The Leadership Question

The Leadership Question

“Oh, what are you doing here in Lonavala. It’s raining so heavily.” I was surprised to find Lulu, my parrot, sitting on a Mango tree. I had gone there to conduct training. I did not expect Lulu to fly all the way there.

“Rain or no rain! I will come because I want to witness some interesting activity you are engaged in” Lulu said. He keeps a watchful eye on everything I do.

“Oh, yes. These are my friends from a blue chip company. The union committee. I said yes when they asked me if I can train them.”

“Train them? What kind of training?”

“They had several questions on their mind. They were seeking answers to some of their problems; they were also seeking inputs on their role in union.”

“That’s interesting. Union guys want to increase their effectiveness as representatives. Progressive I would say.”

“One would have expected them to be very anti-management; I was pleasantly surprised to find they were not, actually they were proud of their organisation. They were ‘inward looking.’”

“Wow! One surprise after another. Things seem to be changing on the industrial relations front.”

“Yes, Lulu. The blue collar employees have understood how the economic ups and downs hit them. But their concern was different.”


“If I have to explain it in a nutshell – the concern was ‘how to help raise the standard of living of their members?’ Employees of any successful organisation expect increasingly higher standard of living.” 

“A valid expectation. Employees at all levels including managers expect that….. What’s wrong with it?”

“Of course, nothing wrong. We work to provide better living standard to our family. The problem is really how much increase is enough at any given point of time.”

“And the union guys have to convince a mob of a few hundred employees. That is a tall order.”

“Yes, indeed it is. A union is quite different organisation than a company. Decisions must be implemented whether you accept it or not, if you are working for a company. That’s the logic of hierarchy.”

“And in a Union the members are free to find another ‘neta’ if they don’t approve of the committee’s decision. There is no dearth of leaders in our country, but leadership is so scarce! Wow! Leadership of the internal unions must be getting tested.”

“It surely gets tested. And often the internal union leaders are young boys out of their ITIs. Almost in all cases they are about 25 years of age. So are their colleagues on shop floor.”

“Hmmm….. That must be putting a lot of pressure on the internal union leadership. When their friends get married, the demand for higher pay gets louder voice.”

“Ask me! My per capita income dropped by 50% after marriage! I remember the difficulty I had with my budget….”

“….dreams in the eyes, a new bride and empty pockets! God never gives you everything that you want. Ha ha ha”

“You said it.”

“The central problem is ‘how much is enough.’”

“And how to sell the answer to one’s constituency.”

“That’s the acid test of leadership. How do you develop such leaders?”

“That’s a good question. Experimenting. I am still in search of answer.”

“Yes, it is vital to believe in the importance of that question.” Lulu said as he hopped from table and settled on my shoulder.

Vivek S Patwardhan