Kanan Jaswal's Blog on Leadership

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Inspire others to aspire!

Yes, inspiring others to aspire is what the leaders should be doing and they should be doing it rather well because that is what elevates not only the followers but also the leaders themselves. Before a leader becomes one physically he or she has got to be a thought leader, he or she has to lead others' thoughts in the right direction, on the right path. And if the leader can get the others in the group to align their aspirations with the group's objective, leadership is like a walk in the park on an autumn afternoon made colourful by the sun's golden rays and the gold and red of the fallen leaves.

Friday, October 31, 2008

And sometimes you just have to follow!

There could be situations where some of a leader's fellow travellers, normally called followers, would be able to figure the way out better than the formal leader. The leader then just has to follow gracefully rather than standing on his or her prestige.

Like that, not only the team would have the best leadership suited to the particular circumstances but some members of the team would also get a chance to try their hand at actually leading. This is the best leadership training a leader can impart to the others.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I am a work in progress!

Some months ago, an Indian journalist, who had just interviewed the then Pakistani president, Parvez Musharraf, derisively described him as a work in progress. I have a contrary view on this because I consider ‘work in progress’ a compliment. A finished or complete product can not be further improved, as if the life for it has come to a stand still. There is no progress for it and, therefore, no hope.

Everyone alive is a work in progress and the progress should ideally stop only when life stops, not before that. But a vast majority of human beings learn, grow or progress no more when they reach a certain age or acquire a certain academic, social or financial status. They are the living deads. Fortunately, I am not one to be counted among them, since I know that I have to grow and develop in a huge variety of dimensions to attain my potential and that task is not going to be over until my death. So, I am and will remain all my life a work in progress, and that quite happily.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I am staging a comeback and am pining for a Lee Kwan Yew

The last time I made a post on this blog was on the 24th April; so I’m back almost after five months. What had become a daily habit then is now an effort. But I know I have to pull myself up to do at least one posting every fortnight otherwise this would lose the character of a blog.

In India we are witnessing the worst acts of terrorism with a shocking regularity; major cities have been attacked with impunity. The perpetrators of these ghastly acts have escaped arrest except for a few successfully hounded down by the police for their involvement in the Ahmedabad bombings. As citizens, I and others are feeling insecure in our own country because those entrusted with the task of securing it have not proved competent enough. The country’s political leadership is looking stymied by the hydra-headed problem and making it more intractable is its fear that any tough measures to counter terrorism would antagonise a particular religious group and that in turn would seriously compromise its prospects in the coming state and national polls.

Why should these so-called leaders be afraid of taking bold steps to protect the life and property of the citizenry? I think they know that that is the primary responsibility of any government worth the name. Why don’t they understand that they can be firm and be fair at the same time? No one would question, much less disapprove of, a Lee Kwan Yew order to clamp down on a few human rights in order to protect human life in general – because the people of Singapore had the ultimate faith in his integrity and fairness. Let our “leaders” learn their first lessons in leadership from the great man; it’s our good fortune that he is alive and available.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Seven spiritual laws of success

Last evening I attended a discourse by Swami Bodhananda, a highly accomplished and widely respected teacher of Vedanta and meditation, at one of his admirer’s house. In the discourse, Swamiji propounded his seven spiritual laws of success, which I try to summarise here:

1. Law of Infinite potential: Everyone has got infinite potential and the sooner we all realise this the better it will be for us. The limitations that we have on our capabilities have not been imposed by God but by our wrong self-beliefs. So, if we decide to break free then perhaps even the sky is not the limit.

2. Law of Maya: Every thing changes all the time; change is the only constant. As they say, we do not step into the same river twice. In fact, we, ourselves, are also changing constantly; hundreds of our body cells are dying and others in similar number are born every second. Past solutions may not work for the present problems. We, therefore, have to look for a solution, not in our memory but in our spirit.

3. Law of Dharma: Dharma, by its very definition, holds, it sustains. Just as the dharma of fire is to burn, the dharma of human beings is to fulfil their needs by utilising their talents. So, acting in dharma one must know their needs and how to satisfy them using their talents. But one must not utilise their talents harming and injuring similar efforts by others.

4. Law of Karma: We reap what we sow, and there are no exceptions.
We, therefore, have to assume fullest responsibility of what we have
become and of whatsoever happens to us. The knowledge of this law empowers the hitherto weaklings struggling for survival to become beings of power controlling their own destiny.

5. Law of Yajna: First give and then take. In this exchange is rooted the well-being of mankind. If we just go on giving without taking anything in return, we are actually impoverishing the receiver. On the other hand, by affording a chance to others to give to us we empower them. But always give first and then deserve to receive.

6. Law of Yoga: Engage, but in a detached manner. For doing anything with some degree of success it is essential to be engaged in it; but by also having detachment we acquire better perspective and balance.

