The “MS Dhoni”​ brand of Leadership

MSDhoniIt was about a week ago that Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the Ex-Indian Cricket Captain and Player, announced his retirement as the Captain. While he will continue to play as a player, this was an iconic moment as one of the most prolific leaders of this era was calling time on what was one of the most incredible chapters in Leadership.

It took me a while to compose this piece, as I had to reflect on “what it was holistically”. Just to give a context to all my non-cricketing friends – MS (as he is widely known), came from the hinterlands of India with a game (talent) that can at best be called “modest”, with no experience in Leading a team but with the confidence tank filled to the brim – poised to make most of the limited opportunities that came his way. And he did make the opportunities his own, for he went onto play for 12 years playing all formats of the sport, without being dropped even once – more importantly 10 of those years as the National Captain.

Statistics will go onto immortalize his time in the history, as one of the longest serving leaders of the sport and one of the most successful ones at that – not only for India but also in the world. And that builds the premise of this piece, what made a man from the backwaters of India with no leadership experience to create such an Impact as a leader? And, more importantly how can we draw parallels with his life to create a similar impact in our respective worlds?

Here are thumbnails of some of the leadership tenets that I absorbed:

Being in the present: Rajdeep Sardesai (eminent Indian Journalist) once asked MS “Good times or Bad times, you never look under Pressure. What is it? Do you do Yoga? Meditation? I often wonder if you practice Buddhism.” He replied

“I don’t practice any of the above things. I love to be in the moment”.

So what is it “being in the moment”? It’s the ability to remove all distractions and build ultimate clarity and focus on the moment and the task at hand. For MS, this meant one day, one game, one innings, one over, one ball, one decision at a time. And as a leader he sought similar amount of focus and clarity from his players – asking them to be clear at the job or task at hand instead of being muddled with multiple thoughts, that can create state of utter confusion. Today’s era is a maze of distractions. We are bombarded with information, decisions and tasks from all around – and this ability to clear the clutter and focus on the present can be a huge virtue to create higher impact with lesser stress. This also helps in refraining from spending too much time thinking in the past and the future. While its essential to reflect and plan, once we get the necessary insights and readiness we need to get fully focused on the task at hand to ensure we execute our plans to the best of our abilities in pursuit of maximum desired impact. Present denotes “doing” thus “being in the present” guarantees impact.

Back your instincts firmly based on acquired intelligence: In 2007 Twenty20 Cricket World Cup (MS’s first assignment as a Captain), in the very first game (Vs Pakistan), the match ended in a Tie. And as was the norm then, the shoot-out used to be a bowl out – wherein 5 bowlers from each team will bowl one ball each at the stumps, and the maximum “clean bowled” wins the game. India fielded one regular bowler and two part timers (non regular bowlers) in the first three bowls, and achieved 3/3. Whereas, Pakistan fielded 3 regulars yet finished 0/3, thus conceding the game. It turned out India was practicing for a potential bowl out situation in the run up to the tournament, and had figured out who, how etc. towards that eventuality. MS as captain knew exactly how to respond to that situation and took the call on who should bowl for India based on what he had seen at the practices. It was an instinctive call based on insights and intelligence he built in the previous week. His decade long leadership tenure is punctuated with several such key decision moments where to the naked eye it appeared he had taken a punt – and on majority of the occasions, they were successful! There have been a lot of chatter, on how lucky he has been or how he has this Midas touch etc., but on taking a closer look one could see – He used his acquired intelligence to build and back his instincts. These were no blind punts, these were calculated risks taken on the basis of intelligence of past experiences. And that’s the noteworthy lesson to take from here – How can we leverage the information, insights and intelligence around us to build strong instincts that help us take calculated risks. For any disruption to happen – risks will need to be taken, the dice will need to be thrown. And leaders will need to build their ability to read & leverage intelligence, to lead by instincts.

Build the right Talent Bus: There are 3 significant phases in MS’s leadership journey

  • Phase 1: 2007 – 2011(Building the team towards winning 2011 World Cup),
  • Phase 2: 2011 – 2015 (Handling the transition of Senior Players to the Generation Next – In fact as things would turn out, he led the transition across two generations effectively to build a team of absolute youngsters for the 2015 world cup and the future beyond),
  • Phase 3: 2015 – 2017 (Transitioning out to hand over the reins to the next captain).

Across all these phases there was a certain plan and clarity that he worked out with this management and establishment, to land the right people – that fitted his scheme of things. Some needed long ropes (prolonged set of opportunities) to figure out the right role for themselves, and some needed additional encouragement to gain the required confidence to succeed at the international stage. Against all odds, and opposition, he stuck to his plan to have the team, that he felt was the best to actualize and execute his plan. This gets accentuated by the amount of successes and impact, the team achieved on the way. Imran Khan, (Former Pakistan Cricket Legend, Captain and Player) too epitomized this facet of a leader – to be able build their own Talent Bus, a concept popularized by the great thinker Jim Collins, in his book “Good to Great” , where he says:

“leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.”

