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.