7. Law of Leela: Leela is God’s playfulness. And this law says that if we have the Upaya (Sanskrit term for method or know-how), our effort is effortless and becomes a leela. Lord Krishna had the upaya and was, therefore, could subdue the giant serpent Kalia and dance on its thousand hoods.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

If blaming your predecessor could help

It has almost become a routine for a new party in power in a developing country to claim that the treasury is empty because of imprudent and wasteful expenditure by the previous regime, just as it is for their peoples not to believe it. In any case people have already punished the previous government by not re-electing it and they view such efforts of the new government to win the public’s sympathy with lot of suspicion. They think that by blaming every thing on the predecessors perhaps the new government is preparing ground to explain its future failures. They want the successor regime to take charge of the situation and get going to improve it in a planned and systematic manner. They require time-bound results and not lame excuses or blame games.

This applies equally well to a new business leader. He or she is selected by the board of directors to produce results and not to dwell on the past, even if it is the immediate past. Also, blaming the predecessor, who is no longer with the organisation and is not in a position to defend himself or herself, can not be taken as a particular act of bravery.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Can a manager afford not being a leader?

From the times of the management and leadership doyen, Peter Drucker, or perhaps even before that, differences between managers and leaders have been talked about and studied. Very many observations have been made, and are still being made, on how the two are different, some of them as follows :
- While managers are efficient, leaders are effective.
- Managers do the things right, whereas leaders do the right things.
- Managers take care of the bottom line, leaders build businesses.
- Managers ensure profits and the leaders continued profitability.
- Managers are for the short term, whereas the leaders for the long term.
- Managers climb the ladder and the leaders point out the right wall to place the ladder against.
- Leadership begins where management ends. And so on and on…

Managers, with the rarest exceptions, have with them teams of employees working to achieve their parts of the organisational objectives. And how can the managers get their teams to stay focused on the team objective and function at their most efficient level if not by leading them? Even if the manager has only one staffer with them, they have to act as a leader in relation to that staffer. To be successful, the manager has to be a leader, and a good leader at that.
I would, therefore, hold that the terms ‘manager’ and ‘leader’ are not mutually exclusive.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

On the horns of a dilemma

I have recently read somewhere a case study on business ethics which described the predicament of a branch head who was told by her seniors about their strategic decision to close down that branch office in about three months’ time, absorb her and a couple of her deputies in the head office and retrench every one else. Since keeping the decision secret was of paramount importance for the company, she was specifically prohibited from letting anyone know of it. The staff at the branch, who were in touch with the employees’ union, heard a rumor about the impending closure of their outfit and asked their boss about the truth in the matter. If they were to receive the pink slips shortly they would immediately clamp down on their non-essential expenses and, more importantly, make efforts to look for alternative employment avenues. What should the branch manager have done? Her staff had served her well, the unit had been making profits consistently and the growth rate was also good. It was, however, the corporate office’s idea to give up the territory in favour of a competitor, who would do the same thing for it in another region of the country. On the other hand how could she violate the clear order not to share the secret?

I do not know what course of action she adopted but how would have I faced the situation had I been in her place (Case A)? Or suppose I was made privy to the decision but not told to keep quite about it (Case B). Or I too had only heard a rumor about the imminent closure (Case C).

Taking up Case C first, I would check up with the corporate office and if they denied any plan for closure, I would immediately advise the staff accordingly, restoring the peace. If, however, they confirmed the substance of the rumor, the situation would be as either in Case A or in Case B.

Now Case B, on the staff asking me about the rumored decision I would ask my superiors for permission to share the information with my staff. If I got it, I would confirm to the staff. If not, it would be Case A.

Finally Case A, my sympathies with the staff notwithstanding, I would not go against the order and would have to tell them that there was no truth in the rumor. But after that it would be difficult for me to continue in an organisation which was not transparently honest even with its own people. I would plan an early exit.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Corporate social responsibility - reality or myth?

About ten years ago I wanted to do research on the effectiveness of leadership development programmes, in-house as well as those conducted by business schools, at the business management department of a reputed university. But a professor there told me that the department was more interested in research in the then upcoming field of corporate social responsibility and suggested to me to go with it on that. When I asked her what was there in the field to excite her and her colleagues, she said that for the first time the industry was going beyond earning profits for the shareholders and was trying to be helpful to the society at large. She gave the example of a well-known corporate group which had started a school specifically for children coming from the lowest economic stratum. The group had constructed the school building and was bearing all the running expenses and was even providing books, uniforms and mid-day meals to the children – about a thousand of them – at absolutely no cost to them.

How I wished that she had not mentioned the efforts of that particular group because my organisation had business dealings with it and was one of the sufferers when the group went back on its commitments, aggregating more than 200 million US dollars, to the banking system. The banks had proof of massive diversion of money but the ever slow legal machinery proved to be a reliable ally of the group. The professor looked a little shaken by the disclosure but she had already gone too much distance on the road to consider the futility of the journey. Her love for corporate social responsibility stayed.