Once the bus is right, Great leaders back their talent with opportunities to help them get to the zone of highest impact.

Empower People to Step Up and Own the moment: Michael Hussey (Former Australian Cricketer and MS’s team mate at the Chennai Super Kings) writes in his book Winning Edge: Behind the Scenes of Elite Cricket 

“Dhoni’s incredible calmness around the group had the effect of allowing players to take ownership of their game and find their place within the side. MS was very big on personal responsibility and placed a lot of trust in players to do their job.”.

This was one of the most evident aspect in MS’s leadership – whether a new or an experienced player, he pushed them on their individual leadership – to step up, and execute their plans. This helped build some great talent over time – players who put their hand up and relished the accountability and land some significant impact. And in the moments, when the stakes grew high or some players found the heat too much to handle, he would put in the subtle word of encouragement – to help them enjoy and learn from the experience, and not to get worried by the outcome. Somewhere, India’s ability to relentlessly build a strong bench strength over the years, is relative to this approach as the system never destroyed anyone’s confidence. It also differentiated players that had the mindset or attitude to accept this accountability and succeed. Not everyone is cut out for this. Some fell by the wayside. In a modern day context, this can be a valid leadership template to adopt – to create a culture of accountability and empowerment. Its living the concept of “everyone is a leader” more overtly, and enhancing the entrepreneurial mindset.

Composure & Clarity: The “Captain Cool” tag that MS has been bestowed with over the years, is a stuff of legends now. A nation of 1.3 Billion, with almost the entire country being a staunch fanatic of the sport – one can imagine the temperature of emotions and expectations, when the team takes the ground for a game. And for their leader to practically not even show a frown in the toughest of the circumstances, to be able keep calm especially in the clutch moments, to not scream and rant over mistakes by his mates, to be able to disintegrate and unnerve the opposition with his sheer composure – underlines some key qualities of a terrific leader. At Microsoft, lately we have been talking a lot about how managers need to be able to create calm to help teams embrace transformational times. And it’s here, there is a lot to learn and emulate from MS – his ability to:

  • focus on the moment (thereby not stressing on “What if” or “Only If” thoughts),
  • focus on the next step (optimism – what do we do next, how can we do the next step better etc),
  • focus on controllable with utmost clarity and focus (for example: his message to a certain bowler once was “when you are at the top of your run up and you start running in – you should have just one plan, one thought and focus on executing that plan to the best”) and
  • remove performance anxiety to enable people to feel relaxed, enjoy the moment, express themselves and be energized.

Especially in the era of Transformation, there are a lot of Waves of Turbulence. A leader’s ability to create calmness and clarity – relieves the organization of the stress, angst or pressures, and creates a climate of learning, enjoyment, optimism and focus.

Humility and the Level 5 leader: One of the most famously chronicled aspects of MS Dhoni, is his being in the fringes or background or being invisible, whenever his team is huddled in for a celebratory moment of a victorious campaign. In fact there is a moment from Champions Trophy , 2013 that captures this, the best. India won this tournament and post the award presentation, the team was doing the lap of honor. The entire team was going bananas dancing, jumping and posing with the trophy. In one such moments, one of the players extended the trophy to MS asking him to walk with it – but he politely declined with a shy smile as if to say “No thanks. You enjoy and have fun”. There was so much to cheer and celebrate that day – yet this one moment stands well etched in my mind – as a moment of pure humility and inspiration. Another moment was when India won the world cup in 2011. He had just played a masterful knock to win it for the team. It was by all means his moment and no one would have grudged if he stole a few minutes under the spotlight only for himself. But that wasn’t him. The evening belonged to the great Sachin Tendulkar (the iconic Indian Cricketer), for whom this was the last world cup. The team had rallied to win this, in his honor. And MS just melted into the background to let that moment be Sachin’s . Over the years there were numerous such moments of modesty and underplaying self, that epitomized his leadership.

Jim Collins, in his work Level 5 Leadership : The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve, captures this as a quality at the topmost hierarchical level of leadership – what he terms as Level 5 leader. He describes the Level 5 leader as a study in Duality – Modest and willful, shy and fearless underpinned by an Unwavering Resolve. MS in a way, endorses the Level 5 leadership – that in modern transformative times is such a key need. Leaders at the other four levels in the hierarchy (see the exhibit The Level 5 Hierarchy below) can produce high degrees of success but not enough to elevate companies from mediocrity to sustained excellence. Good-to-great transformations don’t happen without Level 5 leaders at the helm.

