• Premanand S

Mahendra Singh Dhoni - Leadership Lessons from Captain Cool

Updated: Nov 23, 2020

There are many peoples in the world, who achieved from the bottom line of their life, doesn’t give up, struggled a lot and reached to the peak. While seeing or hearing news about them, we make them special in our life as ROLE MODEL for our life. Role model is not from the professional domain alone, there are some special qualities which attracts, inspires many and without our knowledge itself it will get into our mind and fine tune ourselves to that personality. We all have some different mind setups to accept or reject each people. I have so many peoples in my life as role model like Dr.A.P.J.Abdul Kalam ayya, ‘The Mozarat of Madras’ A.R.Rahman, ‘Captain Cool’ Mahendra Singh Dhoni (MSD) and ‘Thalapathy’ Vijay. By seeing these names (Vijay and MSD), some may troll me too, it’s natural human psychology. What we get from that personality matters. We have the same discrimination w.r.t God too, after all are humans by nature.

Here I love to say about Captain Cool MSD, don’t worry, not his records or other things because internet is flooded with lots and lots of information added it again create a tug-of-war kind of discussion at the last. There are many things I admired and many too accept the same I guess.

MSD announced his retirement from international cricket 15 August 2020. Although not totally sudden, his announcement has created a lot of mixed feelings and curiosity in people’s mind. If you troll him or not, reality is, his leadership qualities are included in many management skills studies including case studies in IIMs and reputed B-schools of India. I thought to make a blog to the tribute for the greatest captain of Indian cricket not because of a fan but for his leadership skills, which made him most favorite cricket player not only in India but around the world. He even impressed Abdul Kalam ayya too, A tweet has been going viral which was shared by the associate of former President of India Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. In his tweet, Sarjan Pal Singh revealed what APJ Abdul Kalam ayya used to say when MS Dhoni used to bat.

“Dr #Kalam never watched TV but often he would ask cricket scores, whenever India was playing. If things looked bleak, he would ask, “is the captain @msdhoni still not out?” If i said “yes” He would smile and say “Don’t worry the captain would set it all right” through Sarjan Pal Singh

Play for the team not for your name

Being a captain is not an easy task, that too captain for Indian team is not all an easy task. It’s like a representative for our country (it’s not a build-up moment but our peoples mind setup, we will always confuse political leaders and entertainers (sports and cinema), may be its sin I guess – when an actor or sports personality failed means we will troll like anything, making trend them in social media in negative way, even making protest in a messy way like burning there image and throwing stones on their home, it’s just entertainment but we take it seriously, politics – it’s our future – we sell our self with 1000’s ). We all think captain decides all the players, but the reality is different, politics will comes to picture here too, with that playing XI as a captain, he needs to know the strength and weakness of the team better than anyone. For team dynamics to work, the leader should also demonstrate trust in the individual team member's ability to succeed.

Among many scenario, I was impressed with two main and most important moment that no one will forget about his leadership skills, one is 2007 T20 world cup and another is 2011 world cup.

Dhoni’s speech after India won the inaugural T20 world cup in 2007 on why he gave the ball to Joginder Sharma (playing in his first tournament) in the final over is a testimonial to his thinking and trust on his team very early in his captaincy journey.

“Instead of giving the ball to an experienced player who was not 100% confident on that particular day, I want to give the ball to Jogi, who wanted to make a mark on the international level. Even if we would have lost the match, it doesn’t matter to me.”

No one will be forget the voice, In the air!!!!!! Sreesanth takes it!!!!!!!!! India Win!!


Dhoni’s speech after India won 2011 world cup on the decision to promote himself up the order ahead of in-form Yuvaraj,

“ its been taken under a certain kind of pressure because of the risk it involved. "It was a big decision, I knew that if I promoted myself and didn't score runs I would be asked why I couldn't stay back? If I promoted myself there would be two left-hand batsmen after me and if I got out the side may have been in trouble."

He said the decision was based on the logic that as Gambhir was batting well, all he would need to do was rotate strike. Also, India knew the dew factor was going to kick in and he had the added advantage of being able to read Muttiah Muralitharan's doosra.

"I have played a lot with Murali [for the Chennai Super Kings] and I know his doosra quite well, and he knows that also. I was able to put a bit of pressure on him"

When asked about the win in 2007 and 2011 world cup, dhoni adds "the character of the individuals [in the team] that helped us win this trophy."

"Dhoni finishes off his style!!!!!"


He always had the team’s best interests in mind and never shied away from taking tough decisions towards the long term vision for the team. The decisions on team compositions were not made based on the seniority of a player or their past accomplishments, even if that means they are not the most popular decisions.

Always Lead by example

For someone to come from a small town like Ranchi, to go on and captain India and play 90 Test matches, to do it the way he has, I think he brought a lot of dignity to the job of captaincy, He might not be everyone's cup of tea, but he was his own cup of tea and he led with a lot of success and that can never be taken away from him.