I am not at all against the idea of corporate social responsibility but my definition of the term is different from the one generally accepted. For me it is not twisting the arms of the government to wrangle long term tax concessions; it is paying market price for the land to set up an industrial unit and not securing the government’s help in acquiring cheap scarce farm land much more than what is required. It is manufacturing by the most resource and energy efficient method, fully treating the industrial effluents before releasing them in the water streams, and using state of the art machinery to minimise air pollution. It is paying market wages to the workers, not retrenching them at the first sign of an industrial slow down, and not embezzling their provident fund. It is meeting all contractual obligations to suppliers, buyers and bankers. It is not steam-rolling over the interests of small investors. It is following and respecting the law of the land. And yes, after that and only after that, building and running schools for poor children, or, for that matter, maintaining public parks near the factory building and organising polo matches.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Whose mission is this anyway?

It is very easy for a leader to be passionate about accomplishing the mission they have set for the team. The difficulty, however, lies in infecting the members of the team with the same passion. The leader can not just issue an order that henceforth every member shall be so passionate. The only way open for the leader is to make them see clearly what is there for each of them in the success of the mission and make them like it, rather desire it and crave it. Then, and only then, the entire team will join the leader in the enterprise and make an unqualified success of it.

It is a very tall order but not for the leaders who are thinker-visualizer-doers, who set examples for others by their conduct, who live the welfare of their people and who communicate from the honest depths of their hearts.

Monday, April 14, 2008

When your values are at variance with the organisation’s practices

More than a decade ago, as the branch manager of an important branch of my bank in the country’s capital I had refused some monetary reward to the staff for the simple reason that they had not earned that. The office bearers of the staff union met me and did their best to convince me about the validity of their claim but I had done my home work and was able to defend my position successfully. They conceded that the demand could be wrong but told me that at other similar-sized branches of the bank such payments had already been made. They wanted me just to follow the other branch managers and assured me that since the top management tacitly approved of the practice they would never question my action. My assertion that the decision not to make payment was a correct one and that it was for the other branch managers to follow my lead on this carried the day for me. I also told them that more than to the top management I was answerable to my own values and conscience.

But in today’s world of high ambition and success orientation would a similar adherence to personal values, even when they are in conflict with the accepted behavioural norms in the organisation, pay? Not really, and it did not pay me even then in terms of advancing my career prospects. There is a payment, however, in the form of an increase in self-esteem. One is able to stand erect with head held high and look the world in the eyes, is this in itself not reward enough? There is also a hope, howsoever fond, that the others too would follow their example and not compromise any more their personal values for narrow short term gains.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Planning for the leader's succession

An organisation exists to fulfil its mission set by the leader after consultation with others within and without the organisation. And when the mission is accomplished its place is taken up by another which then engages the focus and attention of every one. The organisation, therefore, can be taken as an entity much longer lasting than the normal working life of a human being. And for the organisation not to be rendered leaderless due to the retirement, sudden incapacitation or death of the leader, they must have a succession plan in place and this when they are still going strong and have at least a couple of years more at the helms in the normal course.

The leader should select two or three much younger members of the senior management team and expose them to higher and higher responsibilities in a planned way, guide them when and where necessary, and coach them into thinking as the top person. The leader would let them compete against one another, and when the situation so demands, also cooperate with the sole objective of delivering the organisation’s better performance. After enough inter-departmental experience and having further honed their strategising and people skills the heirs apparent would be in a position to fill the top slot when the vacancy arises. And then the organisation would carry on under a new leader and with fresh vigour.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

In praise of integrity

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English gives out ‘moral uprightness, honesty, wholeness, soundness’ as the meaning of the word ‘integrity’. It is one of the dictionary’s shortest explanations of a word’s meaning; more was not needed perhaps because every one knows what this word means. People are very much familiar with the concept, they may not be practising integrity themselves but they can make out easily if the other person’s conduct is of integrity or not.

Integrity is the foundation on which the edifice of leadership is built and without it, naturally, leadership collapses. High credibility of a leader is the outcome of their integrity. High credibility, in turn, gives rise to better, sometime even unquestioned, acceptance of a leader’s decisions among the followers and motivates them no end. They would be more likely to believe that those decisions are for the benefit of the team and the enterprise, and that they would advance their true interests. Further, team building is not an effort for a leader having integrity because fairness in treating each member of the team, which is one of the pre-requisites of building an effective team, is a hand-maiden of the leader’s integrity.

Finally, any one having high level of personal integrity but average conceptual, technical and people skills can be a great leader but the reverse is not true. Some one without integrity can yet lead by pandering to the baser concerns of the followers but they won’t deserve even a footnote in the book of leadership.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Leaders don't give up

By the very nature of their job the leaders always have to be optimistic. When the going gets tough, members of the team look up to the leader to devise a way out and if he* himself shows despondency, it will spread like a contagion to the people being led and the whole venture can then just fold up very quickly. For the success of the enterprise it is, therefore, essential that the leader remains on top of the situation – good or bad – and always has a plan of action. But it does not mean that the leader has to keep flogging a dead horse and be hopeful of riding it to the destination. When even after concerted efforts an approach does not seem to be working, he is realistic enough to find merit in abandoning it and go for the plan B. Rob Linn and Rich Ottaviano, both leadership trainers of international repute, have recently said that the leader has to be “rigidly flexible”, i.e. rigid about the objective but flexible in the approach to it.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Should a leader be Lincoln to his star performer's McClellan?

