Friday, February 19, 2010

On Leadership and Pseudo-Leadership

No other word in human history has been so frivolously used and misused as the word “Leader”. In India an excessive use of the word evokes strong resentment amongst the educated and sensible largesse. Petty that for most Indians every well-dressed man, every English-speaking guy and every Merc that rolls signifies leadership. We are naive in the sense in which we assume leadership to be so ephemeral, so easy coming. We take their supremacy for granted.

In India, the term “leader” evokes a visual image of a politician-like figure perched on high pedestal with thousands of creepy followers beneath, shoving one another for space. In Indian businesses "leaders" seek to provoke the image of a Nobel-laureate like stalwart whose leadership is all about English suits, elegant appearance and fancy mouthings. Day in and out images of these Indian businessmen pops out of shabby magazines and websites eulogising them as heroes, whose actions or history are rarely questioned. The story is somewhat like the seemingly-decent Aggarwalji of Haldiram whose real brand and business ethics became evident when he was charged for the ruthless murder of a poor roadside vendor in Kolkata. Perhaps it was a stroke of bad luck that brand Haldiram wiped it goodwill off the marketplace in one stroke. Its history now stands questioned.

Deliberations on leadership over the years has been pretty shaky. Human Resource departments of countless manufacturing plants in India have dwelled on this catchy term because it captures the popular imagination. What is left untalked is the real essence of leadership. The debate continues...

For the politically correct folks, leaders like Bill Clinton, Tiger Woods and N. D. Tiwari continue to ride high on leadership metrics. For the non-political gentry these names are best relegated to oblivion. Their stories are perhaps best examples of the private image eating into the public. Bill Clinton was hailed as a great economist, orator and statesman until his petty affair with a White House intern shook the conscience of every American citizen and made him into a no-man. Tiger Woods, admired as the greatest golfer of our times, met a similar fate when his unholy liaisons with prostitutes became public. Back in India, N. D. Tiwari, a veteran Congress leader, faced a humiliatory exit when he was allegedly filmed romping with prostitutes, even while his age and stature as constitutional head of an Indian state weighed heavily.

The true leaders of our times in India are undoubtedly the thought-leaders and silent implementers who do not pride in any long sedans or oodles of artificial mass following. Such individuals, hidden from the gaze of the popular media and the international fraternity, can be found in unusual places. With the true spark of leadership within their hearts these silent leaders are felt, not by their dresses but by the way they devote themselves for countless ways in which they serve those around them and the society. Unlike the millionaire who rides past you in a Merc and gives you a shrill feeling of poverty or downtrodden-ness, true leaders in India remain positioned amongst the masses, in silence.

Yet it is equally true that there are millionaires in India like JRD Tata, Ratan Tata, Narayan Murthy and their ilk who have set new benchmarks of leadership, not by their razzmatazz but by being balanced individuals -- both in their personal and the professional realm.

Its time to do a little introspection and recognize true leaders. It’s time to shun the mediatized images of leadership popping out of television sets or magazine covers. Perhaps its time to realize that real leaders are ones who are utterly honest and dedicated to improving the lives of others, in small steps and in subtle ways. True leadership perhaps is more visible in the enthusiastic soldier who guards our borders, the housewife who toils relentlessly or the brother, friend and neighbour who never shies away from being just and humane.

What our self-proclaimed leaders of the political and the corporate world have failed to learn is that true essence of leadership borrows from a pure intent, humility and honesty. After all what’s a leader who claims to be educated in the best of universities in the world, flaunts enormous wealth but mistreats and misleads others with almost the same fervour. They are perhaps best seen as museum pieces, jokers to be looked down and benchmarked as social misfits. The one fitting response that may do justice to the fragile ego of such men and women is to emulate the style in the India movie, Three Idiots, and proclaim “Jahapanah Tussi Great Ho! and sign off.

15 comments:

aparna said...

good work Asim .Keep us updated.Don't diappear.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Hi!

Its great to see you back on your blog. I have been waiting for months to read your writing. To put it straight I must say that you have perfected the art of raking up contentious issues -- problems that effect the masses. This post was excellent as it gave us certain crutial pointers to the Indian way of taking leadership for granted. We cannot expect good leadership in Indian industry when 80% companies are family owned enterprise and they run it the way they like. Surprisingly my assessment is that the education of these Indian lalas are very poor. We have no choice but to align to such stupid psuedu-leaerdhip.

Praveen Singhal

Anonymous said...

Hi!

Great to read your blog writeups. very thought-provoking...keep it up.

Keep posting frequently...will wait to read them.

Aakansha Gupta

Anonymous said...

excellent well said..India nneds good leaders in the bsuiness arena

Neha

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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

Anonymous said...

This has been on my mind for some time..... and I agree with you to some degree.
frokostordning

Anonymous said...

Amiable fill someone in on and this post helped me alot in my college assignement. Thank you seeking your information.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for providing a unique perspective on leadership. I agree with you that its mostly pseudo-leadership these days where its all sayings and very little practice. Today's leaders do not perform but yell out leadership from rooftops...but there are a few who practice leadership in their lives diligently. I know of people in remote regions of India who simply slog without waiting for the media or the community to laud their efforts.

Anonymous said...

Hi!

I fully agree that pseudo-leadership is doing the rounds. In India every individual and countless companies claim that they are leaders. How, they never tell. Is it leadership in fixing, leadership in sleeze, leadership in employee harassment, leadership in torture...Indians may claim to have a great booming economy but most haven't got their acts together. I have hundreds of friends in India who keep on updating me on the family-owned businesses and the way they go out to target westerners for investments. Let me make a grand statement. The Westerners are no fools. We can now see through everything. If the Chinese are dubious then India too is not a white angel.

Dan
Chicago

Praveen Gupta said...

I work in a manufacturing company in Greater Noida...and fully agree with you. The leaders we hail as great assume greatness by virtue of their position...in reality they are nothing...

Will said...

This article and other's I've looked at (for the first time) in your blog are very good. You obviously understand these subjects in depth and with a refreshing honesty. I say so, as someone who has been in the teaching/training business for over 25 years. I look forward to reading more of your posts. Best wishes!