I am trying to develop an understanding of leadership, in the context of today. I think many of our ideas are too industrial age - a concept I picked up from the New Constructs initiative - and also too Euro-centric, though this term is used to mean Europe and America together. I know this is not a new discussion: People like Charles Handy explored these concepts extensively in the 1990s. But, like other concepts, these need to be revisited often.
So, to start with a metaphor. The industrial age leader was almost like the leading horse in the charge of the Light Brigade. First man out. The captain of Titanic. The one chosen to die. General Patton. Focused and Unforgiving. FDR. Unfearing. Dirty Harry. Dispassionate and Professional, though sometimes a social oddball. Warren Harding or Bill Clinton. Presidential from day one.
On a more serious note, leadership so far has been about standing out, standing apart. It was about leading the pack. The leaders absolutely must be 'at the top' - meaning, control. The model is military, the mission is to win. Compromise is a no-no, so is compassion. The leader must be ruthless, unattached - said Sun Tzu - and a generation of leaders, from Jack Welch to Bill Gates, complied.
But, as we decisively enter the Connected Age, this may need to change. Let's understand what we are getting into. 'Connected' is the defining term - suddenly there are communities of people who will never meet one another. There is a bit of a virtualization of life, and of relationships. Distance is a given, though no place on earth looks unreachable anymore. And, life becomes 24x7, not just because of globalization, but because work and leisure blends in, and it is difficult to say which is what. I would not give Internet more than its due credit, but it is largely because of Internet's promise, we suddenly have submarine cables and satellites and very cheap communication tools, without which this would not have happened.
There is also another dimension, which usually remains unmentioned. This is also the age of the commons. In the first phase of the Connected Age, which ends just about now, the mediators gained enormous power. People like hedge funds, which managed the money. People like Microsoft, which dominated our digital existence. Governments, which systematically took away our power while leaving us with the vote [ask George Bush and Tony Blair]. And, big media, which chose to preach, rather than inform [ask Fox News]. But, then, this recession has started doing their untangling. Disintermediation is the term, when suddenly these all-powerful institutions look naked. Fragile as ever. Exposed to its core, and they look much less like their formal all-powerful self.
So, centre of tomorrow's universe is going to be - YOU. Not me, though. It will be a commons centered world, of common men and women. Which is different from the self-centered world that we are just coming out of. Power will shift from nations and individuals to communities, groups of individuals who care about each other and everyone else. You may say that this is an optimistic vision, but one does not need vision to be pessimistic. One needs to look at newspaper headlines or walk down the high street. The closing shops, failing banks, out-of-job Prime Ministers, discredited news channels, shaken big military - all point to the same thing: A Power-shift. It was happening, but the edifice needed to crumble. We needed an earthquake. Happened now.
So, what happens to the leader now? Well, he looks more like Sheepdog than the charging horse. Behind, not front. That's how C K Prahalad sees it. More like Chesley Sullenberger, cool and professional under pressure, who landed a flight on Hudson, and got everyone, including himself, out safe. Less like Winston Churchill, who evoked fear and did not stand down, and remained certain and uncompromising on the goals, whatever the means. The leader looks more like Mahatma Gandhi, who evoked hope, displayed compassion and remained unwavering on the means, but patient about the goals.
So, the leader of the commons is a different leader. Patient, intellectually engaged, flexible, committed to the greater common good. The leader who almost does not lead. Who gives respect to earn respect. Who treats everyone as a full person. A democrat - because he listens - as well as a republican - because he rules by the will of his people. As far as metaphors go, there is another big shift - he is actually SHE.
Yes, like Mother Teresa. Frail. Small. Unremarkable physically. Someone who will not be noticed, except for her sense of purpose. The extraordinary will to make a difference. With a deep and overwhelming compassion. Very subtle, very complex, very feminine. Just like a sheepdog, one may say.
So, this journey, from leading the sheep to herding them, took us several centuries, but we are here now. Now we need New Leaders, who will display a different set of abilities than we looked for before. I shall try to list them down here:
First, the leader must know the way, even if she does not know the destination. We always started with knowing the goal earlier. That was when it was possible to know where we are going. No longer. The leaders today must focus on the journey, while continuously searching for the destination. And, they may experiment with the goal while staying focused on the means. On integrity, on commitment, on truth.
Second, the leader must be ready to compromise. Charles Handy talked about Chinese contracts, where everyone must win. We forgot the lesson somewhat. The connected age is a lot about interconnection. One can't win if the other one loses. The absolute positions do not work anymore. The only way to win in the future is not to remain unwavering, but to know how to achieve the greater common good.