With high hopes that the dashing general, popularly called the ‘young Napoleon’, would deliver a decisive victory over the Confederates to him, President Abraham Lincoln had given the command of the all important Army of the Potomac to General George McClellan. The general, conscious of the contribution of training to an army’s effectiveness as a fighting machine, took months to sharpen the soldierly skills of more than a hundred thousand under his command. To Lincoln’s repeated entreaties to him to march south and engage the enemy, McClellan always demanded more time and more of everything an army could need. On top of that he took it upon himself to give a snub to the president when ever he got an opportunity. When the president’s cabinet officers remonstrated with him about the general’s insolence which, in their eyes, amounted to insubordination, Lincoln said, “If he gives me a victory I shall even hold his horse.” But that was not to be, McClellan’s continued aversion to battle ultimately proved too much even for the ever patient Lincoln and he had to divest the young Napoleon of his command.

McClellan, of course, proved to be a star non-performer, but had been a great fighting general, would that justify Lincoln’s indulgence for him? I do not think so. Top performers do require more freedom and latitude than others and the leader should grant them that but they can not be allowed to humiliate the leader. The leader, in a way, represents in his or her person the organisation and a public snub to the leader is an insult to the organisation. If they have good reasons for that, subordinates – stars or otherwise – should be able to register dissent but in no way show disrespect to the leadership. The organisation, being an artificial person, can not be run without clearly laid down and uniformly practised principles of discipline.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Don't be the boss you've hated all your life

A natural corollary to the golden rule for human behaviour, ‘Do unto others as you would done unto yourself’, is ‘Don’t do unto others as you would not done unto yourself’. If all our leaders put this corollary to practice they would be entirely worthy of their exalted positions and this world be a much better place for their living in it.

Bosses of today sometime ago had their own bosses, or even now they have. So, like any other mortal they must have disliked and hated many of their boss’ acts of commission and omission. It could be hogging the credit for the junior’s commendable work – the extreme being – and I am not here just imagining things – the case of publishing their junior researcher’s work under their own name and winning Nobel Prize for that, blaming the junior for below-par performance though they themselves neither gave unambiguous instructions nor allowed any attempts to seek clarity, that they looked down upon the subordinates as members of some sub-human species, that they took the lion’s share of the bonus granted to the department, that they encouraged a coterie of yes-men around them, that they were not trustworthy and did not trust those not part of the coterie, that they gave themselves an exclusive right to speak to the press about the organisation’s achievements even if they had the special gift of putting their foot – sometimes both feet – in the mouth every time they opened it to speak.

Now that these people are bosses in their own right, all they have to do in relation to their juniors and subordinates is to remember what they hated in their boss’ behaviour and then not to behave like that. By becoming the negative of their boss’ negatives these thoughtful bosses would score high positive marks as effective leaders.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Bottom-up communication is essential

Leaders are generally good with top-down communication, how else they would get their followers or members of the team to focus on the objective and keep them motivated? It is the bottom-up communication, however, that is given the short shrift by most of the leaders. They might think that the foot soldiers would not have much, if not anything, to contribute to the organisation’s thought process, or that there’s was to only carry out the orders unquestioningly, or that they were always at liberty to say ‘yes’. But these assumptions would be at great divergence from reality.

Today even the junior most members of the organisation think, and rightly so, that they are important and that they can make their unique contribution to the organisation’s well-being and have, therefore, a right to be heard by the powers that be. They may not be able to enforce this right and that makes them disengage themselves emotionally from their leaders. As a consequence, the team spirit takes a beating and the organisation suffers.

All this can be remedied easily if the leaders stop being dismissive about the capabilities of their juniors and subordinates and encourage them, instead, to voice their opinions and make suggestions for better running of the organisation. They should then put in place a system to capture those suggestions, vet them, and finally to implement the worthwhile ones from among them. Further, a communication channel to the top, it could be a dedicated email or voicemail box, should be provided for the people to be able to raise, anonymously, reasoned criticism of the leaders’ decisions, actions or work styles. And if sufficiently cogent case had been made for that, the leaders must change their ways and, of course, if they think they must defend themselves they can take their case back to the people by using the top-down communication system that already operates well in the organisation.

People are an organisation’s and its leader’s real asset, and empowered by a bottom-up communication culture the value of the asset would enhance incalculably.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Show some sagacity!