Collins Pyramid

(Image Courtesy: Level 5 Leadership : The Triumph of Humility and Fierce Resolve)

Leading from the front: In 2007, MS Dhoni got his first ever leadership role – being the deputy of the then Captain Rahul Dravid. He used to be a belligerent striker of the ball, who would often throw caution to the wind while playing some of the most audacious shots. Yet in the first Test Match on Day 5 India was precariously placed and they needed to hunker down and bat out the day to save the game. We kept losing wickets, and needed someone to play the anchor role. In an unique display of grit, MS played an uncharacteristically defensive innings, completely out of his comfort zone – to put up a valiant fight, thus going onto save the game. This result would go onto energize the team immensely and help them win the series ahead. This was the first of many instances, when MS Dhoni the leader put himself in the line to play a match saving or match winning innings. Over the years, his reputation of being a finisher became a legendary attribute and was one of the key sources of inspiration and energy for his teams. There is nothing more motivating than to see your commander in chief, folding their sleeves and getting into the arena to win battles. Its still the oldest way of inspiring teams, and it works especially when chips are down. It’s the ability to put oneself in the line of fire and bringing it home for the team. Its here a leader earns tremendous respect and admiration of the team.

Leading Transition and Transformation: Two elements that get spoken very little about MS’s leadership is the consistent Transformation that Indian Cricket went through under his leadership and how he effectively managed the transition through some of the darkest periods, to ensure we build a leadership & talent pipeline and more secured & successful future. When he started as a leader Indian Cricket was primarily skill and flair driven. Over the years we transformed into a side that grew in fitness levels, agility, creativity, audacity and overall positive attitude. This was significant transformation and wasn’t possible in a day – this needed relentless focus on Talent, Culture and the Growth Process. Also, (as mentioned in “Build the Right Talent Bus” above) for a leadership that spanned managing across 3 cricketing generations – This needed a Transition Plan, that gave enough time for newer talent to get acclimatized to the International arena and for the next leader to get ready. This was a time when results (especially away from home) weren’t favorable, yet someone had to lead the transition so that the future can be ready. A transition is always a change curve which needs high degree of patience and perseverance from the leadership. MS demonstrated tremendous composure and patience during these transitional phases, thereby being able to relinquish leadership responsibility to the rightful successor at the opportune time. For any leader to see through tough phases of Transition and Transformation, its critical to have a strong objective, patience and a practical mindset. Change can bring severe turbulence with it, and a leader’s ability to hold their own, goes a long way in helping navigate through the turbulent times. Sometimes, these can be overtly tough personally for the leader, but its here the Great ones get differentiated from the ordinary ones. The ordinary ones, would probably chose to leave wanting to keep their reputations and track record intact, the great leaders on the other hand, suspend their personal reputation and work towards playing for the larger cause of building the “Changed” organization.

Not a matter of life and death: MS once famously said:

“I have three dogs at home. Even after losing or winning a series, they treat me the same way”.

In a country where cricket is often equated to religion and the deeds on the field made into matters of life and death – this quote almost makes a mockery of that intensely scrutinized reality by underlining the fact that there is a bigger life out there that is way more important than the professional life we live. At the end it’s just another day of Cricket and it isnt the end of the world if we lose the contest. Ravichandran Ashwin (Indian Cricket Player) in a response to a query on MS’s Leadership style, mentions this “He is cool and calm. He isn’t much vocal. When emotions are running high and everyone is expecting some reaction from the Captain, he has the ability to not react, leave his emotions in his kit bag and go to his room”. This does say a few things –

  1. It helps the team to move on – and not get overtly consumed by a specific moment, especially if it is a tough moment of defeat
  2. It sets an example of creating an intentional difference between “Professional” and “Personal” space

Work Life Balance, is a huge topic of thought in today’s corporate ecosystem. With work being liberated from the confines of a physical professional environment (thanks to ubiquitous technological advances), it is imperative for people to Switch Off and On, to ensure there are other aspects of life that one can cherish. Leaders can be huge inspirations, if they can lead by example in not taking their professional thoughts, worries and issues, to bed with them.

The Larger Purpose: In 2009 in the 2nd Indian Premier League edition, his club Chennai Super Kings finished their campaign in the semi finals. The team certainly looked patchy and the following story is a dressing room narrative (as captured in the below snippet from Hussey’s book Winning Edge: Behind the Scenes of Elite Cricket)

Hussey Team Purpose

This instance underlined, his approach to his cricket. He wanted his players to get serious beyond the blinding spotlights and find a meaning from the work they do. Its this meaning that would then build the character, culture and community for prolonged & sustained excellence. It was this moment that helped the team to return the next season and become champions, thus kick starting a reign of prolonged success in the years to come. As the great thinker and innovation expert, Clayton Christensen mentioned in his profound piece work “How will you measure your life”

“If you’re not guided by a clear sense of purpose, you’re likely to fritter away your time and energy on obtaining the most tangible, short-term signs of achievement, not what’s really important to you.”

