Having faith in our ability is imperative to weather the rough phase
For leaders to be successful, they must be adept at coaching the individual members
Success inspires and how! An insight into the key learnings that corporate India can take from its inspirational Men in Blue.
1. Humility and Professionalism
When it comes to exhibiting highorder leadership behavior, MS Dhoni epitomizes the Level 5 leadership traits coined by the legendry Jim Collins through his humility, simplicity and professionalism. He never craves for front-stage glory but always enjoys the team’s success while staying in the background. The inimitable smile, the casual stroll behind the players, doing the victory lap with Sachin Tendulkar on the shoulders of young players, is a classic example of ‘Down to Earth Leadership’. A leader’s primary role is to create opportunities for success and enjoy the success of his team by staying in the background.
The ability to soak pressure, calm your team and stay focused when the chips are down. This is what MSD did, walking out at No. 5, despite a poor run with the bat. He raised many eyebrows with his decision of coming before Yuvraj and Raina. Throughout the tournament, he hardly had any noteworthy contributions with the bat but come final, 114 for 3, Dhoni walked in, defying all odds and played a masterstroke of an inninings, to guide the team to a historic win. This is ‘Leading from the Front’, even when past performance has not been encouraging. But look at the message conveyed to the other members of the team. As leaders, it is our duty to hold ground firmly, when the wind is blowing against us. This calming effect reinforces positive belief and faith in our ability to achieve the most difficult
objectives. It is this sense of calm exuded by the leaders through bold decision making that inspires the team in totality.
Having faith in our ability is imperative to weather the rough phase. Selfbelief and a strong supporting ecosystem brings out the best, even in disillusioned and demotivated team members. That does not mean that the talent and competence has vanished. All that is needed here is the support of leaders and team members in reviving the self-belief. Yuvraj went through a harrowing experieince of poor form for more than a year, before turning it around; when it mattered most, through a sublime performance in the world cup. No wonder! it is said that ‘Form is temporary but Class is permanent’. Becoming the man of the tournament in a World Cup truely reflected his class. A lot of credit goes to the leader and senior members – MSD and Sachin for persisting with their faith in Yuvraj. Keeping and maintaining faith in the team is a precursor to success.
4. Recovering from Setback
It is about forgetting a one-off bad day and preparing harder and better for the next opportunity; whenever it comes. Ashish Nehra bowled that unforgettable last over against South Africa that cost his team the match. Discarded from the next match, he did not waste time in brooding over the failure, rather utilized the opportunity by reflecting on mprovement and ironing out flaws for the future. Result - a magnificant spell at the death in the Indo-Pak semi-final that contributed to the final victory. He did a fantastic job by squeezing opportunity for scoring runs by Pakistani players. When the entire country condemned him, he did not condemn himself but made a resolve to do better next time. He did not waste time in allowing the negativity to consume him but prepared harder for a better performance next time.
5. Coaching: A Leadership Trait
For leaders to be successful, they must be adept at coaching the individual members. The role of a coach lies in inspiring the team while staying in the background. Effective coaching requires profound reflection about the capabilities of each and every individual and moulding these capabilities into a cohesive strength. The process calls for complimenting each other and sharing responsibilities, especially when others might fail due to a one-off bad day. It is the recognition of the fact that everyone cannot succeed everyday. Making others realize the need to rise to the occasion and take responsibility, when others have not been successful, is the key to achieve organizational objectives. Gary Kirsten championed this process by being mindful of this natural phenomenon and mobilizing the efforts through innovative means of motivation. Organizing a group of blind children to sing patriotic songs just before the finals was indeed a very innovative way of motivating the players. The initiative literally moved the players to achieve the supreme. Gary Kirsten remained in the background but created an insatiable hunger for success in the players. No wonder, players or members, actually fall in love with such coaches in a typical “To Sir with Love” style.
Focus is not about concentraing only on what to do but it is also about what not to do and what to stop doing. While most teams (Australia, Pakistan, Srilanka, SA) were engaged in mind games or verbal duals directed towards India, not a single irresponsible statement was made by ‘Men in Blue’ towards their opponents prior to their match. They decided to let their performance on field speak for them. Such tactics are mere distractions and team should best avoid it completely. We should remain focused on what we need to do rather than get distracted by what others might say or do.
7. Being Proactive
Attack is the best form of defence, as initially stated by W. H. Drayton in 1775 in R. W. Gibbes Documentary - American Revolution. Or catching the bull by the horns simply puts our enemies on the back foot. Sehwag, in his brief innings against Pakistan, destroyed the morale of their best bowler Umar Gul and paved the way for a fantastic victory. The effect was there to be seen right till the end as wickets became extremely slow and difficult to score. But the pace that he set up provided the momentum to score enough runs, which were successfully defended. The forces of nature or market may put our plans in jeopardy temporarily, it is up to us whether to, succumb to or brave the odds. More often than not, the rewards are much better in the latter. Very often, Sehwag is criticized for throwing his wicket, little realizing that it is the role assigned to him by his coach and team that he lives up to and not his own personal ambitions. Everyone knows that he has an enormous appetite to play long innings.
8. Making Every Opportunity Count
Ashwin is an exceptionally talented player but in a team replete with exceptional talent, he had to sit out for most part of the tournament. But he kept playing the game in his mind and was suddenly surprised by a call to play against Australia. To add to his surprise, he was given the responsibility to open the bowling against the mighty Australians and he did not disappoint the team at all. Often in a highly professional team whether in sports or business, the opportunities to excel will be far and few. What is required here is to be vary of the opportunities cropping up any time and converting those opportunities into meaningful outcomes.
9. Leader is as good as his team
A cliche often said. But if we analyze this statement well, it means that harder a leader prepares his team, greater the leader he becomes. So it shifts the focus on preparing our team for greater challenges, turbulent times and change. MSD inherited a decent but not a very cohesive team from Ganguly. But he never looked back; he worked with the team to create a very strong, cohesive unit that is hungry for success, irrespective of the opponent. No wonder! Sachin made this statement, “Dhoni is the best captian under whom I have played”. A legend making this statement has got to have merit in the leadership traits of MSD. This was the statement from the bottom of the heart of a great champion.
10. Man Management
Managing team for achieving objectives is one of the toughest tasks for a leader, especially when few members may be senior or superior to the leader (Captain) in individual performance. Such a situation is best handled through respect for competence, absolute meritocracy, transparency in assigning responsibilities and alignment with the common goal. MSD handled senior players like Sachin, Zahir, Yuvraj, Sehway, Harbhajan etc exceptionally well. He along with Gary Kirsten promoted the culture of mentoring by senior players for newcomers like Virat Kohli, Raina etc. Throughout this odyssey till its culmination, players displayed remarkable grace, tremendous character and amazing synergy. The poise in their conduct was evident in the manner of their celebrations. No arrogance, no proving of points and no instigating remarks, it was absolute joy that made people like Sachin, Yuvraj and Harbhajan cry in bliss and others expressing their emotions, in whichever manner suited them. It was a perfect example of leading and team building.
Himanshu R. Saxena, AVP HR (Change Management), Tata Consultancy Services