Leadership

Stanislav Petrov – The Man who Saved the World

Without you knowing about it, Stanislav Petrov has been a part of your life. He has saved the world as we know it by the decisions he made all the way back in 1983. On 26th September, 1983, Petrov was the duty officer at the command-center for a nuclear early warning system near Moscow in Soviet Union. That night, he faced one of the biggest decisions of the 20th century – a decision that could have precipitated an inevitable chain-reaction of events to culminate into the destruction of the whole world. Hard to get what this means into our gut and that is part of our collective challenge – but that’s beside the point. How did a low-ranked duty-officer come to bear such a huge responsibility? After all, we expect this to come to the desks of country leaders & top generals.  And what made it such an agonising decision? In the eighties, the then superpowers, the United States & Soviet Union, were in a state of MAD ( Mutually Assured Destruction) This is even now the case. MAD means both superpowers had enough…

Leadership this month – Heroes are not always right.

From the barber to the CEO, everyone in India loves to hold court on what ails Indian cricket. The latest news is that Anil Kumble, the coach & Virat Kohli, the captain do not see eye to eye. To make the two reconcile is not my task. That said, this is a great opportunity to ask – Are we as a society and a people also blind to how things are? How often do we believe that choices made by our heroes will always be right? In the case of the Tata Group, it was Ratan Tata himself who had a role in appointing Cryus Mistry as the chairman in the first place. Anybody disputes that? We all know how that turned out. In the case of the Indian cricket coach, it was the famed trio of Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly & VVS laxman who chose Anil Kumble. And things have apparently not turned out well on the internal harmony front. Now, who is going to challenge the cricketing pedigree of these legends ? Not me. And yet, going by…

Thoughts on the TATA Group challenge

As a teenager, 23 years ago, I remember being struck by something unsual in the newspapers one day. All of them were carrying one single news story on their front page. It was the obituary of JRD Tata. And on the rest of the page, there were vignettes or anecdotes from JRD’s life. Usually, political icons got such coverage. Why such a coverage for an industrialist then, I asked myself.  As I read and devoured everything in multiple papers and magazines, I got my answer. JRD was so much more than an industrialist & a business leader. JRD showed how much a business can contribute to a nation and society if it is driven by values & enlightened leadership. In your teens, you are moved more by ideas of justice and equality than by those of making money. To know that a business can reconcile such values & make money was a revelation to me. Reading about JRD made such a huge impact then. As I read about what is happening at the TATA group now, I am not dismayed…

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…

Leadership This Month : Missed Opportunities

Institutional Leaders with a historical legacy are faltering in the present. The International Olympic Association (IOC) & the Republican party establishment in the United States, in particular. The International Olympic Association (IOC) Russia, a sporting superpower was recently indicted in an independent anti-doping enquiry for establishment-backed doping by Russian athletes in the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi, Russia. Imagine hosting the Oympics and playing dirty on the side to help your country athletes win. This goes against the very spirit of everything that the Olympics stands for. With the Rio Olympics so near, the IOC had to respond and act fast. What did it do? The bare minimum was to bar Russian track and field athletes from Rio 2016. And that it did, though even here, there is a provision to get them in. But the IOC did not impose a blanket ban on all Russian participation in Rio. A blanket ban would have sent a very strong, but much needed message to all member nations and their sports-establishments that the IOC is uncompromisingly committed in its fight against doping and any other…

Leader-ship : Lost at Sea

We live in a turbulent age. The democratic system of the world’s most powerful country, the United States, is being trumped up by a dangerous demagogue. A continental community ushered in to unite a continent ravaged by two world wars is being torn asunder. We have the highest ever number of refugees sequestered in camps because the countries they wish to enter have shut their doors on them. We have a terrorist group that wields state power in terms of – the territory it holds,the scale of violence it can unleash, and the identity it provides to its adherents. And we have a fragile environment that is breaking down to the point of no return, thanks to human depredations and excesses. First, the United States. To imagine Donald Trump having access to the nuclear button is a most fearful exercise. And this concerns the whole world, not just his country. The world’s most powerful democracy, the place where the world’s best intellects choose to live and work;  this very place has seen the rise of a dangerous and manipulative demagogue. The world’s…

Spotlight on ‘Spotlight’ – The ‘Best Picture’ Oscar winner

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter – Martin Luther King Jr A newspaper deals in stories. Are there stories and matters that an entire community becomes silent about- newspaper included? Yes, there are. Spotlight, based on actual events, is one such story. The story envelops the very city and community that the newspaper marks out as its own turf by calling itself ‘ The Boston Globe.’ And it goes on to reveal how we inflict the conspiracy of silence on ourselves – as an organization and as a community. The conspiracy of silence & cover-up In the summer of 2001,a new editor at the Boston Globe leans on its four-member investigative report team, known as ‘Spotlight’ to dig deeper into a story written by an in-house columnist. A lawyer has charged that the Archbishop of Boston knew a priest was sexually abusing children but did nothing about it. As the Spotlight team starts investigating, they realize that this one case is just the tip of the iceberg. An expanding probe uncovers acts of wrong-doing and non-doing by institutions like the church and…

Why organizations underachieve in leadership development

The road to success and the road to failure are almost exactly the same – Colin R. Davis A recent report pointed how India Inc. spends so much on leadership development and succession planning, and still ends up importing CEOs from the outside. This is especially true of the technology sector. A lot of money and resources are going down the drain. Why does this happen? My assertion is this : The very context that organizations create for leadership development within their walls is dragging them down. Leadership development efforts are structured for 1) ensuring self-contained internal success. 2) escaping every stage, ongoing feedback from an external environment. And this creates a spiral of inconsistencies that feed off each other and jeopardise leadership development. We will examine five inconsistencies that flow from how leadership development efforts are structured for ensuring success and escaping feedback from an external environment. 1)  A Predictable hierarchy that has no bearing on unpredictable success. Leadership development requires a set hierarchy, a ladder with clear rungs visible to everybody from the bottom up. People need to see how they are going to…

A spiritual leader speaks on ‘Conscious leadership’

I listened to Radhanath Swami on Saturday. His book, ‘ A journey home’ is a beautiful read. The event was organized by Artha forum, an endeavour that seeks to tap into ancient wisdom for the lessons it can offer to modern business. Here are the two things that are the heart of the matter to me. I use my words to convey his message whenever I cannot remember it verbatim. 1) Kunti in Mahabharata had this to say, ” The disqualification for enlightenment and self-realization or – whatever word you resonate with – is having too much of ….too much of wealth, too much of…beauty, too much of…skills, too much of… education…too much of power.” When you have too much of a worldly good, you tend to become arrogant. You lose your bearings. You lose your way. 2) What is the way to overcome this challenge? To not be accursed on account of having too much. Radhanath Swami invoked the idea of trusteeship, an idea steeped in India’s historical and cultural heritage. How does it work? Considereverything as the property of God. And…

A leader’s impact – what do you seek for yourself?

A leader has an impact. What kind appeals to you between the two that I share. The first impact. “I have full faith in my leader. I don’t have to think” This impact makes you as the follower feel everything is being taken care of. You do not have to figure anything out on your own. The leader has planted in you the vision. The leader has pointed to the destination and chalked out the path. The leader is walking down that path. All that is left for you to do is follow. Success is guaranteed by the leader. The second impact. ” I have full faith in myself. My leader makes me think” This impact makes you as the follower feel that everything is not taken care of till you take care of a few things. And you have to figure out a lot of things.The leader has shared a vision with you. The vision makes you see how you have it in you to uncover the destination and create a path.  You see yourself walking down that path along with others.…