Leaders can play an integral part in elevating the people around them to identify their true north or the larger purpose, that can then set the course for deriving the right meaning, satisfaction and happiness from the work or career we pursue.

Leadership is a complex subject. Zillions of dollars and hours are being spent every day by leading thinkers and experts, in analyzing and devising newer dimensions of Leadership. Yet at the end it is that simple aspect of an individual’s ability to inspire self and a group of humans towards a goal. It all boils down to how we can have the right people in the group, understand them and their needs and inspire them to run for the cause. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the man from the hinterland with a modest talent, loads of confidence and certainly no exposure to the Complex Leadership theories of the leading thinkers and experts – chose to do it his way, following his heart and mind. In doing so, he leaves behind a strong body of leadership legacy and lessons.

Its now left to us – how can we embrace this and find Dhoni in ourselves!


Sheel Majumdar, leads HR at Microsoft Philippines, and is passionate in the space of Cricket and Leadership. He frequently writes here

Solution Mindset


How many times have you heard this adage? –

“Don’t come to me with a Problem, come with a Solution”.

While this pushed managers to foster a culture of solution thinking – it may, to some degree, have shunted the openness to surface problems. And lesser problem statements meant limited levels or quantum of innovation and learning.

Hence, I propose we make a couple of strategic adjustments to that statement and make it:

“Come to me not only with the Problem, but also a Solution Mindset”

Modern era is all about Solving Problems. More and more companies are reshaping their Purpose and Strategy around direct correlation to specific Problems in the world that they can solve with a competitive advantage to stay relevant and successful. And the organization culture to aid that pursuit is increasingly focused around changing from “do/act” to “solve/impact”. Furthermore, organization systems are increasingly becoming interdependent collaborative networks that are consistently inundated with problem solving situation arising out of shared processes and systems. Its here, the need to play with the right mindset, becomes important.

So, what is Solution Mindset?

Simply put, it is a choice we make while facing a problem – to look ahead, thinking “What’s next? How do we move forward from here?” (Instead of “What’s wrong? What is not working? Who’s responsible? etc.”).

That probably is an over simplified definition of the term, yet to me this is where it starts – with a choice. Whether I want to look backwards or forward. And solution is always ahead (forward).

How can we play more with a Solution Mindset?

  • Seek more clarity on – What is the Problem? What is the need for the solution? Who are playing & who is impacted? What is the urgency around it (timelines)? What are the qualitative expectations (Impact)?
  • Own my part by asking – What can I do to solve it (my role)? How can I help moving it towards solution?
  • Help Others move forward – by providing the necessary clarity, information, support and encouragement needed, by engaging in forward looking (optimistic) dialogues that help move forward and solve (What can I do to help you solve this? What do we do next? Where do we go from here? What’s the next best thing to do?), by intentionally steering the conversations away from the Problem, its cause (what’s not working) etc.
  • Capture the learning from the journey for future

At the end, it’s a choice we make – to play with the Problem Mindset or Solution Mindset. One takes us back and keeps us there. The other moves us forward and creates opportunities to learn, innovate and improve.

World will be a much transformed place when we can replace the question:

“What Can I do for you”


“What can I solve for you?”

Sheel Majumdar, leads HR for Microsoft Philippines.

His posts can be read  here

5 things the new age leaders must do to stay relevant

Blog cover

The present day workplace is changing at a rapid pace. The traditional set up of a few years back that comprised of a set of organized and structured physical work area routines along with the well laid out organization interaction and process norms, have become archaic. In some cases, even ceased to exist.

In its place, is rapidly emerging a workplace structure that is everything but structure. With bombardment of information and ideas from all directions, an external marketplace that is evolving at an unthinkable pace and most importantly a workforce that is energized with chaos and clutter, the key values that are revered today are agility, nimbleness, adaptability, multi-dimensional etc.

How does Leadership operate in these times? After all many leaders (at least majority), belong to an structured era of the past – that was structured, organized, hierarchical, orderly and are desperately trying to cope up with the new era. How do they stay relevant?

