The Mashaal of Leadership

The Mashaal of Leadership

This program, Mashaal[1] is all about Leadership. (This was my address at the Mashaal Program held during June 30-July 02, 2022). And what is Leadership? There are many definitions but I like the one by Warren Bennis who says Leadership is becoming yourself. What is ‘becoming yourself?’ Essentially it means that you should be true to your identity. But who we are changes or keeps changing, in other words our identity changes. We are after all work in progress. Let us keep this at the back of our mind.

It’s The Choice That Makes Us

For twenty-five years in my career, I was responsible for industrial relations. I have known many labour leaders. I got to know Dr Datta Samant although I won’t say I knew him very well. Contrary to the popular belief he was a very sensitive person. After studying medicine at GS Medical College in Mumbai, he did fairly well in his medical practice. But his conscience bit him hard when he saw the lives of quarry workers and hutment dwellers. He had a choice to make – to take up the cause of the laborer or to continue the medical practice. He made his choice.

And everyone knows the incident which led to establishing Baba Amte’s Anandwan. He saw Tulsiram who had contracted leprosy and the sight frightened him. Baba Amte was a brave man who had fought British soldiers and he was ashamed that he was frightened by a living corpse. Baba Amte had a choice – to lead a good life, his was a wealthy family or to work for the leprosy affected patients. He made his choice.

I am sure that you would have faced dilemmas in your life of big or small proportions, and you would have made your choices. We should think about what leads people to making those choices; is it guided by the upbringing or is it the impulsive decision, or is it a conscious choice based on principles or values?

What dictates our decisions – nature or nurture? In other words, are leaders a product of nature or nurture? Did Dr Datta Samant feel the pain of quarry workers because he came from a family of modest means? And what explains a wealthy Baba Amte giving up everything to take up the cause of the most neglected and unwanted persons in the Society?

We can discuss this at great length, but we have to recognize that they had a choice which they exercised. In both the cases the choice was dictated by their conscience, not ne circumstances. Leaders are a product of choice.

Stephen Covey explains this well.

Primary and Secondary Greatness

Associated with leaders is the word ‘great’. We should stop to think about greatness. Let me quote Stephen Covey here:

I recognize that “greatness” is a term that is intimidating to many people. To some it is even a negative or arrogant term. I think this is because many people equate it only with what I call secondary greatness. Secondary greatness has to do with positions or titles, awards, wealth, fame rankings or rare accomplishments. Almost by any definition, secondary greatness can only be attained by a select few, an extremely small percentage of a population. Secondary greatness is largely determined by comparing one person against another.

Primary greatness, on the other hand, is open to everyone. Every single person can have it; there are no bell-curve limits. Primary greatness has to do with a person’s integrity, work ethic, treatment of others, motives, and level of initiative. It has also to do with a person’s character, contributions, talents, creativity and discipline. It represents who people are – every day – as opposed to what they own or temporary achievements. Primary greatness is measured not by comparisons with other people, but by adherence to timeless, universal principles. It is humble.

These observations of Covey are insightful. If we look back, we see that a nurse or a ward boy also begets respect of everyone in the hospital. You do not have to be a doctor to beget respect. Some doctors have primary greatness but others get secondary greatness, mainly because of their position.

We have to decide what kind of greatness we wish to achieve. As a leader there is no option but to focus on primary greatness.

This also explains why the present-day political leaders are not considered as great leaders.

The point is that character is the key to leadership. And one of the most glaring examples of character leadership was provided by Ratan Tata when he handled the situation during the terrorist attack on Taj Hotel. Ratan Tata realized that there had to be a system to help and rehabilitate the victims of such tragedies. He launched a trust within two weeks of the attack on Taj Hotel. It is not only for the employees of Taj Hotel who suffered due to the attack, but anyone affected by it could ask for help. They get financial, medical, educational or welfare assistance.

The word is inclusion. The response of setting up a Trust to help all the affected persons is a reflection of Ratan Tata’s character. He did not limit the benefit only to his employees, but made it available to all affected. That’s inclusion. He is not held in high esteem because he heads the Tata Group; he has earned respect because of his character.

‘To become a leader, you must know how to walk your path so you can show others how to walk their path.’

