In 2008, something quite unusual happened – and people took notice. Ernst and Young published a report “The Dhoni Effect-The Rise of Other India” – chronicling the rise of Mahendra Singh Dhoni. The report was based on the premise that Dhoni’s meteoric rise reflected the parallel rise of small-town India. From the small by-lanes of Ranchi to being the Captain of the Indian cricket team – across formats, Dhoni has been India’s most successful captain and is revered as an icon. His distinctive style, unique approach to the game and team-management have been the stuff of many discussions.

A shining example of leadership, management and leading by example, CEOs can learn quite a few things by studying Dhoni:

Get into The Trenches, Dirty Your Hands:

It is widely acknowledged that Cricket is a game full of glorious uncertainties and that you are as good as your last performance. Perhaps being an icon can get you an extra innings, but the nature of the game is highly competitive –it is the consistency in performance that matters. Leaders too are judged accordingly. That he has earned the respect is very true, but Dhoni would not have been credited unless he performed well continuously and consistently – behind the stumps and in front as well. He was fearless in delegating responsibility and empowering. 

Thus the takeaway is that CEOs can strategize, plan – but they should also demonstrate personal excellence in 1 or more disciplines…marketing, operations, finance, HR, partnerships. etc…Delegation is fine as long as it does not dilute the contributing & performing role of the CEO. A hands-on, skilled CEO is far more valued because he becomes part of the team, demonstrates skill, rather than another who sits back, supervising & giving orders. 

Fearlessly Lead from The Front:

Dhoni as a Captain was always in the thick of it – whether as a batsman (delivering the winning knock - time and again), as a wicket-keeper and being involved in every decision, every action on the field. More importantly, his multi-tasking extended to every format of the game – he was a top performer, always raising the bar. 

He was leading the charge in whatever the game demanded and fully living in the now. Owning the outcomes, demonstrating excellence and performance, he was a Captain players look up to and sought advice from. He always appeared to being fully command of the situation, even if things were not going the way they should. Always leading from the front, Dhoni was an aspirational icon.

Stay Calm and Cool:

When you carry the expectations of a 130 crore cricket-crazy on your shoulders, it can be terrifying. But Dhoni stayed calm…and delivered. No wonder he was called ‘Captain Cool’ – it is not possible that India will ever have a cooler captain that him. This calm demeanour and approach has helped Dhoni become a living legend for future generations

Sating calm helps focus and helps to retain clarity for planning the way forward. Similarly, CEOs need to emulate Dhoni in staying cool and calm, in face of all the pressures & expectations – this will help them emerge as better leaders and performers not have been more perfect.

Share the Credit; Take The Blame

It is an old saying that the leader is only as good as the team. This was never more true than with Dhoni, who never emphasized his own role (despite being an awesome match finisher) but always gave credit to the team. Often heard saying that the “process” was important, Dhoni epitomises the attitude which CEOs much aspire for – that a serving leader. 

Because he serves the larger cause – Indian cricket – he is comfortable with himself and promotes the team as the winner and the cause – never seeking the limelight himself. Mostly spotted in the corner of the post-match winning team pictures, Dhoni exemplifies the modest leader. CEOs must learn from this – it will serve the business well. It’s not about yes-men and building a coterie…walk the talk and share the credit for achievements.