A friend narrated his experience : At the morning meeting of the departmental heads with the boss, he said something about his own department but the boss contradicted him. On his reiterating his statement with some fresh statistics and logic thrown in, the boss stuck to his guns and put him down by saying that he knew what he was talking about better than anyone else. End of the discussion and of the meeting! Later when he was having lunch with his colleagues my friend got the message that the boss wanted to see him. Every one knew that he was in for some difficulty. With his heart missing a beat, he knocked at the chief’s door and was called in. But it was a different chief altogether. Looking humble and contrite he admitted that he was wrong and asked my friend’s forgiveness, which, of course, was given most respectfully.

So many years later the friend was still appreciative of the great gesture made by the boss in admitting his mistake and apologising to a subordinate. I also praised the big man because he was able to rise above his ego; I said he was brave, he was sagacious. But was he sagacious? Almost immediately I had a doubt whether he really deserved that compliment. Sagacity would have been to admit his mistake and apologise to the friend at the next morning’s meeting where all others, in front of whom he had treated my friend petulantly, were again present. Hurting some one publicly and expressing contriteness in the private can make the wrong-doer feel a little better, it can also assuage somewhat the hurt of the wronged but no way it could and should be termed brave or sagacious. It is just like scandalising some public figure on the front page of a newspaper and then the next day at the lower right hand corner of the sixth page expressing regrets about the mis-reporting.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

American democracy versus Indian

For the last few months the Democratic Party in the United States has been busy selecting its candidate for the presidential election to be held in November 2008, and the process is likely to take a couple of months more. It looks wasteful that in a term effectively of only three years and nine and a half months, from the 20th January 2005 to the election on the 4th November 2008, almost one year is taken up in deciding the presidential nominees. But it is a happy commentary on the intra-party democracy obtaining in that country that all registered members of a political party play a role in choosing the party’s nominee for the all-important election for the president.

Compare this to the scene in India – in the world’s biggest democracy, no political party, and they are umpteen in number, is yet familiar with the term ‘intra-party democracy’. Candidates for the state and general elections are chosen by the parties’ respective high commands comprising of one - yes, just one – to ten persons. Ordinary members of the political parties are simply not trusted to choose the candidates. Every now and then the Election Commission makes suitable noises on its constitutional obligation to promote intra-party democracy but is easily satisfied with the sham elections the political parties stage for its benefit.

And then which political party in India will tolerate a challenge from within its own ranks to the candidature of the wife of country’s ex-president (read ex-prime minister in the Indian context), its star alumnus? In the country where three persons belonging to one single family, no doubt illustrious in many ways, have ruled for a collective 38 of its 60 years of independence, there can not be a Barrack Obama. Hillary Clinton is unfortunate that her husband was the president of the United States and not the prime minister of India.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Having yes-men is saying “Yes” to your doom

A good number of leaders consider it a sign of their growing importance and influence to be surrounded by people who find virtue in whatever the leaders might say or do. For these people the leader is always right, at least this is what they let the leader know in unmistakable terms, and the leader’s wish they take as a command. This professedly unquestioned loyalty of the yes-men does wonders to the already bloated ego of such leaders and they end up thinking themselves as God’s special gift to mankind. What else does it do? It creates a protective shield around them which no critical assessment of their decisions or activities can pierce. All criticism is shouted down by the yes-men with such vehemence as ensures against its repetition. In a way the yes-men effectively block all opportunities for a leader to learn something new, improve, and grow; and why at all they should, when they are already perfect?

Who loses in the bargain – the leaders and the organisations they happen to lead. The yes-men are immune from all losses, in fact they extract maximum price for their unflinching support, in the form of undeserved favours at the cost of the organisation. But I would not waste my breath in condemning the yes-men; they are too low even for that. What is really condemnable is the so-called leaders’ sense of insecurity which makes them ignore and deny any sort of criticism and seek solace in the adulation of the yes-men.

These leaders take no time in turning nasty and dangerous to their own organisation or nation, if that is unfortunate enough to be led by them. But Hitler won’t have become the Hitler, Germany and the rest of the world suffered immeasurable losses at whose hands, if the people around him had the courage of not saying “Yes” to him every time, and he won’t have had to shoot himself in the end dying a dog’s death. And this applies to all other tin pot dictators who were similarly lionised by their spineless cronies and before they met their well-deserved doom.

It is, therefore, the bounden duty of each right thinking individual in the organisation (or the nation) to expose the yes-men and if need be to confront the leaders on the reasons for their need to have such lowly creatures around them. And if the leaders still refuse to take the wake up call, they ought to be thrown out with the mass of yes-men clinging to them.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Are leaders born or moulded?

Oh! It’s an old debate whether leaders are born or they may be made. There is truth in the statement that some are born leaders or at least are dominators from an early age. But then a vast majority of leaders around us are of the variety who got developed to become leaders. It required their inner urge to be a leader and also the environment, guidance, and hard work with which this inner urge found manifestation. In my eyes, leadership is a skill set and is, therefore, eminently learnable (unfortunately, though, not very many of the leaders have learnt it well).

I would add here that even the so-called born leaders have to sharpen their leadership claws and learn new tricks (not in a derogatory sense!) continually to become a leader of some substance.