As I think of it more & more, I figure there are these 5 must do’s (IMHO), that leaders can do, for starters:

  1. Not judge the new era from a distance. Dive in. Seek help and internalize: The way of this new era is that of being continuously alive to multiple dimensions at any point of time. The millennials (the key players of this era) like more energy, conversations, ideas, collaborative environment, doing more. When all of this happen at the same time, it may look immensely disorganized and disoriented to leaders (or anyone who likes a bit of planning and order). While the urge to bring in a more organized way of doing things would be high, the advisable approach would be to learn the new way. Understand how the new flock do things. Roll up their sleeves and participate in conversations (as much as possible). Listen and observe intently to figure out what’s going on. Appoint mentors from the new generation to help decipher their thinking and ideologies.
  2. Embrace Technology: This is oxygen. The world is driven by technology (Devices, apps etc.). More and more technology seeping in at an unthinkable pace into our workplace to make our lives more connected, collaborative and portable. Apathy for technology will only affect one’s personal brand adversely, as that will carry the risk of the leader being perceived as a derailer or roadblock to the Future of the Workplace. With the world moving towards the cloud & mobility, it’s imperative for leaders to be proactive in understanding and learning how their worlds will change. While being tech savvy wasn’t a “must have” till some years back, it is so now.
  3. Being Social: Let’s face it. Social ecosystem is here to stay. While it was just another place to showcase oneself till sometime back, now it’s the space to create global communities to accelerate learning, business, collective intelligence and collaborative thinking. For today’s workforce, it as mandatory to be on top of what’s happening around the word in their domain, real time. These ideas and information, seamlessly flow into conversations and aid the collective intelligence Leaders who aren’t aligned to this world, find it (or may find it), difficult (and intimidating, at times) to comprehend the energy and context. On the contrary, a more socially active leader, has the advantage of not only being aligned to this world, but also being a proponent to the new age thinking. It does create an inspired climate.
  4. Being patient and tolerant: In my experience, I find a lot of leaders being restless trying to cope with the pace, the multi-dimensional thinking, the seemingly disorganized way of operations, the constant buzz of conversations, the seemingly lack of focus and deep thinking moments. It is and will be challenging. It’s a transformation – more of an adaptive one, where leaders have to almost discard their existing core and build another one. While the primary accountability of the leadership still remains the same – making critical strategic decisions, the environment surrounding it has changed. It will require a lot of patience and tolerance, to adapt to this changed world that may not align to one’s personal beliefs. For example: Simple transformative instances of adjusting to modern open and flexible workplaces, or getting used to people doing multiple things during meetings over multiple devices (responding to mails, tweeting, etc.), or warming up to meeting conversations with a flurry of energetic and fast paced ideas being thrown,… can be demanding for leaders who are used to having an agenda and an organized routine to their meetings. Instead of thrusting order, the key will be to embrace the chaos – with patience and tolerance.
  5. Ask & Listen: This is an era of conversations. Leaders need to be conversation creators, providing opportunities for the energetic minds buzzing with ideas to constantly express their thoughts. This isn’t a generation that will warm up to the “one-way tell and direct” style. This is an era where hacking is the way to do things – pose a question, let the minds around storm and hack a solution. A leader’s role is to Ask the most relevant and pertinent question (or pose the most burning problem), and allow the system to work on it. It will be critical for the leaders to push themselves into suspending their POV’s and ideas, and patiently listen to the multitudes of thoughts and solutions. It will be critical to divorce the “it doesn’t work that way” mindset. This will be the single biggest trait of a leader that can energize, inspire and galvanize a modern organization to do unthinkable stuff.

The modern day workplace or as T.A.McCann, founder of puts it in this short video, the Future of the Workplace is a fascinating evolving landscape. Concepts like multiple jobs across a working lifetime, having fun @ work, work life balance no longer there, retirement would no longer exist, do your best effort at all times, connecting and reaching out to others who share a common passion on a particular topic / goal with you, learning as a key driver of working together effectively, etc. etc. would be helping redefine how we view AND live our workplace(s). And all of that thanks to the emergence of culture, tools and technologies within the enterprise and beyond!

Leaders must be at the forefront to enable this change. As McCann puts it – the future of work is Learning and doing something for someone else and not for oneself alone. Onus lies with the leaders to role model that. Cheers!

Down Under Diary – Run up to Round 2

yadav-2612-350_122811090626Some changes needed for the Brisbane test in the India side. Am not sure how much spin friendly is that wicket. The changes for me are:

  • MS for Saha, (chances are MS might sit this one down too)
  • Ashwin for Rohit – Am backing Ashwin to bat as well as Rohit (as of now their test records look very identical – so might as well go with an additional bowler who can bat a bit). Ashwin does have a good cross batted game, and does have the height to his advantage while batting.
  • Umesh for Karn.
  • I am pondering on Shikhar vs Raina too. However, will persist with former for the moment – he had a tough call against him the second innings at Adelaide, and his intention for once was to leave the short stuff which is good to see.
  • Bowlers need to be worked upon a bit. Shami and Aaron, will need to work over the next one day on understanding and reducing their margins of error. Too many boundary balls reducing their efficacy – even if they bowl 2/3 good balls. Ishant responds well to Dhoni, question is if the others will too.
  • MS must leverage Virat’s voice while influencing the younger lot. (Will he?).

