Sunday, May 29, 2011

Monday Musings 121 - The death ofautocrats

121 - Monday Musings - The death of  autocrats

The longest democratically elected left front goverment in the world lost to the lady in slippers and a white sari. Whoa!. I am not a political analyst not a psephologist, but hopefully a reasonably aware manager. The significance and the reasons of this colossal victory must not be lost, as it has not been, if we go by the miles of newsprint dedicated to it. Add to it the defeat of the DMK in Tamil Nadu, and i call it the defeat of DMK and not a victory of AIADMK for the obvious reason that the voters would have voted any moron to get the extreme nepotism that was on display in the last 5 years out of power. Now link it to the pro democracy movement in Cairo and later on in many middle east and African countries and you can spot an unmistaken hint of a pattern - we can smell the death of autocrats.

Despots and autocrats have been as old as human civilisation. Man's search of absolute power cuts across millenia and cultures - from monarchs to sultans, from communists to right wing dispensations. Managers in todays organisations are as infected by this need, as were rulers of the past. The shelf life of such despots has only decreased over time. They may have lasted a few centuries earlier, then they lasted a few decades and now probably they will last only a few years. That is because, in the true Newtonian spirit, for every force there is an equal and opposite force to balance it out. This is nowhere more evident as much in case of human nature. Just as there is a deep seated need in man to abrogate himself to the heady concoction of unbridled power, there is an equal urge in the fellow human beings to be free to live life and make choices. Hence no where in human history absolutism has lasted forever.

As managers and leaders of extremely talented and young minds, where the notions of age, vintage, hierarchies are challenged everyday and the lines of the leader and the led is fast eroding, we can only ignore this phenomena to our peril. The children of the 20th and the 21st century will resist being led by designations. They were and are rebellious against all form of control - from parenting to bosses. They will throw such despotism, even it comes in sophisticated forms and hidden under the dubious wraps of language of patronism. The need in todays times of all team members is to be left free and explore thier talents. That puts a huge challenge to the leaders in todays times, to find the perfect sweet spot which balances freedom and yet operate within the boundries of organisational systems, processes, and cultures. This is easier said than done. A little nudge lets that balance go awry. As leaders we must always be mindful that despotism, however sophisticated and comuflaged it might be, is no longer a valid source of leadership. The led will only be allowed if they want to - and most often than not, the source of this leadership is competence. The only validation of great leadership is the number of voluntary followers one breeds under him, not because they believe you can threaten them with dire consequences if one does not toe the line, but by fostering a genuine respect for your abilities as a leader. And once you achieve this stage, they may not like you, but they will respect you and allow them to be led by you.

Difficult? - sure - but surely a worthy pursuit.


Monday, May 9, 2011

Monday Musings 120 - Demagogues

Monday Musings 120 - Demagogues
So Osama is dead – and curiously separated only by a letter, Obama is behind it. It will be a while before the self congratulatory bravado and chest thumping of the Americans will subside – not that it is completely unwarranted. I mean come on, the guys deserve a few beers for all the doggedness that they have demonstrated in pursuing their prey for a decade, through the unfriendly terrains of Tora Bora to the allegedly hospitable-to-Osama neighborhood of Abbottabad.
I have been fascinated by the demagogues peppered across history. Demagogury “is a strategy for gaining political power by appealing to the prejudices, emotions, fears, vanities and expectations by the use of rhetoric and propaganda and often using nationalistic, populist or religious themes” Cleon and Alcibiades in ancient Greece, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin as modern day political avtaars, and many controversial religious demagogues within India have furthered the cause of this art form. Osama bin Laden, surely belonged to this elite club. But this is not about Osama.
20th-century American social critic and humorist H. L. Mencken, defined a demagogue as "one who will preach doctrines he knows to be untrue to men he knows to be idiots." And that is my basic predicament – what makes an otherwise smart, aware, perceptive, sharp and enterprising set of people to so grandly fall prey to the machinations of the demagogue? Does the demagogue really believe in what he preaches – for I doubt he really stands for anything. I have always wondered if Hitler really believed in the purity of the German race – superior at the cost of Jews, or did Bhindrawale really saw a Sikh kingdom based on political freedom or do all aspiring demagogues in our political system today, from Gujarat to Maharashtra really believe in what they say? Do they really represent, completely and comprehensively the constituencies they profess to represent and serve? And if they don’t, then how come they succeed in so magnificent a manner that they do?
But say they do and succeed they must – and there is something so fundamental in what they say, that it connects with a large enough constituency, usually angered over a historical wrong, which has not been corrected or assuaged with the balm of time or a mass catharsis of which is still pending. History they say, is often written by the victorious. So as circumstances change, power equations correct themselves, its times to rewrite history – change the name of the roads, chowks and cities, create historical figures where none existed, or invent a new yarn about the heroes, unsubstantiated, uncorroborated, untested by the principles of scientific or historical research, but romantic enough to provide fancy to the incredulous masses – who in any case are hungry for idols and heroes in their boring lives.
Demagogues do not exist in vacuum. They need a fertile ground to flourish – often a people scarred; with a real or imagined wrong that they were subjected to. Take away this feeling, however strong it might be, and you have cut the umbilical cord. Societies need counter balances to such forces of demagoguery. The price that the rise and fall of a demagogue extracts from its people is humungous. I am sure the Osama phenomena is no different. And they say about history, those who do not learn from it, are doomed to repeat it.