Leadership: India Inc’s biggest challenge

7 06 2008

Jasjeet Singh

Courtesy : rediff.com

June 05, 2008

India has a people and leadership crisis despite its huge population.

Corporates whine that the Indian education system does not produce ’employable human resources.’ Engineers need to be re-skilled before they can write software and face clients confidently. Graduates need extensive training before they can turn call specialists, sales staff or store managers. B-school graduates go through companies as management trainees to become functional managers. . .

In the midst of a high growth era, where Indian companies have been consumed by the challenge of base level hiring, have enough and competent leaders been groomed?
Most Indian companies, I suspect, have been woefully myopic on that count. Thus, one sees expatriates being hired at astronomical salaries or ‘the good line manager’ from a well-regarded breeding ground bagging a leadership position.

Neither of the two approaches can yield results. The expatriate is hamstrung by the lack of experience with a diverse population: India, as a country, is arguably more diverse than Europe is, as a continent. The good line manager — newly crowned and eager to flag his/her arrival — is unable to come to terms right away with his/her newfound power.

Most attempt to run away like racing stock and fail to understand that putting together ambitious yet happy teams is the sustainable way to build businesses.

In my opinion, there is no short cut to building one’s own leadership. Besides business skills, leadership needs to be steeped in the culture of the company and aligned to its goals. To my mind, this is India Inc’s biggest challenge, in its march forward.

If one looks at the dominance of the American corporate on the world stage, one can single out leadership as the most important factor. To cite an example, GE had groomed three strong leaders to take over from Jack Welch. Within days of Jeffrey Immelt being appointed as the successor, 3M and Home Depot snapped up the other two incumbents James McNerney and Robert Nardelli, respectively. GE filled three top positions from within its ranks. With ease.
Here are a few haves in leadership, in the Indian context:
Importance of continuity and assertiveness
Successive, strong leadership can alone produce good results in India, with all its diversity (read, myriad opinions and fractured consensus). To illustrate the point: Good leadership in the past has intermittently elevated the offices of the President, the Chief Justice of India, the Central Vigilance Commissioner and the Sebi chairman. However, when leadership has had some continuity and strength of character, the results have been better than good. The office of the Chief Election Commissioner and the relative fairness in the electoral system today versus that which prevailed a couple of decades ago is a case in point.

Similarly, compare the fortunes of a Reliance [Get Quote] or a Wipro [Get Quote] today vis a vis the heavyweight business groups that dotted the Indian corporate world as more than their equals in 1991.

Cultural and class inclusiveness
In a nation as diverse as ours, it pays to build culturally inclusive leadership. A lot of Indian corporates, including the so-called professional ones, have relied on family, friends and community to build the circle of leadership. For example, one software company is grappling with the situation of having close to 60 vice presidents from a single community. How did it happen? What does it portend for the hundreds of employees the company has?
Such situations abound in India. And, unfortunately, it does not build an environment of trust. Nor does a situation where young men and women from elitist backgrounds filled up the management and top rungs of an organisation.
Some large MNCs in India (regarded as breeding grounds) are guilty of having fostered an environment of ‘thinking Brahmanism.’
But that was in the last millennium. That is dead. Here is a new India that is emerging as much from its vibrant, small towns as from its growing cities.
The happenings in the Indian cricket team in the last decade or so are a case study on India and its leadership.
Did things first start looking up for Team India with Sourav Ganguly’s strong and assertive leadership?
Is Dhoni’s present day style reminiscent of Sourav’s non-controversial early days? Does it offer continuity of sorts?
Has the West Zone domination of Indian cricket ended?
Is the new crop of youngsters from small towns finding energy, in inclusion that comes with little heed to zone, race, class or creed?
Can one of them become the captain in years to come just as Dhoni has?
Given a free hand with the trust reposed in them, have Indian coaches brought up in the domestic system, understood the young cricketers and given as much commitment, if not more, as the erstwhile expat coaches?
And finally, has the cricket board gained tremendously with all this?
The stellar success of the Indian Premier League is proof enough.
It is time India Inc invested in leadership, to be among the very best. In Peter Drucker’s words: Results will exist on the outside, in the marketplace.
The author is Head, Marketing, International Business, Titan Industries Ltd [Get Quote], Bangalore. The views expressed here are personal.