It will be ideal if we can look eye to eye at Gabba, or better if we can put one across here. There is nothing like going for the jugular when its least expected. It will be well and truly game on!

My recommended team:

Shikhar, Vijay, Cheteshwar, Virat, Ajinkya, MS, Ashwin, Shami, Aaron, Ishant, Umesh

Team that I think will play:

Shikhar, Vijay, Cheteshwar, Virat, Ajinkya, Rohit, MS, Shami/Ashwin, Aaron, Ishant, Umesh

Visualization – a useful technique to prepare

424792-matthew-haydenSome of the greatest professionals (in any field) have always underlined the importance of preparation. How thinking about their work in advance helped them get in the right frame of mind and state of readiness. And one of the key techniques that many of them leveraged more often, was of Visualization. Cricket followers would recall the familiar sight of Australian legend Matthew Hayden sitting barefoot on the Wicket a day prior to the game (in the pic) and visualize the environment, the proceedings, the match, his game, his shots, his vulnerabilities. Rahul Dravid, the India cricketing great, was known to think and visualize his game in depth as he prepared for a batting stint in the middle. Many sports personalities (Golfers, Tennis players etc.) have over the years resorted to this method, to get “in the zone”.

So, what is Visualization?

It is the process of “proactively” creating a mental image of an impending activity or state – in which a player plays out the actual moment in its entirety in their mind. This helps them get into the “zone” of the game in advance and cut out surprises that may occur on the day of the game. Mind and body is warmed up to the climate of high intensity and once the reality kicks in, the readiness is heightened.

Importance of “proactive” is enormous. It helps the player to think about all eventualities in advance, thus figuring out a game plan for tackling the same. It helps is bringing a lot of composure to one’s approach, thus a healthier way to approach a rigorous task at hand.

Experts have long underlined the importance of Visualization as a method to create positive thinking. A lot of this is by thinking about the end state of success – How the world will be when we finally arrive there? How wonderful and energizing will that state be? And try and leverage that energy in influencing the process of achieving that goal.

Over the years, this practice has evolved and has been used by many practitioners in thinking about the process (to the end state) too – visualizing every step of the process, minutely detailed play out of actions, surroundings, mindset, climate etc. Aakash Chopra (Former Indian Cricketer) writes about it in this useful article about Visualization.

Is this applicable in business/organizations?

Absolutely. For any professional situation that has a lot at stake, one can leverage this. I have been leveraging Visualization (for some years now) to get myself psyched up before an important professional event – Presentation, Training, Facilitation, Conversation, Talk, Interview etc. Some of the key points that I have learnt over the years Visualization are:

  1. Quiet moment with self: It is my moment of quietude with myself. In these times of myriad distractions, this is that sanctum sanctorum that helps me think, plan, visualize and get comfortable.  It works best if I can sit quietly and let the impending event play out fully – reaching the venue, getting settled, the start, the advocacy, the enquiry, the moments of vulnerability/disequilibrium, the silence, the dialogue, the climate etc. The vividness of the image helps me to get in to the moment better. It also, helps proactively realize elements that need a bit more preparation, fine tuning or work.
  2. Focus on both Result & the process: As much as visualizing the desired end state creates a positive energy, it’s important to visualize the process as well. It’s the imagery of the pauses I take between two pertinent points for the receiver to process the information, or the intent I demonstrate when listening to a counter opinion or alternate POV or the willingness to accept and acknowledge a feedback / suggestion from the audience – these intricacies go a long way to eradicate the nervous energy from my system and get ready for the moment. It helps me immensely to bring in Authenticity to my presence and performance.
  3. Getting used to the environment: Environment is essential. Where is the venue, how is the set up, who will be there, how am I going to be placed, whats the climate going to be like in the venue, etc. are some of the important ingredients to imagine & visualize to “be there” fully.  While in majority of the occasions I am aware of the physical environment (as these are meetings or gatherings in the office), there are times when I am not. However, that doesn’t stop me from visualizing a fictitious environment, stage and set up (from my past experience). This helps. I haven’t had many occasions when my visual has been too deviated from the actual setting. This is one of the most important part of the process, as this helps me get that “been there, done that” feeling on the big day.
  4. Breathe: Moments with a lot at stake, do have an impact on our physical, mental and physiological self. It’s these moments that architect and define our career & success paths. They are, what I call the “Clutch” moments. Our state of mind defines our approach. A calmer approach and presence goes a long way in negotiating the moment and bringing out the best in me. Visualization helps me be aware of this fact, and builds in the act of deep breathing in the overall visual. This awareness goes a long way in the way I become “comfortable” in a “Clutch” moment.
  5. Handling Disappointments: Not every clutch moment or meeting or presentation is a success. Several times, in spite of all the prep and practice, things do go southwards. It’s here I have found the real value of visualization. I have actively visualized failure – My ideas being rejected, proposals being trashed, thoughts being opposed or challenged vehemently, push backs. These have helped me in two ways:
    1. To prepare better / more to counter them – That helps with more ammunition in my arsenal.
    2. To prepare being more balanced & authentic in the moment of failure/rejection – This is a sentimental & emotional moment. And visualization helps me play out the philosophy of “its my idea that’s rejected, not me”. I am less defensive, more open to feedback, suggestions and the art of “inquiry” to explore alternate POVs. Afterall, I would have played out this part intricately the day before and I am ready.