Third, the leader must show humility. Humility is the precondition of learning. On your knees, boys. Humility is also the precondition of love. Of almost all the uplifting things. So, the days of 'You know who I am' is over; it is time to focus on who you really are. There is no shame in frailty or failure; it is human. The only way to win today is to engage with the world, openly and honestly.
Fourth, the leader should embrace doubt and remove confusion. Doubt, questions, is the fountainhead of creativity. Being undoubting is madness in today's world, and doubts do not mean confusion. Being steadfast on the means removes confusion and establishes a sense of balance.
Fifth, the leader should be attached to his people. The military metaphor is OUT - Sun Tzu says that one should never be attached because he will then make mistakes. The family metaphor is IN. We are not fighting a war. We are saving the world, from ourselves.
Sixth, the leader must see beyond the immediate. That is the crux of leadership. Without this, everything else is just good behaviour. The leadership thinking must be strategic, beyond the obvious and the immediate. This is that old metaphor - the leader is the one who gets atop a tree and see the way through a jungle - that remains valid.
Seventh, and last, is that the Leader must be able to tell a story. Not a lie, but a story, which weaves emotions, details and ideas together. Metaphors are important; remember the old fox, Churchill, who saw an Iron Curtain being drawn across Europe, which dominates our thinking even today [for a long time, I visualized Berlin Wall as one made of Iron]. So, are connections - the story is one which we can connect to, not just a parable. All great leaders of all ages talked in stories - it was only the modern ones who dabbled with PowerPoint.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
There is no other city like Kolkata for me: It is Home. The only city where I don't have to find a reason to go to, or to love. It is one city hardwired into my identity, and despite being away for a decade, that refuses to go away. People stay away from their homeland for a variety of reasons. But, as I have come to feel, no one can be completely happy to be away. One may find fame or fortune, love and learning, in another land, but they always live an incomplete life. They bring home broken bits of their homeland into their awkward daily existence, a cushion somewhere, a broken conversation in mother tongue some other time, always rediscovering the land they left behind for that brief moment of wanting to be themselves. The cruelest punishment, therefore, for a man who lives abroad is when his love for his land is denied. It is indeed often denied, because the pursuit of work, knowledge or love seemed to have gotten priority over the attraction of the land. This is particularly
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was,
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
I wrote a note on Kolkata, the city I come from and would always belong to, in July 2010. Since then, the post attracted many visitors and comments, mostly critical, as most people, including those from Kolkata, couldn't see any future for the city. My current effort, some 18 months down the line, is also prompted by a recent article in The Economist, The City That Got Left Behind , which echo the pessimism somewhat. I, at least emotionally, disagree to all the pessimism: After all Kolkata is home and I live in the hope of an eventual return. Indeed, some change has happened since I wrote my earlier post: The geriatric Leftist government that ruled the state for more than 30 years was summarily dispatched, and was replaced by a lumpen-capitalist populist government. Kolkata looked without a future with the clueless leftists at the helm; it now looks without hope. However, apart from bad governance, there is no reason why Kolkata had to be poor and hopeless. It sits right
In our age, the only way to be politically correct is to be democratic. This is a post-70s affair - those days, still, some people had alternative ideologies in mind. Those alternate ideas are dead and gone, long discredited, and it seems that we have only one system which can make people happy, free and live longer. So, we have this huge export industry of democracy, and democracy's warriors, which the American security establishment has lately become. The democracy's businessmen, the bond traders, the media barons and the Hollywood types, are feted everywhere. The consensus is deafening and dumbing. It is indeed awkward to ask now - whether democracy is the right system for every society. It indeed should be. Collective wisdom is better than individual autocracy. In societies where democratic elections have been few and far between, the popular vote has demonstrated the extra-ordinary political savvy of the usually disinterested masses. Democracy has proved to be an excell
It's not often that I get to do things I like, but, as it happens, the lockdown came with a little gift. I was asked to develop, by an Indian entrepreneur with a strong commitment to education, a framework for a Liberal Education for one of his schools. And, as a part of this exercise, I was asked to develop a critique of Indian Education, if only to set the context of the proposal I am to make. I claim to have some unusual - therefore unique - qualification to do this job. I am, after all, an outsider in all senses. I have lived outside India for a long time, but never went too far away, making it my field of work for most of the period. I have also been outside the academe but never too far away: Just outside the bureaucracy but intimately into the conversations. I worked in the 'disruptive' end of education without the intention to disrupt and in For-profit without the desire for profit. Along the way, the only thing I consistently did is study educatio
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.