Making Of A Leader…Part 2

Men make history & not the other way round. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. – Harry S. Truman

Leadership is not merely a term or designation. It is the driving force that makes people work not only towards a cause or goal, but also for themselves. Leadership cannot have a single definition, it should not have have a single definition. One size cannot fit all here. What we must look to identify are leadership traits & principles that enable in creating a leader.

Elliott Peterson in his article, “Improve Employee Relationship with Ideas Borrowed from the Military” talks about 13 traits that are the bedrock of leadership.

  1. Judgement  M_Id_339213_Indian_Army
  2. Justice
  3. Decisiveness
  4. Integrity
  5. Dependability
  6. Tact
  7. Endurance
  8. Bearing
  9. Unselfishness
  10. Courage
  11. Knowledge
  12. Loyalty
  13. Enthusiasm

Principles of Leadership

Principles of leadership are basic guidelines explaining how a leader will apply/implement the above mentioned traits. World over, the armed forces follow certain basic leadership principles. First principle is to know oneself, learn & constantly seek self improvement. Second principle is to know your soldiers and look after their welfare. Third principle is to ensure that the assigned task is understood correctly, undertaken, supervised & accomplished.

A Successful Military Leader

A corporate leader can learn a lot from a military leader. Korn Ferry International, a global executive search firm has researched & written about “Military Experience & CEOs”. They share statistics that show the average tenure of a CEO with a military background is 7.2 years as opposed to the tenure of a CEO without a military background, that is 4.6 years.

  1. Building a Personal Relationship – a leader in the armed forces knows the members of his unit up close. He/she knows their personal backgrounds, their potential and also how they will react given a situation. It is his/her duty to motivate the unit members & improve their performance; be it physical tests, exams they have to pass or overall knowledge acquisition – the responsibility lies with the leader. This can only be done if there is a personal rapport between the leader & the men. A corporate leader can imbibe the same tenets and understand the team he/she is leading. Very often, in the corporate world business & personal lives are so strongly compartmentalised that leaders don’t even know where the team member lives.
  2. Decision Making – Taking decisions and taking right decisions at the right time is one of the most important tasks of a leader. Both, easy & tough decisions have to be made by a leader. The decision to choose the right people for the right task; the right strategy to implement for the desired results; decision to delegate correctly and the quick, timely decisions so as not to miss the opportunities presented. Every officer of the armed forces is schooled & groomed for this. Unfortunately, our education system does not allow for this. Hence, one of the biggest handicaps of corporate leadership is the ability to take decisions; taking right decisions at the right time is a step way, way ahead.
  3. Mission First & Always – in the armed forces everything revolves around the mission at hand. A leader there is driven by the mission he is striving for. The focus is completely on the mission. He/she has to follow orders to complete the mission while fulfilling all other responsibilities as a leader. There is complete alignment within the unit at all times and at any cost. End result is completion of the task on hand. Corporate leaders struggle to get the alignment in place – the main reason this happens is as leader, they fail to understand how to manage the personal & career aspirations of their team members.
  4. Evolving Right Strategies – A leader’s decision can be made right if he/she uses the right strategies. To evolve a right strategy one has to use the acquired knowledge, experience, observations and analyse them. As a leader it is critical to communicate the strategic intent & enable others to act upon that intent. This is specially critical in crises situations. Very often in the corporate world, while grooming the second line, they are not mentored or coached to build strategies for various situations. A lot can be learnt from ‘war game’ activities conducted in the military.
  5. Communication, Feedback & Response – a well established communication & feedback process is important for any unit/team to function effectively. Participation in the communication process & response enable to build understanding among all stake holders. Asking & accepting feedback is also a very important part of strengthening team bonds. One thing every military leader I have observed, leaves the operational implementation to experts in the field and doesn’t pull rant there. For example, a soldier handling guns will know the intricacies of the gun and his platoon commander will take his feedback regarding guns.
  6. Present at the Right Place – being present at the right place at the right time is something a leader will have to learn & develop. It is always assumed that a leader will have to lead from the front always. Not necessarily so. There are occasions when the leader will be effective wherever there is a difficult situation or a crisis or friction. The right place will depend on the priority of what has to be achieved at that moment.

Building Authentic Leaders in the System

The visible corporate leadership failures in recent years globally, have screen-shot-2011-02-04-at-11-20-37-amdeeply shaken public confidence in business leaders. We see leaders placing self-interest ahead of the well-being of their organizations.  A look at social media posts and informal surveys show that there is a leadership crisis globally with politicians, media, finance, and business leaders getting the lowest ratings. “Far too many leaders have been selected more for charisma than character, for style over substance, and for image rather than integrity.” says Bill George, a Harvard Business School professor. 

Leaders do not fail because of low Intelligence Quotient (IQ); they fail because of low/no Emotional Quotient (EQ). It has been observed that failed leaders seem to lack an awareness of themselves, their actions & the resulting impact on their surroundings. Deeper motivations are not understood, fears & earlier failures are not accepted & primarily these cause leaders to lose sight of their of their values, especially when they are under pressure to sustain their success. In some other cases, leaders who lack self-awareness get enamoured by success and its rewards – money, power, and recognition.

chetwode mottoThe emergence of a new generation of authentic leaders is vital and must happen at all levels of society to rebuild the trust deficit experienced by customers & citizens alike. A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the quality of his actions and the integrity of his intent. In the end, leaders are much like eagles… they don’t flock, you find them one at a time. That’s what the armed forces teaches and that’s what the rest must learn.

The Making Of A Leader…Part 1

In a life where I straddle two worlds, the corporate/business world (fetches my bread, butter, jam & cheese) and the world of armed forces (upbringing, passion & love of my life), I have always looked at what best practices can be used from both to lead a better life.

