Leadership this month : Taking time-out

The volatile Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte was asked about his response in an anticipated meeting; should Barack Obama, the US president, talk about rampant human rights violations and extra-judicial killings under his regime. In his native tongue, he said he would call Obama, ‘son of a bitch’. Obama’s response? All he said was that given the less likelihood of a productive and constructive conversation, he would call off the meeting. Which he did. No grand riposte. No grand-standing as the President of the United States of America.

The Srilankan cricket team won their Test cricket series against the mighty australians 3-0, a whitewash. In the process, Australia lost their Test no.1 ranking. The Australian cricket captain, Steve Smith was sent back to Australia during the one-day series on the grounds of rest and preparation for the upcoming South African series at home. Of course, the decision was criticised as a sign of weak leadership. How can the captain of a beleaguered team go home like that? Well, he did. Under new captain, David Warner, the Australians won the one-day series 4-1. And have won the first T-20 as well.

An Indian tech-start up, GoZoomo did something unheard of recently. It was generously funded but was unable to succeed in setting up an online used car marketplace. The company founders decided against burning more cash. They opted to shut shop and return the substantial funds that remained ( more than half) to their Venture capital investors. GoZoomo CEO and co-founder Arnav Kumar said, “The right thing to do is to treat the capital respectfully and deploy it where there is a better chance to create huge value.We tried to build a fast-scaleable business, but realized that the business model does not work. So it is better that this capital gets deployed elsewhere instead of us hoarding it and hoping that something good happens.” They did wind up. Both, the laid-off employees and the investors want to be a part of any future plans the start-up founders may have.

In all three situations, the decision was to step back or even step-out. To take a breather. In a world hooked onto active engagement and projection of power and success, this has become a difficult thing to do. As the mighty US president, it was ridiculously easy to lash out. As the swaggering Australian captain, it would have been difficult to move out at a critical juncture. As a well-funded start-up, it was far more tempting to use up all the funds and stay committed to the faith.

And yet, these leaders saw reality as it is. The US-Philippines relationship is far too strategic and vital to hinge on the utterances of one man. A change of guard and an infusion of new thinking could be good for a jaded Australian cricket team. To factor in the opportunity cost of ill-deployed capital  is a sign of business and social responsibility.

We need to see reality as it is, free of as many filters as possible. We need to take a breather.

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