Mahendra Singh Dhoni plays multiple roles with elan. He was the captain of the Indian cricket team, a batsman who could change the game, a wicketkeeper whose one-liners egg his bowlers on, an occasional bowler, and a role model for players and fans. It was under his captaincy that India climbed to No. 1 in the ICC Test Rankings in 2009. He led the Indian team to many wins, the most famous being the one in the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup final against Sri Lanka with his match-winning knock of unbeaten 91.
But it wasn’t easy for Dhoni to get past the many challenges and tests that life – and cricket – threw at him. What’s helped him become one of the most successful captains in the history of Indian cricket is that he’s maintained his calm and led from the front under pressure. Master blaster Sachin Tendulkar has famously said that Mahi was the best captain he had played under, adding that his handling of pressure was “incredible”. But Captain Cool makes short work of pressure. “It’s like having 100 kg put over you. After that, even if you pit a mountain, it will not make a difference,” he has said.
Dhoni kept his head, when all around him people are losing theirs, and here’s what you can learn from him:
#1 Stay calm in the face of criticism
These lines of Rudyard Kipling’s poem, If, may well have been written for leaders: “If you can keep your head when all about you, are losing theirs and blaming it on you…” It’s not easy to stay unruffled when you and your decisions are gathering flak but maintaining your composure and having the ability to transform a crisis into positive action is a major determinant of success as a leader. Before the 2007 T20 World Cup, cricket analyst Ravi Shastri referred to Team India as the “underdogs”. As he picked up the trophy, Dhoni responded to that label: “I remember you called us underdogs and so we have won the cup for you.”
Lesson: Don’t let people’s remarks get to you. Stay cool and focus on your work. Let your work speak for you.
#2 Always think out of the box
In the 2011 World Cup, Mahi, sorely out-of-form, decided that he would come in to bat at No 5 before Yuvraj Singh, the man in form. He went on to hit the winning runs and was declared man of the match. In the 2007 T20 World Cup, he chose to give inexperienced pacer Joginder Sharma the ball in the last over. In the 2013 Champions Trophy Final, which India won, he gave Ravichandran Ashwin the ball in the last over. He keeps everyone guessing amidst pressure, an ability that’s game-changing.
Lesson: Think on your feet and be a quick decision maker. A good leader should always have a Plan B in mind.
#3 Don’t let emotions get in the way
Dhoni is called Captain Cool for a reason. No matter what the situation may be, he isn’t perturbed. Sledging? He takes it easy and won’t resort to getting into a war of words. He never gets involved in heated arguments and chooses to keep his emotions to himself. Once, abused by a bowler on field, he chose to get the umpire to intervene instead of hitting back. This calm demeanour has helped him win matches, but it’s also ensured that he can cope with losses better.
Lesson: Set an example by staying cool, calm and collected. This helps you think about and handle the googlies being thrown at you better.
#4 Look towards the future
Like all great leaders, Dhoni owns up and takes the fall for his mistakes. He never hesitates to take responsibility for India’s poor performance but he doesn’t dwell on the past. He chooses to tackle things head on and come up with a new game plan and another and another. When asked halfway through a series if India were beaten, he famously said: “Till the full stop doesn’t come, the sentence isn’t complete.”
Lesson: Take responsisbilty of your actions and then work on a plan to solve the problem.
#5 Win the battle in your head
The actual battleground isn’t a geographic location or a cricket ground; it’s in the minds that the fiercest battles take place. As he says: “Nobody has seen form. It is a state of mind where you are confident and you think very positively.” The cricketer maintains a positive attitude, through ups and downs. His composure and poise rub off on the rest of the team, helping them focus on the matter – or match – at hand.
Lesson: Work on building strengths – your own and the teams – and keep a positive attitude at all times.
To be the best, you need to #LoveWhatYouDo.
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