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Management lesson for IPL captains

May 29, 2008 11:56 IST

The DLF Indian Premier League has scored quite heavily off the field as well. The high-voltage spat between Royal Challengers owner Vijay Mallya and his sacked CEO Charu Sharma is just one of the many non-cricketing highlights of the month-long event.

Most of the IPL matches played so far have been interesting case studies for leadership lessons as well. Here's one example. Last week, Kolkata Knight Riders Captain Sourav Ganguly and his Chennai Super Kings counterpart M S Dhoni were talking to the TV commentator immediately after the toss. Replying to a question on the changes in their squads, Ganguly said he had brought in Debabrata Ghosh. "Sorry, I think he is Das, not Ghosh. But I am not too sure," the captain said.

While one can still ignore Ganguly's confusion over the surname of one of his playing eleven, Dhoni seemed to have gone one up. "I have made one change. But I can't remember the player's name. He is a local lad," Dhoni said with a straight face.

This shows almost all captains (with the possible exception of Shane Warne) were found wanting in an area that perhaps matters the most - leadership skills. And forgetting the names of your own playing eleven is just one example of this.

If Rahul Dravid offered a textbook example of excessively passive leadership, quite a few other captains were behaving very much like a Theory X manager whose approach to motivation relies on coercion, implicit threats and tight controls - essentially an environment of command and control.

Most of the captains were also seen to have perfected the art of passing the buck - another poor leadership quality.  During the match with Rajasthan Royals, for example, Ganguly ran back to drop a catch in the outfield that strictly belonged to teammate Akash Chopra. What Ganguly did was to shout at a hapless Chopra even though the mistake was his own.

Or, consider what Dhoni said at a press conference on Tuesday after the match with Royal Challengers - the one which booked a semi-final slot for his team. Dhoni talked about how the team is missing Mathew Hayden (who left midway because of his Test commitments) and that his main worry is the opening combination. Thankfully, the camera didn't focus on the expressions of Stephen Fleming and Parthiv Patel who have been opening in all the matches after Hayden's exit.

It's as if the promoter of a company is expressing no-confidence in his CEO. Worse, the promoter is publicly saying that he had much more faith in the CEO's predecessor.

If cricket is getting corporatised so much, it's perhaps not a bad idea to put the team captains (who are virtually CEOs on the field) through a crash course on leadership lessons.

Ganguly and Dhoni, for example, could be taught how respecting your people is not some warm and fuzzy new age management fad. At its heart, the idea is that you are respecting people enough to demand their best. The former and present India captains should also be told that one of the biggest myths about good leadership qualities is the need for an "angry" image - that the CEO must be a leader whose mood ranges from sour to apoplectic.

History tells us that such companies generally collapse under the weight of the ever-present threat of explosive anger. The growing refrain in leadership training institutes is that if you believe fear is the electricity that powers your company, forget leadership practices and be prepared to live with a team of hangers-on.

Also, incredibly successful CEOs are those who haven't made the mistake of looking only at the mirror to get their decisions approved. They learnt to surround themselves with people who are willing to tell the truth.

Dennis C Carey and Marie-Caroline in their magnificent book, How to Run a Company, give an example of John Dasburg, the former CEO of Northwest Airlines. Soon after taking over as CEO, Dasburg got a call at home from a junior executive describing the core of a turnaround strategy that he was convinced would work.

Dasburg heard him out and was convinced that the proposal could turn around Northwest. The proposal essentially was to abandon the airline's prevailing strategy of developing or acquiring as many hubs as possible and instead focusing on just three hubs.

When Northwest launched the three-hub strategy, it was ridiculed in the industry - the conventional wisdom was that an airline is required to serve every market. But as subsequent developments proved, the strategy saved Northwest.

Such examples show that the most successful individuals populating the top rung of the corporate ladder are more often those who can attract top talent and inspire them to exceptional levels of performance. This is one attribute that is surely missing in most captains playing in the IPL.

Shyamal Majumdar
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