31 May 2018 20:44 IST

Inspire; partner; lead. Learnings from the IPL

Sunrisers Hyderabad captain Kane Williamson and Chennai Super Kings captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni at the pre-final press conference in Mumbai on May 26

Leadership lessons from IPL can help us better handle the situations that work and life throw at us

Chennai Super Kings(CSK) did it! After a two-year gap, they came back in style, lifting the IPL Cup for the third time. One of the advantages of the long grind of the IPL format is that it is more marathon than sprint. Sure, it’s a short format match. But, game after game, venue after venue, it tests the competence of the teams and also their character. CSK showed both as they handled the ups and downs of the knock-out stages, all through to the finals, with the spirit of a champion side.

The IPL also provides a great canvas for leadership to be demonstrated and learnt. What lessons can we pick up from it?

Captains Cool

The top two teams of the championship were led by the two captains who could legitimately lay claim to the title of Captain Cool. In fact, one of the questions posed to fans was “Who is the cooler Captain? MS Dhoni or Kane Williamson?” Neither Dhoni nor Williamson would fall under the category of the visibly aggressive captain, with over the top celebrations when a wicket falls, screaming at team-mates when they make a mistake, abusing players of the other side or needless gamesmanship. They both exude a calm and zen-like state that even the most stressful events in the game are unable to penetrate.

Even the next two teams in the table — Kolkata Knight Riders and Rajasthan Royals — were led by cool captains. Dinesh Karthik and Ajinkya Rahane are in the same category. No overt displays of aggression, no hesitation in flashing a smile.

This calm should not be mistaken for weakness or a lack of intent or aggression. Behind the calm, there is method, a deep conviction and a driving desire to win — the results were proof of that.

Level 5 leaders

Both captains fit Jim Collins’ description of the level 5 Leader, who leads with ‘a combination of personal humility and professional will.’ This combination was demonstrated in spades, by both Dhoni and Williamson. Neither made the campaign about themselves, neither believed in grabbing the spotlight or the cameras, both showed a gritty determination to go after the Cup, game by game, conscious of their team’s weaknesses, confident in its strengths and powered by a winning attitude.

In the business world, some leaders choose to create a ‘tough-guy’ image for themselves. They love to show who is boss, they don’t hesitate to scream and shout at colleagues (I’ve heard of one senior executive at an MNC who even threw things at subordinates who made a mistake), they love to hear accolades such us “nobody likes him, but boy, do we fear him!”

Then there is the Captain Cool type, where it is inner strength and resolve that count. Their leadership is demonstrated by their calm but relentless pursuit of the organisation’s vision and goals. We must choose carefully who we plan to emulate, and Dhoni and Williamson provide important clues.

Lead by example

Both Dhoni and Williamson led by example. Dhoni, with his savage onslaughts at key moments and his ability to pace a chase to perfection. Williamson, with his unbelievable consistency — he not only took the Orange cap (awarded to the batsman who scores the highest runs in the tournament) but also smashed eight 50s on his way to the final. Dhoni’s leadership has an impact both on the field and off it.

“It was (the) Dhoni impact... Dhoni does have a very strong influence and impact on players. MS’s belief and confidence in a strong role for every player works for us. He has the ability to bring the best out of players,” is Coach Stephen Fleming’s testimony to Dhoni’s leadership.

Dhoni demands fitness from his players and begins with himself. He is perhaps one of the fastest runners between wickets, constantly pushing his partner for two, when most batsmen would be happy with one, and his reflexes behind the stumps have not dimmed with age. In a crisis situation, he puts himself in the firing line and has, several times, pulled the team back from the brink.

This IPL also had a great leading-by-example moment when Gautam Gambhir chose to step down as captain of Delhi Daredevils because he felt he wasn’t providing the performances his team needed from him, as a batsman and as a captain. A brave and creditable decision. Leading by example is what defines real leaders.

It’s always about the team

CSK was always about the team. As Dhoni himself put it at the post-match presentation ceremony, “We have been a very good team over the past ten seasons, but it’s more about the dressing room atmosphere.” A culture of enjoying being with each other and celebrating each other’s successes. This team’s mantra was, whether they won or lost, they were in it together.

Every player felt he had to play his part. While CSK had no superstar big-hitters like a Chris Gayle or an AB De Villiers, different players stepped up to the plate in different matches to ensure their team got home. It was Bravo in their first match, Billings in another, Ambati Rayudu in quite a few, Raina in some, Faf du Plessis in the first qualifier and then the stunning century by Shane Watson in the final.

CSK did not have the best players, but they were the strongest team. A team that was called a pack of ‘uncles’ because of the nine 30-plus players they picked, showed they had the experience and stamina to be a winning team.

Similarly, SRH’s bowling unit had match winning performances from Siddharth Kaul, newcomer Rashid Khan and even veteran Yusuf Pathan. Leadership is about creating winning teams — teams that become ‘a complementary set of strengths’, and players who are able to mesh together when it counts.

Moving on

The leader also sets the tone of not making excuses and moving on when the team hits challenges. Right at the start of the tournament, CSK faced its first challenge. It had to shift out of Chennai because of the Cauvery agitation. The team had bought its players and planned its strategy based on Chennai as its home venue — now suddenly home base was Pune. Most teams would have whined and complained and blamed the poor turn of circumstances, but Chennai just got on with their game. As Stephen Fleming put it “We had to change the way we had to play the game. The experience enabled us to do that. It was a big change, but we had to get on with it.”

In fact, whether it is play or work, leadership rules are often the same. We may never get to play in the IPL but we can surely harness the leadership lessons from it so that we can better handle the situations that both work and life throw at us.

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