These are interesting times. Majority of our time goes in influencing others with our thoughts, ideas, POVs. Yet, the least amount of time is spent in preparing for the same. I see professionals ill-prepared for such “clutch” moments solely relying on their reactive instincts to come good at the right moment. A few people land it well – they are the geniuses. For the rest, it helps to do a little more. Visualization can do wonders, to “get in the zone” and hit the ball out of the park.

Down Under Diary : Round One – Australia

200733.3A great test match to start a series that promises to be an engaging one. The events running upto the test match were grossly unfortunate ones, and its admirable the spirit that both the teams brought to the ground to play a game that will long be remembered for its fighting qualities.

For starters am not disappointed one bit. I believe transition happens gradually. And this result is a big shot in the arm in that transitional journey.

For the recent history of Indian Cricket it was heartening to see couple of the top order batsmen putting their head down and make a serious headway towards the summit. Alas, at the end the lack of plan, match awareness and sheer mis fortune of some of the others made it yet another case of “So near yet so far”.

A few things that I pondered at the end:

The curious case of Karan Sharma: I am a huge supporter for giving new players opportunities at the big stage. However, as I saw Karan in this game I wondered if he himself had any plans for his debut. We hear legends talk about visualizing their first test match as they grow up the ranks. And when it arrives how they are keen to put the plan to action. I read Ponting, Hussey, Hayden speak about this in their autobiographies. However, I didn’t see that from Karan. I mean, for a leg spinner his plans were to look for the rough outside or around the leg stump and relentlessly try and land the ball there, irrespective of the outcome. Players like Warner will come hard at you yet one has to have the gumption to stick to that plan.

This also brings to the fore the question of why Karan Sharma? And not Ashwin? Probably our think tank thought about the number of right handed quicks (3 in India and 4 in Australia) who will create the rough around the leg stump (of a right hander), and went with the Leggie. And then our right handed bowlers kept bowling around the wicket, which fed to the aid of Lyon – to decimate us. Bizarre planning. Sometimes its good to not have options. Australia has one spinner, he has been told what is needed and he went out there to create havoc based on the rough created by just one of their bowlers (Johnson). Ashwin is our best spinner in that team, and he has to play if at all there is a chance of using a spinner. His batting too would have come in handy to reduce the lead in the first innings and some support for Kohli in the second.

Our Batting: Dhawan is struggling. Rohit lacked vision or plan or match awareness. Pujara’s footwork and technique looks downright dodgy (too much gap between bat and pad). Its great to play be instincts, however match awareness is a critical component and in tests does dictate the approach. Steve Smith demonstrated it how one needs to curb one’s instincts and dig in for a long innings. Am not sure Dhawan and Rohit have any of that on their mind. You cannot have “I will play like this only” attitude when expectation is for you to buckle down and play a certain game. It was heartening to see Vijay leaving 98% of the short stuff dished out to him. And its no surprise why he is the most improved and most successful Indian batsman over the last year or so. Time is running out on Dhawan / Rohit. Ambati Rayudu is snapping at Rohit’s feet and for Dhawan – it wouldn’t harm to try out Raina, with Rahane at the top.

That brings me to Pujara. The amount of Clean Bowled dismissals in England certainly underlined that yawning gap between Bat and Pad. It still exists. Add to that his neither front nor back approach to Lyon. He will need to soul search a little. This is the only format he plays and he should clear all mental cobwebs and focus on his balance, focus and technique. He will have to revisit the technique he leveraged well in South Africa and find what was working well then. At present there are a few issues there. Its very important for Pujara to be at the top of his game for Indian batting to be solid.

Mohd. Shami: Someone in that tent needs to have an honest chat with Shami, on where his head is at. Again I don’t see any plan in his head. He isn’t visualizing his bowling and its just running in and putting it there kind of approach. He does have a lot of potential. Its unfair to judge based on this wicket, am sure a wicket like Gabba / Melbourne will bring out a different Shami. Yet he needs to run in with intent and a plan. He will be a different bowler from what he is today.

