Aug 22, 2016

On Leadership

R Jayaraman

WhatsApp is an active platform, perhaps the most active one, amongst the modern day public platforms – Facebook, e-mails, blogs, LinkedIn, linked out and whatnot. You keep getting messages which you may not have asked for. Many people take pleasure in forwarding. In fact, Whatsapp has a given a whole new meaning to “forward” which was once a much reviled function, witness the many “forwarded” emails which would be deleted without any fanfare. WhatsApp has changed all that – it has shown how a “forward” can make sense and be a source of pleasure and information. But that’s not what I want to blog about just now, that will be another blog.

One such message I got today from an old friend of mine. He wrote: Lord Rama was a leader, so was Krishna. Rama led an army of monkeys from the front. He himself was a great, mighty warrior, and he directed his forces to do what he had in mind. The monkeys, being not very intelligent or skilful, were happy to be led and followed him to victory. But Krishna was quite unlike Rama. He refused to get into the war, was not known for his prowess as a warrior although his Narayani Sena was a mighty and much feared force. He declared that he will only advice and guide whoever wants to be. Duryodhana decided Krishna’s army was far more valuable than the person. This could be a case of quantity over quality. Like the Boeing company’s famous slogan: Quantity – we can count, but quality – we can count on.

In the war, Krishna provided inputs, guidance and also revealed his famous Bhagavad Gita, an exposition on the importance of a way of life. In this case, the Pandavas and Kauravas were neither monkeys nor ordinary human beings, but evolved souls who were skilled (at the world class level) and learned, competent and mighty, and it fell to Krishna to provide only strategic inputs and action plans. These are perhaps two extremes of the myriad types of leadership styles that are available to leaders to follow. How does one choose? The short answer is — depends.

Do leaders really choose a style or is it inborn and innate to the person? Did Krishna train to be a strategic advisor? Did Ram Charan or Vijay Govindarajan or CK Prahlad train to be strategic advisors from their birth? Did they know that they will be thought leaders in this key sphere of organisational activity? Not really. It evolved over time, but there has to be a mutual fit – between the style and the individual’s talent, attitude to life, aptitude and circumstances.

Take the case of Mahatma Gandhi. Was he a born leader? No. The fateful train journey in South Africa turned a till then docile lawyer into a firebrand rebel. This side of his character is totally missing in his great work in India. He had embraced “ahimsa” in India. This was a big change. He also was a leader who did not ask to lead from the front. He was pushed into the leadership role, into which he settled down well, and, over the years, excelled. He became the platinum standard of leadership.

In totality he can be called the best leader the world has ever seen. He did not have the might of Rama but he made the mighty British bow before him. Unlike Rama, he did not lead from the front, but people liked to be led by him, they asked and wanted to be led by him. Leadership was thrust upon him. To his credit he lived upto the expectations. A lesser mortal would have folded up. Which means that he had the talent, the attitude and the aptitude, the circumstance was of course waiting for him. Like Krishna he was not a “strategist” with a deep knowledge of life and its mysteries. He was a lawyer by profession, a self taught man about Indian philosophy, the shastras, the puranas, the vedas, the upanishads. However, his homilies were down to earth and understood by a population which wanted to hear him say those things. One could thus conclude that Gandhi was in between Rama and Krishna.

In conclusion, leadership is a many splendoured thing. It can grab you when you are young or when you are not so. Gandhiji became a leader only in his later years, well beyond middle age. Narendra Modi has become a national leader at a ripe age of 60+. Narasimha Rao was close to 70 when he led the country into the modern league of nations. It can grab you whether you are rich or poor. Gandhiji was a rich barrister. But leaders like Narendra Modi, Vallabh Patel, Tilak and Lal Bahadur Shastri were all born in poor circumstances. And we can go on thus.

WhatsApp is sure a great source of thoughtful apps.

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