The Finite and Infinite Games

In 1986 James Carse published a book ‘Finite and Infinite Games.’ A finite game has a clear beginning and end like a game of cricket. There is a clear winner at the end. We see fierce competition and one loses while the other wins.

An infinite game has no clear beginning and end. It does not have clear rules, and there is no such thing as ‘winning’ in an infinite game.

Let me quote him here: “There is no such thing as coming first in the marriage or friendship. Though school is finite, education is not. We can beat out other candidates for a job; but there is no one is crowned the winner of careers. …. No matter how successful we are in life, when we die, none of us will be declared the winner of life. However, if we listen to the language of so many of our leaders today, they don’t know the game in which they are playing. They talk constantly about winning. They obsess about beating the competition. They announce the world that they are the best. They state that their vision is to be number one. Except that in games without finish lines, all of these things are impossible.  

When we lead with a finite mindset in an infinite game, it leads to all kinds of problems, the most common of which include the decline of trust, cooperation and innovation.” (Unquote)

Let me quote what I read on the website of Narayana Health which was established by Dr Devi Shetty. (quote) “…. we are well on our way to demonstrate that we are not running our institution as just another number-only business, but are attractively placed to create an affordable, globally-benchmarked quality-driven healthcare services model.” Clearly they are playing the infinite game.

I am associated with an SME ‘HyTech Engineers Ltd.’ They are in the process of creating their organization as ‘Inverted Leadership Pyramid’. This inverted structure empowers the frontline employees to interact with the customers directly and positively impact customer’s happiness with the company. The focus is not on competition.

When leaders play the infinite game, they focus on intangibles and create an organization in which employees give their best. There are three basic ingredients for success which Warren Bennis mentions. Those are 1. Ideas which are the basis for change, 2. Relationship which has to do with people working in harmony where people are empowered and feel included, and 3. Adventure which has to do with risk, a bias toward action, curiosity and courage. It is the job of the leader to create the social architecture. ( Warren Bennis ).

Finally, the Leader Must Get Going Bringing Everything Together ….

This is so well expressed in ‘Becoming Leader’ that I am tempted to quote it (quote):

First, you have to figure out how to organize your job, management of time what your responsibilities are. I often advise persons that they should ask a question to their senior which helps them to take bearings and organize their job, and it is ‘what are two things I must do in the next 18 months?’ To some persons like Mangala Karandikar it comes quite naturally. Mangala lost her father and had to manage his transport business when she was in her teens. She excelled in managing the business and grew it manifold. Mangala succeeded because she followed this first step well.

Second, you have to learn to lead, not to contain. This is a clear message here that you have to be proactive, not reactive. Being proactive is the hallmark of a leader. Arvind Shrouti in a classic proactive step asked ASAL (Automatic Stampings & Assemblies Ltd) employees to eschew violence and propose a dramatically different approach proposing productivity improvement for that Company with tons of accumulated losses; it resulted in substantial benefit to employees. Employees traditionally do not take initiative in improving employee-relations, but it is almost always the management, if at all.

Third you have to have a clear sense of who you are, and a sense of mission, a clear understanding of it, and your principles must be congruent with the organization’s principles. In an organization which I know of, the efforts were to practice value-based management and they refused to deal with an important vendor who engaged in sharp practices. Such drastic steps might cause a setback in the short run but in the long run it results in creating a great organization.

Fourth, you have to demonstrate through your behaviour all the things you believe a leader and follower should do. And fifth, you need a great sense of freedom and scope so that you can free the people who work with you to live up to their potential. This last aspect is not easy to practice. We know of cases where an employee develops to such a level where the leader was unable to add value to him and he was encouraged to be an entrepreneur.

These are some thoughts on leadership for your consideration. I would like to end my address by screening this excellent video of Govindkaka Dholakia of SRK Exports which contains an important message to all working persons.

Vivek S Patwardhan

PS: I gratefully acknowledge that I have drawn heavily from On Becoming Leader by Warren Bennis, Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek. Kudos! And I gratefully acknowledge the information and interview granted. Feature Pic courtesy Jehyun Sung on Unsplash

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” / Read more Lulu blogs in my book ‘The Lulu Duologues’

[1] Mashaal is a Leadership Development Program for the Healthcare professionals This was my address during its session.