Virat Kohli: He has arrived and how. I am amazed at his coming of age over the last 18 months or so. The biggest point he made with his twin tons is how to put your head down and shed a poor overseas form. We have often seen players let the poor form meander for too long. He worked hard and made sure he was ready with his top game for his debut at the helm. While one outing as a captain is too short to judge his performance in the long run, yet in his case we can be rest assured the future is in safe hands. Its increasingly clear now that this may be MS Dhoni’s last overseas tour as a test captain (or player). My gut says he may choose to not play tests going forward. I seriously feel the move to let Virat captain the Adelaide test in spite of Dhoni being in Australia is an intentional exercise. Whatever the reality, Kohli will be the go to man soon – and he has certainly made a huge shout out for it. Its great that we have transitioned into a younger test team (kudos to the present system which worked for it taking some really hard calls), and I also believe it will take some more time for this team to fully be there. This young band of people have a lot of time ahead of them to play themselves into a formidable unit. And going by the age group this team will be ideal for Kohli to lead. We can clearly say – exciting days ahead!

Clarke: Its sad to see what we saw – Clarke hobbling off. News coming from the Aussie dug out is a sad one. He isn’t going to play for the rest of the series that’s certain – he may not play Cricket at all. Whatever it is, its highly unfortunate to see a champ like Pup have an abrupt ending to his career. All our best wishes to him as he embarks on a long rehab plan. Hope to see him in the whites soon leading his band of boys out in the middle. In the last couple of weeks, I have been deeply impressed, moved and inspired by his leadership presence. It underlined his character as a person, mate, player and leader. To see him go out almost on one leg was certainly & utterly unfortunate.

For the remainder of the series, We will need a bit more planning, bite and effort from our bowlers. Dhoni will be back. He will need to continue this aggression. With Ravi Shastri in there one can be rest assured on the aggression bit. MS will need to play it out in the middle. Its certain the Aussie Zip will be well and truly in display at Brisbane. It will be for our boys to have their chin up and give a fitting reply to the questions posed.

Game On!

Does your feedback get rejected? Look at your mental model…


Recently I was speaking to a leader and discussing her feedback style. She was highly self-critical as she reflected on the same. Off late, she had been getting into too many conflict situations amounting to her feedback being rejected. As we spoke, we went over a few instances and she replayed the mental video tapes of those.

While listening I noted that she used expressions like “you were rude”, “what’s wrong with you”, “you need be show more technical depth”, “you never talk on calls”, “You have been a poor role model of being punctual to meetings” etc.… to surface all that was wrong. What followed these expressions were a bunch of refutations or negations, from the other end, as the recipients expressed their vehement disagreements. Majority of these conversations weren’t leading to any constructive result and ended adding to the increasingly deteriorating team dynamics and diminishing leadership credibility woes.

Present state:

As we sat reflecting over this situation at hand, I scribbled a diagram (being the visual person I am) on the board to depict the visual depiction of the conversation.

Feedback From

The diagram showed that the information flow was between A (feedback giver) to B (recipient), with A identifying B as the issue – the overt use of the term “you” in the above statements. While from A’s Point of view, she has expressed her displeasure clearly, from B’s point of view, what’s coming is a barrage of personal attacks. And true to human psyche when there’s an attack there needs to be a defense. Thus, the refutations and negations.

Couple of things happen here:

  1. This mental model, certainly doesn’t create a safe climate of reflecting over a developmental opportunity and operates one the foundation of A trying let their steam off on B (B is the issue).
  2. Backward focused, almost with the objective of putting the blame on the table and circling around that

Proposed Future state:

As we discussed more on how we can approach it differently and make the environment safe, I made a slight change to the above diagram by adding a third circle C.

Feedbact to

The diagram shows a third circle – the Issue. So in this state both A and B stand together on one side of the table and look at the issue with the same lens. So instead of a statement like “You have been a poor role model of being punctual…” it may sound like “last 4 meetings/calls there was a delay in your joining in. How can we ensure you are there on time?”.

Couple of things happen:

  1. This mental model clearly operates on the principle of a safe environment and respect – nothing wrong with B, however there is a situation at hand which needs attention (Issue)
  2. Forward looking – putting the issue on the table and figuring out a solution to overcome the same
  3. The high respect allows both individuals to listen more, thereby resulting in a constructive confrontation

Majority of the feedback that happens, isn’t one as there isn’t anything being fed. Most of the time the “giver” ends up expressing their dissatisfaction or anger (thinking they are delivering a feedback). A slight shift in the mental model and preparing the right language that separates issue from the person, can go a long way in boosting an inspiring culture of learning, listening and being respectful.


Ultimate guide to Business Cards