Finally, I would say that the world is big enough to accommodate leaders of both types – born or moulded. In fact, about seven million true leaders are needed, one for a thousand people, and the supply runs short of the demand by at least a couple of millions. Since we can not leave the gap to be filled up by the accident of birth, all of us who are concerned have to take it upon ourselves to be a worthwhile leader and to develop many more of the same ilk.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Leading in the face of an insulting defeat

The Indian cricket team will not be able to forget this ‘Black Thursday’ for a long time. While batting it collapsed to India’s second or third worst innings total in more than 75 years of Test match cricket and then its bowlers were badly belted, giving away three times as many runs as the Indian total for only four of the opposing side’s wickets. The team’s morale and self-confidence this evening, when I am writing this post, would be the pits – to say the least. But theoretically there are four more days of play left, what should be the Indian team’s strategy now? I am putting myself into the shoes of the team’s captain and trying to think aloud what I would do at this critical juncture, what I would tell my team to do.

After a quiet dinner I would ask the team to assemble in my room. All of us eleven would then sit in a circle, holding one another’s hands. Sitting like that we would softly close our eyes and meditate for fifteen to twenty minutes just being aware of the hands in our hands and not consciously thinking about anything. After this exercise in cosmic bond building I would tell my teammates to let bygones be bygones and to take care of the remaining four days’ play in the best possible manner. We must play ball by ball, while bowling and fielding, it should be our endeavour to get a wicket on every ball, failing which to deny the opponents a run, failing which to restrict the number of runs scored off that ball. While batting, the effort would be not to get out on that ball and then to score as many runs off it as possible without taking undue risks.

To end the meeting I would tell them to think as a team but give their best individual performances so far, it is only times like this which verily test a player’s mettle and character. The task before the team is daunting but not impossible, had not the Indian team beat the world champion Australia in the 2001-02 Calcutta Test after conceding a follow-on, thanks to VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Harbhajan Singh, all also members of the present team? And if despite the players’ best efforts the match is lost, let it be; we would lose the match but not our honour.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The crisis of leadership

The political scene is barren, there is no one you would like to follow. So is the case with religion, society, schools, and the corporate sector. Almost in every field of human activity true leaders are a vanishing tribe. One is then left with no alternative to following their own values and principles. Thus led, one perhaps would attract fellow travellers having the same set of values and principles and in due course become their leader. Even otherwise, all who bemoan the leadership vacuum owe it to themselves and to the society to strive to fill that vacuum.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Don't trust a leader without a sense of humour!

An American journalist once asked Mahatma Gandhi what he thought of the western civilisation. The old man cheerily replied that that would be a great idea. On another occasion, after the Mahatma, dressed as usual as a poor Indian farmer, had met king George V at the Buckingham Palace in London, a reporter asked him how could he call on the king attired like that. “Oh, that was no problem at all, in any case the king was wearing enough for both of us” was his tongue-in-cheek reply. No doubt, he was a man of indomitable will and he could empathise with scores of millions of his followers, but his sense of humour had also played not a mean part in making Mahatma Gandhi a much loved leader.

So, what held true for perhaps the greatest leader of the second millennium is valid for lesser mortals and lesser leaders – a ready sense of humour not only makes the task of leadership appear less onerous but also provides to the leaders an escape route out of a contentious situation, in which they sometimes find themselves.

And here is a tip even for the most humourless leader – if they really want to cultivate a sense of humour they should learn to laugh at the jokes cut by their followers, and before that create an atmosphere in which the followers felt secure enough to cut a joke in their presence and sometimes even at the expense of the leaders themselves.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Leadership demands transparent honesty

True leaders have to be transparently honest in whatever they say and in whatever they do. And just imagine if the leaders are like that, for them the task of leadership will be as simple and enjoyable as a walk in the park on a spring morning (in the west – on a summer morning). Since their credibility will be very high, if not perfect, no team member will question the leaders’ motives, and, as a result, everyone will be more committed to carry out the team’s objective.

Some people may interject here that in today’s world it is impossible to be transparently honest. I would not agree with this since I hold that even today it is as easy to be totally honest as it has been in any previous age. You just have to declare it to yourself that come what may you shall not stray from the straight path of truth and honesty and then put this resolution into practice day in and day out. After continuing successfully over some time you may tell your friends about your resolve. That will further ensure that you stuck to it to safeguard your reputation among them. You can be sure that on the way there will be temptations galore to go astray, but give it your all to resist and overcome the first of the temptations. And having overcome the first temptation you will be in a better and far easier position to overcome the second and subsequent ones.

Transparently honest leaders can defend their decisions easily and successfully, they, in fact, welcome impartial enquiry into their conduct. Because in the process of the enquiry they get a chance to convince their doubters of their uprightness.

