Sunday, May 29, 2011

Dhoni - Closing the Loop in Effective Leadership

I missed this interview after one of the last IPL matches, but I heard what Dhoni had to say about how he gets his players to play out of their skins. What intrigues me about Dhoni's leadership is the way he gets everyone to perform way beyond what even (I suspect) they think they are capable of. In such circumstances you don't need superstars because everyone in your team starts playing like a superstar. From Joginder Sharma to Raina, Ashwin to Jakati, Murli Vijay toBadrinath, every one puts up their hands at the right time.

Many an Indian captain has been guilty of saying this in pre-Dhoni days - "All the players are now international players. We cannot tell them anything. They all know what they have to do." Now they may know what to do  - but it is important that everyone knows what the rest of the team is doing, what the leader expects from them and what their roles are. Else you do not need a leader at all! So whether you are an international or whatever, it is imperative that everyone knows and is made aware of their expectations, roles and responsibilities. The distinction between giving them space to perform and find their best response to the situation, to giving them the direction in which you want the ship to move is very thin. Robert Greene, in his book 'The 33 Concise Strategies to War' describes the situation as that of an expert horse rider who holds the reins with the slightest pressure - just enough to guide the horse. Not the other concept of not having any reins at all which indicates no control!

Now what Dhoni has said is something like this. 'I let the players figure out how they want to play in the broad scheme of things. They are all experienced enough and I give them freedom to deliver in their own way. In the process they make mistakes sometimes. When they make mistakes I step in and tell them what the mistakes are so the do not repeat them.'

The old way of leadership was to 1) either tell them everything and get mad at them when they would not do it exactly the way you wanted it (the control freaks) 2) not tell them anything and wash you hands off completely and pray to God that it all works out (the don't-touch philosophy) 3) tell them a bit and start frowning or yelling at the players at the first sign of things going wrong variety (the blamers) and 4) the ones who had their own agenda of promoting some players and not-promoting some others (the manipulators). One can see all these leadership styles clearly as one remembers some of the old Indian captains who have led the country - good players but lousy man managers. No wonder we hardly won any games those days.

This statement by Dhoni closes the loop very effectively for me. Let your team members know what you expect, their roles and responsibilities but let them figure out how best to do it. Give them space and time to execute the jobs and do not show your anger and resentment on the field at the first sign of things going wrong. On the field they need your support so they can pull back even on a bad start. Any corrections should be done off the field, before you come on. Or, after you go out of the field. Then, you tell them where they went wrong and how they can stop repeating the same mistake. No wonder Dhoni does not get upset with his players or even with himself on the field. It is just not the place for getting upset with oneself.

Thanks MSD. Another wonderful show of clarity from you and a great lesson in leadership!


Rajendra said...

Put a matrix around this and you have a Leadership Theory in place!

Harimohan said...

I don't know about me and my matrix Raja, but IFIM Bangalore is doing a compulsory course in leadership - Dhoni style. Check out rediff homepage today and there is an article about how they have a case study on leadership using Dhoni's example! The lady seemed full of good intentions but I would love to have a go at that kind of a class sometime.