Leaders Live

Leaders Live

The suggestion was powerful. A friend read my blog on Govindkaka and suggested that I should write a book on leaders and leadership. That somebody thinks that you can write a book is itself such a powerful compliment that I kept thinking about it every day.

There are thousands of books on leadership. I wanted our book to be different. The question on my mind was how people transform in to leaders.

I recalled my assignment for Rotary. The President of my club had asked me to write a short pen-sketch of every member. I did. And realised that the life story of every member was stranger than fiction.

Among them was Mrs Mangala Karandikar, a tall lady with a ‘presence’, perceptive mind, booming voice and big eyes. She was compassionate, yet a forceful, action-oriented person. The interviews set me thinking – there were many ‘leaders’ among the Rotarians and some, like Mangala, were outside the corporate world. They had evolved in to great human beings who had touched lives of many people. 

How do people evolve as leaders? What do we mean when we say somebody is ‘leading’ or ‘led’ a good life? The use of the verb ‘lead’ was surely not accidental. Was the model of a leader having vision relevant to the corporate world or valid for people outside it who had evolved as leaders too? These were some questions on my mind when I spoke to Sujata Deshmukh who has read, studied and lectured on leadership. We decided to collaborate for searching answers. The Leadership Thinkshop which we held with active support from Mr Himanshu Bhatt (President, NHRDN, South Gujarat Chapter) was the result.

Mangala’s interview.

We met Mangala who was curious about our work, and was helpful. Mangala was born in a family with modest means. She was (as she says) a ‘tom boy’ and her father treated her like a boy. He would fondly call her ‘Mangesh’ instead of Mangala which was a father’s recognition of certain qualities which are often labelled masculine. She began taking interest in his transport business and within a short period he left this world, leaving the business in the hands of a nineteen-year-old Mangala. She grew this business, bought buses, driving them to take workers to their factories, negotiating transport contracts and in carrying all business activities with certain principles. This was in the early nineteen-seventies when spotting a girl drive a car in Thane was a very rare sight, so forget about a young girl driving a bus! Mangala succeeded in establishing herself in what was exclusive ‘man’s world’ of business and earned respect.

I am not giving full details here, but suffice it to say that it is not just a story of an entrepreneur, it is the story of an entrepreneur who grew up as a leader! Mangala later picked up a teacher’s job – she followed her passion – and made a big difference to the institution where she worked. She has also supported education of a hundred blind students.

I was reading a Marathi book by Vijay Tendulkar at the same time I was interviewing leaders. The title of the book, which covers some exceptional people, is ‘He sarva kothun yete?’ meaning ‘Where does all this originate from?’ Tendulkar was referring to the exceptional way some people lived their life. That exactly was the question on my mind – the search of the source! And both Sujata and I became acutely aware that this search was exciting activity though we were not sure if we will ever find a clear and conclusive answer.

As we interviewed six leaders, and as we discussed their life journey, we were reminded that Warren Bennis defined leadership as ‘becoming yourself.’ How true! He says, “…..becoming a leader is a natural expression of the life force and highly personal journey, much like that of becoming an integrated man.”

We interviewed six persons; each only supported the view of Bennis. We decided to take this to a group of people at Ankleshwar where we interviewed Navin Korpe and Arvind Shrouti and also Mangala at length, with each interview lasting about an hour.

From L to R: Vivek, Mangala, Sujata, Arvind Shrouti, Navin Korpe, Himanshu Bhatt [NHRDN]

Navin Korpe is the Chairman and MD of Ani Integrated Services. He, like the other two, comes from a family with modest means. He began his career as a worker and owns a company with a turnover of Rs 200 Cr! Arvind Shrouti, a management graduate, decided to give his life to the labour movement. He has left his stamp of positivity on the industrial relations scenario at Pune industrial belt – he is an advisor to more than one hundred unions. I will write about them soon.

The life journey of leadership, John Maxwell tells us, is in five steps or phases. Here is a table which crisply explains the leadership journey. The life journey which we mapped seemed to fit this pattern.

I think John Maxwell has got it right! One sees this pattern in all the three cases. At the first stage Mangala acquired her position as a leader because she owned the business. From there her life journey went through all the remaining four phases. At various turns of their journey, they had made choices. Mostly driven by passion and confidence.

Pic Credit Unsplash Kobu Agency

For all those who endlessly debate whether a leader is born or made, here is the final answer attributed to Viktor Frankl – “A Leader is neither born, nor made –(s)he is a product of choice.”

So, examining choices which we make as we ‘lead’ our lives becomes important. And it also tells us that we are at all times ‘work in progress.’

Robert Frost said, “I talk in order to understand; I teach in order to learn.” That describes motive force behind Sujata’s and my work of interviewing and presenting them at the ‘Leadership Thinkshop’ at Ankleshwar. Such a fulfilling journey!

Vivek S Patwardhan

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”