- Rahul Dravid, Former India Captain

It’s tough to spot him in photographs as he always let his team enjoy the success and be in the spotlight. At the same time, when the team loses, he talks about the process and improvement areas needed rather than blaming individual team members. When the team is in trouble, never shy away from taking responsibility to fix the problem like what MSD did in the famous 2011 world cup final. When you manage a team of superstars who have earned the right to be in the team based on their merit and accomplishments and are more talented than you, you can earn their trust only through your actions and also by giving them the space to bloom on their own. As a leader, your responsibility is only to channel their talent towards a common goal and not to tell them how to play their game.

Manage your emotions

“I also feel angry at times, I feel disappointed but what is important is none of these are constructive. What needs to be done right now is more important than any of these emotions. I would say I am like everyone else, it’s just that I can control my emotions slightly better than others.”

- MS Dhoni

There are not many captains in sports who are called Captain cool and the finisher extraordinaire. Both the captaincy and finishing a cricket game requires extraordinary skill to handle pressure and emotions. Many leaders, including CEOs of B2C companies with millions of customers, don’t have to face the intense media scrutiny and expectations from so many stakeholders like what an Indian cricket captain has to face. There are 100+ million people who expect you to win and increase their share value (share of happiness & success) every time you play for the country. On top of these, each of these 100+ million stakeholders has their view of how to run your business better than you. To be a successful leader, you need to focus on the present with the end goal in mind, rather than worry about all the noise (though well-intended) surrounding you. To perform under pressure, you need to develop your ability to manage your emotions better and not let the external voices influence your decision making. EQ (Emotional Quotient) is as important as or more important for a leader than IQ.

“Yes, I cried, but the cameras didn’t catch it. I was naturally excited but held back the emotions till a tearful Harbhajan hugged me. That’s when I got teary-eyed but kept my head down so no one would see me crying,” Dhoni said as quoted in the book by Rajdeep Sardesai.

At the time of Ziva birth, Dhoni was in Australia as the captain of Indian team with 2015 Cricket World Cup only a week to kick off. He decided not to travel back to India and was famously quoted saying that "I am on national duty, other things can wait”

Don’t focus only on results, Focus on the process

“The process is more important than the results. The result is a by-product. But in today’s world, we are so much focused on the results that we get away from the process. Take care of the process and take care of all the small things and eventually, you will get the desired result. If we prepare well if we execute well and if we are honest to ourselves, more often than not we will get the desired result. If there is a shortcoming, then there is always learning”

- MS Dhoni

Dhoni is a leader who, along with coach Gary Kirsten, brought the focus on implementing the right method for success and ensured the team gives 100% on the field rather than just focusing on winning every match they play. He didn’t avoid experimentation and considered the failure as a victory as long as the team gave more than 100% and got the basics right in the field. If we focus too much on the results, we will lose track of the necessary steps needed for achieving the result. A victory achieved without hard work is often labeled as Luck. We don’t remember many leaders who produce a good result only in a single quarter or a single year. People notice leaders who deliver consistent results and shareholder value year on year. Consistent success is a function of a strong focus on the underlying process and continuous improvement. This focus also ensures that success is not dependent on a few individuals in the team, but dependent on the entire team adapting to a culture of getting basic things right consistently.

Don’t let success or failure determine your personality

“If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those impostors just the same; If you can walk with crowds and keep your virtue, Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch"

- Rudyard Kipling

Of all his leadership qualities, the one thing I admire the most about Dhoni is his ability to keep his head up and feet grounded amidst all the success he achieved. He never flaunted his success nor worried too much about his failure. Similar to his leadership style of letting the team take all the limelight during the days of crowning glory, he signed off silently from the game without any farewell matches or publicity. As a leader, we should know when to let the next generation leaders take over the team you built over the years and move on to take up new challenges in life or the organization.

Above all, a good leader should be a good human being with empathy to fellow team-mates, and the team should have happy memories of their time with the leader long after his time with the team. I still remember the bosses and leaders who made a significant impact on my career, and the memories of working with them still resonate with me. Nothing embodies this spirit more than the tweet from Virat Kohli, the current Indian captain.

“What you’ve done for the country will always remain in everyone’s heart…, but the mutual respect and warmth I’ve received from you will always stay in mine. The world has seen his achievements. I’ve seen the person. Thanks for everything, skip.”

The ability to understand the opposition as well as his own players and allowing them to deliver; that is very important. freedom is important and I think dhoni proves that. I rate him very high. He is been one of India's Greatest captain - Sourav Ganguly

I am really gifted to play under the leadership of MSD - M Hussey

Dhoni has the respect of all other playing nations. I've found him to be a really strong leader - Glenn McGrath

My goal is not to be better than anyone else, but to be better than i used to be - MSD

I hope this gives some ideas about leadership, each has potential to be a leader but to get success, we should be unique. Forever MSDian

Thanks for Sivasubramanian Sethu!!

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