Don’t ask me then why more and more of these so-called leaders take to dishonest methods which not only bring them ignominy but are also far more difficult to follow than the straight and easy path of transparent honesty; ask them.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Kanan Jaswal's 'Thought for March 30, 2008'

Your language may be ungrammatical, diction wrong, but your communication could yet be great if you really mean what you say.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Kanan Jaswal's 'Thought for March 29, 2008'

Stretch yourself to the full, the world is big enough.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Does a new CEO have to bring his* own coterie?

(* My use of ‘his’, ‘he’ and ‘him’ is gender neutral)

It is not unusual for a new chief executive officer, if an outsider to the organisation, to come with his old team of trusted senior lieutenants that was with him in his previous assignment and in the previous company. Obviously, like that the new c.e.o. feels more secure and comfortable and starts delivering from an early date. Perhaps better performance could be reflected in the quarterly results from the second or third quarter itself. The share holders and the board of directors would be happy for the change.

But what more does it say of the new c.e.o. – that he has started his new innings with the presumption that he can not get the existing set of senior functionaries to cooperate with him, that he is not trusting them, that he lacks confidence in his own ability to adjust to new circumstances without the soothing sight of familiar faces around him?

And the effect of this mass scale induction of new management team on the employees’ morale can not be anything less than damaging. By a single stroke of the board of directors’ pen, the employees have lost many of the top executives they had been working with and working for. Adjusting to the leadership, management and work styles of a new c.e.o. is bad enough, here they have to do this for more than one c.x.o. Some senior people have to leave, some others are moved sideways, some find their chances of promotion and other advancement blocked. Much worse than this all is that for the employees the new management team becomes an outsider. It is a very large number of ‘us’ versus a very small number of ‘them’, and this emotional segregation is not going to help the company. It is an ugly reality of short-termism and is designed to do damage to the larger and real interests of the organisation.
Any new c.e.o. worth his salt should able to inspire the existing management team and employees to offer their best for the betterment of the company and for achieving the various performance objectives

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Leadership of the self

Before we aspire to lead others, we have to judge whether we can lead ourselves. The other side of this is – before we impose our leadership on others, are we willing to be led by someone like ourselves? Is our leadership good enough for us or shall we prefer to choose someone else as our leader?

For leading ourselves, first we must be aware of where we are at this moment and then have to be absolutely clear about where we want to go, when we want to reach there, and should know how we would go there. Pursuing the destination or objective single-mindedly with courage and a dogged determination and discipline, we have to be flexible in our approach to it. Throughout this exercise, however, we must maintain our integrity and uphold our values. Keeping the foregoing in mind we, as a leadership aspirant, should prepare ourselves by taking up some project to improve ourselves in some significant way or to give up a bad habit, which had been militating against our success in the past. If we can do it successfully our self-confidence will get a boost. And then based on our positive experience with ourselves we will be in a better shape and in a better frame of mind to take up a leadership role involving others as our team members.

As for the question if we want to be led by someone like ourselves – we know the qualities of heart and mind we would like to see in our leader. Hence it is not asking for too much that we inculcate the same qualities in ourselves and then rightfully deserve to be our own leader. Leading others then will not be difficult for we will do that with confidence born out of real conviction.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Leaders make their followers feel a foot taller

Some two decades back I, a young man myself, met a young bank manager, whose chairman had become a legend. Only due to his great stewardship that bank had started giving regular jitters to my bank, the State Bank of India, the hitherto unchallenged master of the Indian banking scenario. After the preliminary niceties we found ourselves talking about the ‘big man’ and I remember asking the bank manager if he had ever met him. He said he had met him, not one-on-one but as a member of a group of young managers. I then asked him to describe his chairman in one sentence. The reply was that it was difficult to describe ‘that man’ in one sentence. On my persisting with the request, he said, and I quote, “In his presence we all felt a foot taller.” I have read somewhere that there are about four hundred fifty definitions of leadership, and recently I had the presumptuousness to add one of my own to the number, but I feel that this thoughtful observation describes a leader most aptly.

Some people are born great, on some others greatness is imposed, but rubbing that greatness onto others you come in contact with is the sign of true leadership. Only a person absolutely confident of his own great worth can afford to arouse greatness around themselves. Compare this to the sorry spectacle of leaders surrounding themselves with pygmies to profit from comparison and if a pygmy is found to add even half an inch to their height, they are promptly banished to a permanent oblivion.

Real leaders empower the members of their team, they discover their own greatness in the greatness of their colleagues. And the others, to whom this personal trait does not come naturally, can learn to make it their own. Let me assure them that it would be entirely worth the effort.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Are you a leader in the mould of Alexander?

The story goes like this – Alexander and his army were passing though a desert, they had completely run out of drinking water and fresh supply was no where in sight. A full day’s march in the killing sun had taken its toll, a few soldiers collapsed of dehydration and the condition of those still on their feet was only slightly better. Alexander ordered a halt and sent out some soldiers into the desert looking for water. The soldiers returned after a couple of hours with a small jar, blessedly full of water, and offered it to the king, “There was not another drop, Sire.” Alexander, however, was not amused. He asked, “So, you expect your king to quench his thirst when his army has not had a drop of water to drink for more than a day?” And with this he poured the jar’s contents on the blazing sand. What would you have done in Alexander’s position?

