Leadership is everywhere. It shows up in organizations, within families and in sports. The places where leadership is tested the post is when there are teams, high expectations and high risk situations. The victory of the Indian cricket team, in the recently concluded Cricket World Cup 2011, had all three ingredients and that’s what inspired me to write this post.
The grand finale was on Saturday, April 2, 2011, at the Wankhede Stadium, in Mumbai, India where India played a very strong Sri Lanka side.
For the uninitiated, Cricket is a game of 11 players on each side and then there is the captain who takes on-field decisions that make or break the game.
Playing in front of 35,000 Cricket crazy fans making deafening noise is never easy. Oh! And not to forget the other 1.2 billion Indians who were glued to the TV. And if that’s not enough, there are probably another few million non-Indians who were watching it all unravel, too.
High Risk Situation
At stake was the most coveted trophy that one can lay his hands on, once every 4 years. It’s akin to something like the Soccer World Cup – the Cricket World cup had 49 matches played over the past 1 ½ month or so. In the history of the cricket world cups, few captains have survived a poor showing by their team… and sometimes, more than half of the teams have been replaced as well.
India were in a high-pressure run chase in front of a capacity home crowd & in a bit of a soup, with more than half runs to get with the game very much in balance. It was then that the Indian captain, MS Dhoni, took a bold decision to take the matters in his own hands by coming out to bat ahead of the regular player (an in-form Yuvraj Singh) and batted through the innings (almost 2 hours) and took his team to victory. So, what’s the big deal? Many players in many sports have done similar things… well! The big deal is not how he played but how he LED:
- Lead from the Front. It takes a special kind of a person to take matters in his own hands, especially when he knows that he is not at his best. And a special kind of courage to walk in before someone on his team who is at his best. That shows Intent. That shows Confidence. That gives a message to the entire team (including the opposition!). Leaders do that – they lead from the front!
- Belief in his abilities. Right from the moment he came out to bat, his body language was that of someone who is simply going to do it. He had an aura of positivity & self-belief around him. You could tell. Yes, things could have gone wrong for him at any instant but there was no space for self-doubt. That message was clear from the moment came into bat. Leaders do that – They believe in themselves and back themselves up, when their team needs it the most.
- Captain “Cool”. We are all humans and it’s natural to feel pressure and let things get out of hands in the land of Panic. And we all know what happens, when we enter the land of Panic. Not with MS Dhoni. He has this unique ability to absorb pressure & seems to keep things simple. He maintained a straight face (I have no idea, how!) and kept at it, chipping away, until he took his team to victory. No wonder he is also known as “Captain Cool”. Which brings us to Leadership lesson #3 – Leaders know there is no place for Panic! You’ve got to keep your cool!
- Astute thinker & strategist. Not for one moment during his team’s batting, he took off his thinking cap. He made sure there was a Left handed batsman and a Right handed batsman batting together at all times, Why? Because it is fundamental knowledge that the bowlers and the fielders of the opposition get a bit unsettled when a Left-Right combination is there, on the field. Yes, leaders are astute strategists. The play with their minds (and the opposition’s) as much as with their bodies, in sports!
- Risk Taking. MS Dhoni admitted in the post-match conference that had the result gone the other way, he would be deeply criticized for some of his decisions – like he made an unpopular choice with the team selection and also coming to bat before the in-form batsman, Yuvraj Singh. He knew he would have been crucified by the media and then whatever would have been left of him, would have been handed to the general public. Yet, he took those gutsy decisions and went with it. Leaders know – Glory & Risk are simply two sides of the same coin.
- Reading the Situation. In his post match conference, MS Dhoni also referred to the fact that he was very familiar with how to play the star bowler, Mutthiah Muralitharan, of the opposition because both of them have played from the same team in another tournament (The Indian Premier League). How awesome is that! Knowing that you can read the star performer of the other team you shield your team by playing him our – masterful, indeed!
- Read the Opposition Tactics – The opposition team had selected 2 masterful off-spinners because there were quite a few left handers in the Indian batting line-up (It is a well known technical fact of the cricket game that left handers are a bit more susceptible to off-spinners than Right handed batsmen are). When Captain Cool decided to walk out, he knew that the remaining regular batsmen in his team were 2 Left handers - and hence, negated the opposition tactics with this move. That’s leadership!
- Know your Team’s strengths. Another reason (MS Dhoni shared in his post match conference) why he came out to bat when he did was because he knew that the other batsman at the crease (Gautam Gambhir) was a great runner and both of them can run really fast and get more runs if they bat together. Great leaders play and strategize around their team’s strengths.
- Giving, and not Taking CREDIT. Quote from his post match conference – “I’m lucky because I have got good players.” True leaders do that – The stand in the front and take bullets for their team but step aside when being showered with flowers!
- PLAYING for the TEAM: This one takes the cake! In his post match conference (and I quote him)- “We wanted to win the trophy for each other first. The first thing you want to do is give them (team-mates and support staff) happiness; to see it in their eyes.” Remarkable leaders do it for others. It’s never about them, alone…
Yes, some call him Lucky (incidentally, the humble being he is, he refers to himself as that, too!), or the man with the Golden touch as he has been on an unprecedented winning streak since he came at the helm of the Indian cricket team, since 2007. I prefer “Captain Cool”, who takes you through the “Leadership School” whenever he takes on the field!
—This article was contributed by Himanshu Jhamb, co-founder of ActiveGarage and co-author of #PROJECT MANAGEMENT tweet. You can follow Himanshu on Twitter at himjhamb.