Stand up for the Indian soldier

7 06 2008

Harsh V Pant
June 06, 2008
Courtesy: Rediff.com

It is with a sense of disbelief that one hears the Indian minister of state for defence, sitting in his cozy air-conditioned seminar room, pontificating that ‘it is unbecoming’ of former soldiers to protest against the treatment meted out to them by the government. So here’s a non-soldier making a public protest. One hopes that it is not below the dignity of the minister to read this.
The minister would not have dared to make such a comment had the protestors been a part of his or his party’s vote bank. The fact that the Indian armed services do not go public with their grievances does not mean that they do not have any concerns and the fact that they have been forced to come to the streets should make the minister and his government acknowledge how desperate the situation might be.
The Indian government is fooling itself if it thinks that by dragging its feet on the issue of the armed forces dissatisfaction with the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission, it can make the issue go away.
A country that refuses to respect its armed forces will eventually end up getting forces that will not respect the nations’ aspirations. A country makes a sacred contract with its soldiers that while he/she will lay down his/her life when called upon to do so, the nation will take good care of his/her and his/her family’s needs to the extent its resources would permit.
This contract underpins the very survival of a nation as when its territorial integrity and political independence are under threat, the nation looks upon the only instrument that can protect it — its armed forces.
While all governments have to look for a considered bargain between their commitments and power and between power and resources, a responsible government will always be aware of the serious implications of not spending adequate resources on defence.
The debate as it has been made out to be in some quarters between defence and development is a spurious one. Unless adequate provisions are made for defence, no state will be able to pursue its developmental agenda. This is much more important for a country like India that faces a unique security environment with two of its ‘adversaries’ straddling it on two sides of its borders and problems on all sides of its periphery.
A government can keep spouting pious rhetoric about global peace and non-violence but it realises fully that force is the ultima ratio in international relations. Politics among nations is conducted in the brooding shadow of violence. Either a state remains able and willing to use force to preserve and enhance its interests or it is forced to live at the mercy of its militarily powerful counterpart.
Even Nehru, after neglecting defence for all the years after independence had to eventually concede in 1962 that India’s military weakness ‘has been a temptation, and a little military strength may be a deterrent.’
The Indian public and press remain apathetic on defence issues. We make Kargil into a television spectacle, an opportunity for our journalists to try to show their temporary bravery by going to the frontlines for a few hours and getting the excitement of covering a war from the inside. And then when it is all over, our soldiers have been interred into their graves, we move on to new and more exciting spectacles — to our song and dance reality shows and saas-bahu sagas, forgetting that soldiers are still on guard.
This is a nation that will cry with Lata Mangeshkar [Images] when she sings Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon but will not make any effort to understand the real problems and concerns of its soldiers. It is a sign of the highly skewed priorities of the Indian media that the rising turmoil and dissatisfaction within the ranks of nations’ armed forces is being given only perfunctory coverage.
It is an issue of nation’s very survival yet the media seems busy with its devotion of superficialities. Every rave and rant of Bollywood actors is religiously covered, detailed dissection of seemingly never-ending cricket matches are conducted, exorbitant pay rises in the corporate sector make it to the headlines but the one issue that can make or break the future of this country is consigned to the margins.
We continue to pray at the altar of our false heroes while our real heroes continue to face neglect and scorn.
The armed forces feel they have never got their due from various pay commissions over the years but the government in its wisdom decided to keep the armed forces away from any representation in the latest Pay Commission. The dominance of bureaucrats meant that while the interests of the bureaucrats were well-recognised, the armed services once again ended up getting a raw deal.
The discontent is so serious that some of the best and brightest in our services have refused to go for the Higher Command Courses and more and more are seeking an early retirement. Indian armed forces are desperately trying to fill vacancies as other professions are luring the young of the country.
Against the sanctioned strength of 300 per batch, the National Defence Academy finds that it can only attract 192 cadres this year. The same story repeats itself in the Indian Military Academy. A country that purports to be a rising power is facing a shortage of more than 11,000 officers.
The reason is pretty obvious: One can’t think of any major power in the world that treats its soldiers the way India does. It is indeed a sorry sight when India’s bravest have to literally cry out for help from a callous politico-bureaucratic elite.
Our politicians remain more than willing to waste tax payers money by routinely boycotting Parliament and have never shied away from increasing their own pay and allowances, claiming that they remain underpaid. Yet those who defend the sanctity of Parliament are given a short shrift.
The abysmal knowledge of defence issues that pervades the Indian political class probably gives them an illusion that the country is being protected by divine blessings.
Political apathy and bureaucratic design are rapidly eroding the self-esteem of our forces. A functioning liberal democracy needs a loyal soldier that can take care of the state’s security, allowing the state to look after its citizenry. In India, the State is gradually withering away, all that’s left is the loyal soldier. How long will this soldier, under siege from all sides, remain steadfast to its commitments, is a question all Indians should seriously ponder on.
Dr Harsh V Pant teaches at King’s College London [Images].