Going by the general run of today’s leaders, you would have snatched the jar from the soldiers’ hands and greedily poured the water, to the last drop, down your throat, and perhaps asked for more. This un-Alexander-like behaviour has become so common that it does not even merit a raised eyebrow any more. We have chief executive officers drawing total emoluments five hundred times more than the daily wage earner in the same company. We have golden parachutes for non-performing CEOs to bail out with after destroying the organisations they had headed. Then we have opulently appointed corporate head quarters controlling, as if, poverty-stricken branch offices - all profit centres in their own right.

I don’t call such so-called leaders selfish, I call them foolish. Had they been selfish they would have pursued their real self-interest, which, for leaders, is not separable from the welfare of their troops.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Leaders follow the rules they make

Framers of the rules should be the first to come under those very rules.

As branch manager of one of my bank's important branches, I found myself flooded with the staff's requests for contingency purchase of stationery and other necessary office articles. Since it was leaving me with little time for my main job, after consultation with my colleagues, I set up a purchase committee of three members – my deputy, the loans officer, and the chief of the staff union – to meet at least once in each calendar month to consider the requests for local purchases. If they all agreed, a recommendation was to be made to the branch manager (i.e. me) for his approval for the purchase. The branch manager had the power to veto purchase of any recommended item but could not, on his own, add an item to the list. Once I required a wall clock, costing less than US$ 10, for my cabin and requested the purchase committee to consider its purchase. For some reasons, the committee did not meet for more than a month after my request and the clock could be purchased only later. Everyone at the branch could see that the branch manager held the purchase committee, in a way his own creation, supreme. It was not my intention to make a leadership statement but obviously I did not mind the great boost the incident gave to my credibility in the eyes of my colleagues at the branch.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

No one can be a leader for life...

No one can be a leader for life, true leaders have to prove themselves again and again.

Leadership is not a once-for-all exercise, one has to be at it repeatedly, rather continuously. Simply because problems that require the leader's intervention to resolve them keep popping up in any venture of some import. And since no two problems are likely to be of the same nature, in order to be able to resolve them the leaders have to keep updating and improving their leadership skills. Past successes would definitely build their confidence further, but each new challenge would still have to be met. There is no rest or running away for a leader.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Seeing it clearly...

If you can see it clearly , you can hope to achieve it one day.

Explaining my definition of Leadership

In my very first posting on this blog, I had defined leadership as “getting others to want to do and, therefore, do what you want done”.

The prospective leader should be clear in their mind about what they want done, that actually is the leader’s vision. This is leadership’s first pre-requisite and answers the question “leadership for what?”. Then the leader has to communicate the vision to their would-be followers or team members in such a way that not only it is well-understood by them all but they are also moved by it to make it their own vision, they “want to do” or achieve it. And since they themselves want to achieve it, they now own the vision and take all necessary action to achieve it. The leader in the meantime is not sitting on their haunches, they are with the followers or the team, keeping them together and focused on the vision. The leader also ensures continuous movement and makes course corrections as and when necessary. The leader and the followers, together, thus reach the ‘visioned’ position. Leadership is for a purpose, and leadership makes possible the journey from where you are to where you would like to be.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Kanan Jaswal's 'Thought for March 20, 2008'

Have an eye that does not merely look but also sees.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Kanan Jaswal's 'Thought for March 19, 2008'

Debating whether leaders are born or they can be developed is a useless academic exercise. The world needs both categories of leaders to fill the huge leadership vacuum.

Who needs another blog on leadership?

Oh no! Not another blog on leadership!

No doubt, so much has been written on leadership – there are thousands of books, n-number of websites and the newest, but hardly any weaker in numbers for that, addition has been the blogs. It has been debated at length whether leaders are born or people can be developed as leaders. Leadership skills – conceptual, technical and people – have been minutely studied, all possible leadership styles analysed. Having great respect and regard for this impressive body of knowledge, I still feel that leadership is generally presented as an esoteric, even mysterious and elusive at times, art. My approach to leadership will be one of common sense, and as I am not over-awed by it, my effort will be to de-mystify leadership in order to bring it within the realm of understanding of the common man or woman.

From among these common men and women more and more leaders, and true leaders at that, have to emerge if the frightening leadership vacuum is to be filled. The world needs millions of leaders in all walks of life, at roughly one per thousand. So, hundreds and thousands are needed to make leadership understood not only by the prospective leaders but also by those to be led. It is here that blogs like this one would have a role to play. And you, my readers, can contribute by way of your comments to make this blog an effective player. Be, therefore, generous with your comments (you would have noticed, I did not say “generous in your comments”).

Bye for now!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Kanan Jaswal's 'Thought for the day'

Leadership is getting others to want to do and, therefore, do what you want done.