163 Monday Musings: The NaMo Juggernaut and Leadership Lessons
The Narendra Modi juggernaut is on its roll, winning the Gujarat assembly election third time in a row. My views about NaMo have wavered with time. Immediately after 2002, I hated him for what had happened under his tutelage despite a wide range of opinions on his role therein, ranging from complicity at worst or tacit approval at best. During his second tenure I happened to tour Gujarat a few times and got a first hand insight on the reasons for his popularity - of decisive action, standing strong behind his core constituency and an imagery of strength and bravado as a subtext this positioning. Much later as i toured the state on its state highways, i knew for sure that Vibrant Gujarat was not a mere slogan, and as far as development, infrastructure, ease of doing business etc is concerned, the state was well ahead of most others. For all the heat and dust that NaMo generates depending upon your political views, its difficult not to give the devil its due - that along with his personal integrity, non involvement in any corruption scandal and his deft & decisive administration, puts him as a top quartile CM India ever had. But this is not about ranting NaMos achievements, but in the context of his poorly comuflaged ambitions to become the PM, here are some leadership lessons one can learn from the way this entire issue is currently poised.
#1. Watch the path you take to go up - for others are watching it too.
The methods employed to be successful at the current stage must be evaluated comprehensively, for they become memories for others. People around you start associating you with the methods you employ to move up the ladder and soon memories of a few becomes your reputation for the lakhs. You become a shadow of your methods and the shadow never leaves. Your methods might get you hero worshiped by a few today but might isolate a lot more for the future. Manipulation, arithmetic's of convenience and petty opportunism might win you a few battles today but will become handicaps when you become a general.
#2. Leaders need to be inclusive - when you belong to some, you end up not belonging to others. At the bottom of the rung its enough to mean the world to some but at the highest level , you must mean something to the entire world. Obama in his victory speech said it so eloquently when he said that it was his pleasure to be the President not only to the democrats and who voted for him, but also to the republicans and those who did not vote for him. Leaders might belong to a constituency to begin with - constituency of people, segments, philosophies, but as they mature and grow up, they must expand to involve and include others. At the highest levels of leadership the worst thing that can happen to leaders when the boundaries he created to include some also become the boundaries that exclude many more.
#3. Memories have a strange way of coming back - Many depend upon the proverbial short memories of the masses and believe that at a later state a brand re-positioning will do the trick. At the highest level even a speck of the past can become a blot and quite miraculously just when you thought people had forgotten about things, they seem to remember it. A past indiscretion, error of judgement, inability to take a position so on and so forth can pretty much be a reason enough to make people doubt your acceptability and suitability for the big job. Just when you thought no one was noticing you, they were. Just when you thought people had forgotten, guess what - they have not.
#4. What you can do AND how you make people feel - Effective and successful administration is not a sufficient condition to make you a great leader. Most fascist leaders began by providing better conditions to their people, most autocrats wreck havoc on their people in the name of the good of their subjects. Leadership is not only about benefits, execution - its also about how you make people feel. Do people feel liberated, can they dissent without the fear of reprisal, do they feel heard, are they treated as adults, do people feel comfortable in thier being different and thinking differently? Leaders can argue a lot about what they can do and what they have done, backing it up with promises, facts and figures, but they cannot control how people feel about them. As a nice internet forward says, 'People forget what you did for them, but remember how you made them feel'. Leaders get the point or lose the plot on this funny little amorphous and uncontrollable thing called feeling.