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.

The unseemly politics of terrorism in India (Commentary)

25 05 2008

The unseemly politics of terrorism in India (Commentary)

May 25th, 2008
Courtesy: thaindian.com

By K. Subrahmanyam
Following the Jaipur terror blasts resulting in over 60 deaths, there is an intense debate in the country on how to deal with terrorism. As is very characteristic of the political culture of this country, this outrage, instead of bringing our political parties together in a united effort to fight terrorism, has led to mutual recrimination. This would give a great deal of comfort and encouragement to the trans-national and intra-national terrorist organisations that target this country. The debate is about the policies towards terrorists advocated by different parties, the laws available to counter them, the jurisdiction of various central and state agencies, adequacies and capabilities of organisations at centre and states etc. All these are very legitimate issues needing to be debated constructively. Instead of using those arguments to score points against political rivals there is an imperative need for political parties to get into a meaningful dialogue among themselves.

Contrast the behaviour of Indian political parties with that of parties in other mature democracies such as the US, Britain and European Union countries. In no other country claiming to be a democracy do we see as much acrimony in facing what is recognised as a national threat. This is the situation in a country that has been engaged in fighting terrorism for well over a quarter of a century.

This calls for a serious introspection among our people, academia, media and politicians on the basic features of our society and political culture that makes this country so vulnerable to terrorism and so difficult to unify in countering it.

Though the UN may not have succeeded in formulating an agreed definition of terrorism, there is commonly accepted definition largely acceptable to the social scientists. Terrorism is the unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence against people or property to coerce or intimidate governments or societies often to achieve political, religious or ideological objectives.

While explosions like those in Jaipur, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Malegaon, Bangalore and Varanasi are recognised as terrorist acts, the killing of people during the election violence (as in West Bengal recently) has been happening routinely and is not considered as terrorism for some inexplicable reasons. Similarly, when civilians are killed in ‘bandhs’ called by political parties, they are also not described as terrorism.

But since terrorism is violence or threatened violence against people and property to coerce or intimidate governments or societies to achieve political, religious or ideological purposes, in fact all such violence should be treated as terrorism. Further, when the presiding officer of a legislature is prevented from discharging his legal duties by members storming into the Well of the house or through various moves such as shouting, that too amounts to violence to intimidate the presiding officer to achieve political objectives.

In other words, the behaviour of legislators amount to terrorism. One does not see such behaviour of parliamentary terrorism, bandh terrorism and electoral terrorism in other mature democracies. It is submitted here that all these categories of terrorism form a continuum and to arrive at the place and role of religious extremist terrorism, one must look at the whole spectrum of terrorism.

When parliamentary terrorism, bandh terrorism and electoral terrorism are tolerated by the majority in the country, that too often in the name of democracy, freedom, right to protest — all of which are permissible only if violence is scrupulously avoided — then some others push the envelope further and resort to political, religious and ideological terrorism.

It must also be clear that violence does not necessarily mean inflicting bodily harm to another person. It also means preventing and intimidating the other person’s legitimate freedom of action or legal functions. Preventing the presiding officer from discharging his legitimate duties by slogan shouting and storming the Well of the house are clear cases of violence. Stopping traffic on roads and compelling shopkeepers to shut down through intimidation are also acts of violence. They are being undertaken for political, ideological or religious purposes. Therefore they are all acts of terrorism.

While in some other parts of the world it has been argued that one man’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter, it would appear in India that one man’s terrorism is projected as another person’s legitimate democratic political activity: Often it becomes a matter of double standard that one’s own terrorism is permissible political activity the other person’s is not.

Which decent democracy will need hundreds and thousands of police and paramilitary personnel will be required to guard the elementary right in democracy — voting in the election — to be exercised? We take pride that the country has held successive free and fair elections under such conditions of strict policing to avoid largescale political terrorism being resorted to by our political parties. Our Election Commission is not in a position to assure our people that they will be in a position to hold a one-day poll all over the country without terrorist violence resorted to by political parties. There is yet no sense of shame or remorse among our political parties on this kind of political culture nurtured in this democracy.

In other genuine democratic countries, it is easier for security services to gather intelligence about preparations to resort to terrorism from the common citizen since such activities involving potential violence will be an aberration in the society. In India there is no rapport between the common citizen and the police force as the latter has been politicised and made an instrumentality of the ruling party.

Secondly, given the Indian political culture where local dons turn into ‘netas’ and often enjoy political power and patronage, the common citizen is not willing to take the risk of communicating to the police or security services such aberrant activities.

The politicians themselves have denigrated the reputation of the police and security services with their charges that all cases against political persons are foisted ones at the instigation of the parties in power. We have situations in which political dons are able to run their criminal empires dealing with extortion (which invariably involves terrorism) from jail cells.

While terrorism is a specific threat in other democracies, in India it is part of our present political culture. In these circumstances it is difficult to expect terrorism of the Jaipur, Bombay, Hyderabad type to be overcome before the country is able to cleanse our parliament of the scourge and to a significant extent our electoral process. But there is not even adequate awareness in the country about the nature of terrorism that is afflicting the country.

It is extremely unlikely the present generation of senior political leaders can be expected to be de-conditioned from their mindsets that accept terrorism of certain categories as part of politics. It is now up to the civil society to bring about a basic change in the perception of our politicians.

(K. Subrahmanyam is India’s pre-eminent analyst on strategic and international affairs. He can be contacted at ksubrahmanyam51@gmail.com)