They call him Captain Cool. And with good reason. Mahendra Singh Dhoni has led India in 200 ODIs, 72 T20Is, and 60 Tests. And he is the first and only captain to have won the trifecta of a World Cup, a World T20 title and a Champions Trophy in the game so far. 

While many cricketers have captained the Indian team, few have found a place in the hearts of cricket lovers like Dhoni did. How did he do it? The answer lies in good habits. Dhoni’s success is a classic example of the power of the five Harappa Habits: Think, Solve, Communicate, Collaborate and Lead.

Let’s look at some memorable matches in which Dhoni used Harappa Habits to lead his team to victory: 


In the 2007 ICC T20 World Cup final, Dhoni used critical thinking to decode the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing team and made an unusual decision that helped India win the match. 

Here’s what happened: a neck-and-neck situation required the opposing team to score 13 runs in the final over. Dhoni chose to bring a less experienced player to bowl instead of more obvious and experienced choices. He observed that the batsman was having no problem hitting spinners. So he chose a bowler who would confuse the confident batsman. And it worked! The batsman was caught out and India won the match!

The Harappa Think Habit is about cutting through information complexity, connecting the dots and building human context. This is exactly what Dhoni did in this match. He used critical thinking, logical reasoning and some out-of-the-box ideas to lead his team to victory. He assessed the opposing team’s strengths and weaknesses and adjusted his team’s strategy accordingly. 

Dhoni has always been a thinking captain. He is known for constantly assessing evolving match situations and juggling player line-ups by applying learnings from past losses and success. To hone your critical thinking skills, check out Harappa’s Thinking Critically and Decoding Others courses.


In the 2011 World Cup final, Dhoni exemplified the power of timely decision-making and leading by example. The team had lost four key batsmen early on in the match. He then took one of cricketing history’s most impactful decisions by promoting himself to number five in the line-up, ahead of other established batsmen. He evaluated the situation and made an instinctive decision that shocked others. It proved to be the winning factor for the Indian team! 

The Harappa Solve Habit is about analyzing problems, decoding solutions and using decision-making models. Dhoni often changed the team’s strategy based on how a match was unfolding while keeping the larger goal in sight. As a player, he is known for his ability to adjust his batting and bowling style based on the opponent’s team. As a captain, he would factor in pitch and weather conditions and explore multiple player perspectives in high-pressure games. 

Check out the Harappa courses Defining Problems and Making Decisions to sharpen your problem-solving skills.


In the 2013 Champions Trophy final, Dhoni used the power of speech to inspire his team and lift their spirits. The team faced a tough situation when the 50-over match was converted to 20 overs. Dhoni then gave the team one of his most inspiring pep talks. 

He said to them, “First let's get rid of the feeling that it’s a 50-over game. It’s a 20-over game and we know 130 runs is a difficult target to achieve. Don't look at the sky or the opposition. God helps those who help themselves, and God is not coming to save us today. If you want to win this trophy, we’ll have to fight it out.” Not surprisingly, the team won.

The Harappa Communicate Habit is about creating a personal brand, expressing ideas persuasively and communicating meaningfully. In his speech, Dhoni stated empirical facts, discarded emotions and superstition and inspired confidence based on the team’s past successes. He wasn’t just a persuasive and motivating captain–he was also known for delivering tough communication clearly and respectfully. To improve your communication skills, check out Harappa’s Speaking Effectively and Building Presence courses.


Dhoni wasn’t only an excellent captain. He is also an effective teammate. He collaborates by building strong trust-based relationships, encouraging honest discussions of differences amongst teammates and accommodating different working styles. As captain of the Indian cricket team, Dhoni always emphasized team performance over individual achievements. In his own words, “I never predict what will happen in cricket. We believe in each other, and we believe in the process.”

Dhoni won over a very diverse team that included cricket legends, newcomers and players with different temperaments. He managed to build trust by giving all the players a fair chance and immense respect. For example, he allowed Saurav Ganguly to captain his farewell test match!

The Harappa Collaborate Habit is about building strong work alliances, creating trust and being a positive influence. To build your collaboration skills check out Harappa’s Establishing Trust and Managing Teamwork courses.


Dhoni also epitomized Harappa’s Lead Habit, which is about sharpening your self-awareness, building emotional intelligence and taking charge of your self-growth. Be it a newbie batsman, wicketkeeper, or veteran teammate, each person in the Indian cricket team has benefited from Dhoni’s leadership. His awareness of his capabilities and those of his teammates helped him remain calm in tense situations and turn them around to the team’s benefit. 

A true leader steps out of the comfort zone to make difficult decisions at key moments. Dhoni’s captaining style was of leading from the front and putting himself in the firing line even at the risk of personal failure such as in the 2011 World Cup final. It is this leadership ability that helped him become the only captain in the history of Cricket to win all three major ICC trophies!

Dhoni led others by leveraging their strengths and giving them several opportunities to bring their best forward, even in the face of harsh media criticism. Dhoni stepped back when the team won and stepped forward when they lost!

To improve your leadership skills check out the Harappa courses Leading Self and Practicing Excellence.

Dhoni is more than just a cricketer or a captain. He is an inspiration to a generation of Indians. Now that you know the secret to Dhoni’s success, you too can win hearts and inspire others at the workplace and in life!

(Picture credit: Blnguyen via Wikimedia Commons)

Tanvi Khemani is Manager, Curriculum, at Harappa Education. She is a postgraduate in Media and Cultural Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, and enjoys eating street side chaat and writing fiction.

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