Lesson 8: Sometimes you have to take hard decisions to move ahead – be ready to sacrifice for the sake of what you believe in
Many times, there was a conflict between personal and professional interest. Dhoni never lost sight of his professional goals even though sometimes he had to face personal tragedy.
Lesson 9: Hone your talent and prove your competence, so that when you take a stand in the larger interest of the team, you cannot be ignored
When Dhoni wanted to influence some of the decisions of the Selection Board keeping the long term interest of Indian cricket, the board, despite being powerful and mighty, couldn’t ignore his wishes of giving opportunity to young talent. They knew that Dhoni’s talent and competence as a player and a captain were invaluable for the national team.
Lesson 10: Think big, take risks, don’t let failure get to you
Dhoni developed a reputation to take risks that most people wouldn’t have whether it was in team selection or in decisions on the field. He had his share of failures but that didn’t stop him from moving on and focussing ahead. He ensured that not just him, but also the whole team was directing their energy on the next goal.
Lesson 11: Lead with empathy but not with emotion and stay away from negative thoughts, always
Known as Captain Cool, Dhoni’s decisions were often questioned by his critics. It was rare for him to lose control of his emotions on the field. In defeat, he introspected and worked hard and set tougher standards for himself and his team, never letting go of his vision for the team.
Lesson 12: Finally, always believe in people and give them the chance they deserve
During Dhoni’s reign as a captain, many youngsters got a chance and some who would have been written off despite being talented, got a second chance to show their talent. He backed them on and off the field. He took the risk and the responsibility of people’s performance, believing in their talent and ultimately getting the Indian Cricket Team to the No. 1 position in the world.
In today’s world of innumerable inspirational messages floating around, probably none of what is above will come as a surprise to anyone. What is surprising is to find all of these in one person and it’s no wonder that MSD has been one of the most successful captains of the Indian cricket team.
MSD is a great example of the fact that to be a great leader, we have to first lead self successfully.
The author is an Executive Coach and a passionate Learning and Development professional based in Hyderabad, India.