Having worked with human resource management teams in various organizations, implemented and imparted training at different levels to employees, including leadership, I have always felt the corporate world can learn so much from a military leader.

Military Leadership & Corporate Leadership

“I will never quit. My nation expects me to be physically harder and mentally stronger than my enemies. If knocked down I will get back up, every time. I will draw on every remaining ounce of strength to fight my enemies and to accomplish our mission. I am never out of the fight.”
― Marcus Luttrell, Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL.Mil leadership

Leadership is both similar and yet so different in some aspects of the military & corporate. An army officer starts imbibing leadership traits from a junior level and these skills get honed at every level, in every post he/she holds. The precepts and practices of the military leadership world over are almost common. They all promote & implement the same value system – lead by example, know your job, value team spirit, complete loyalty to the organization, importance of moral & physical courage & the capability to take decisions. 

Geoffrey Webb in his article “5 Things You Could Learn from Military Leaders” puts it succinctly and says these are the aspects missing in most corporate organizations.

  1. Developing Junior Leaders – developing evaluation/judgemental skills in junior leaders is critical. As a result, they are empowered to take initiatives & flexibility in making decisions through decentralised execution. This builds the right attitude & skills required to cope with an ever changing environment. This is missing at the junior levels in a corporate environment, in most organizations.
  2. Leverage Leader’s Intent – planning is everything, according to military leaders. A platoon, unit, brigade, division & corps in the military is very clear about the intent of their leaders – purpose, key outcomes & desired results. Followers, therefore get an opportunity to adapt, develop & succeed in accomplishing their on ground goals. Very often, this kind of alignment between organizational & self goals are often at a conflict in the corporate environment.
  3. Organization of Tasks – number of teams & missions are not equal in the armed forces; specific teams are created for specific achievements. However, standards are universal and the men are trained in a way that they are able to operate globally, irrespective of where they are. In contrast, the focus on high degrees of specialisation in corporate organizations, compartmentalise employees & does not enable them to multi task or even build multi functional capabilities.
  4. Use of Operators as Trainers – imparting training in the armed forces is the responsibility of the operators, and, not the human resource department as seen in the corporate world. In fact, what corporate organizations term as human resource functions are skills in – built in every officer right from day one. Man management is the bedrock of the military.
  5. Mission First Always – mission of the military & its leaders is of foremost importance. It supersedes personal interests as the very ethos of the organization is to serve the country & its people.

Military In The Corporate

leadership-and-leaders

A lot of the leadership training we see in corporates today find their origin in the armed forces. Military organizations have been in leadership development training much earlier than the corporate world. The military operates in a highly uncertain environment, involving high risks. To deal with & work in such an environment, men & women in uniform are trained in a way that ensures 24/7 readiness & commitment to deliver. Similarly, business leaders must be schooled & groomed in adaptive leadership practices to survive & succeed in the increasingly unpredicted business climate.

Leadership effectiveness in the military is totally evident because the personnel have actual leadership experience, especially in crisis situations. This prepares them in a more concrete way to handle staff, consult, analyse or strategize. A 22 – 26 year old leader in the armed forces gets an opportunity to lead around 100 – 120 persons in crises, which basically exposes them to several aspects of leadership skills, grooming them for various contingencies. This experience  – building very rarely happens in the corporate world, thus, giving an edge to young military leaders over their corporate counterparts. In some cases, these young officers (short service commissioned officers) have moved out of the armed forces and have become immensely successful as authentic leaders in the outside world.

Building Mindful Leadership

In a world that is increasingly focusing on the self, it is only in the armed forces that we still see a semblance of leadership of integrity. The leaders that are trained & groomed in the military can be termed as authentic leaders – leaders who are genuine in their intentions and understand the purpose of their leadership is serving their country & people, and, not their self interest.
Military-Leadership-Quotes-Wallpapers-3

 

 

The Blood Flows And My Land Turns Red

Death visits the mundane a heightened gravity, making life’s trivia beautiful and everyday weighty. Had Col MN Rai, Lt Col Sankalp, Maj Mukund Varadrajan or the countless others lived, each of them would have grown old with their spouse, experienced the pains & pleasures of bringing up teenage children, cared for their parents, done their bit for society. Above all, they would have lived to tell the tale.

The last year and half has seen many deaths in the Kashmir Valley. Death – that is what it is like. It doesn’t matter what uniforms the soldiers are wearing. It doesn’t matter how good the weapons are. And, that is the thing about death. No one can get used to it. Just when you think you are reconciled, accepted, you hear about it again, and it just hits you all over, that shock.

A lot of my friends had pertinent questions sometime ago, when we were discussing the futility of a war thrust upon a country because of political whims and fancies. Irrespective of how a war happens, one thing is certain…Herbert Hoover said, “older men declare war, younger men fight & die.” One of the questions that came up was, “when we talk of army preparedness and training and strategy, why is it that so many of our soldiers die?” Well, to all those who have that question on their mind, I would like them to read what Lt Gen Ata Hasnain of the Indian Army has to say. He said this in the context of Col MN Rai being martyred yesterday in the Valley.

“In ‘Last Mile’ tactical level operations for elimination of terrorists there will be casualties and the traditional ratios of own against terrorist losses will rise, at times abnormally. This must not draw the ire of the higher leadership but rather its constant monitoring and advice. Losses occur due to the lowering of guard and failure to take sufficient precautions in apparently simple operations. The return of suicide acts by terrorists, last witnessed in the early part of the millennium, remains a distinct possibility with targets being in the areas closer to the LoC. This has the effect of forcing LoC formations to shed more troops for security at the cost of the counter infiltration grid at the LoC.

Horribly proverbial but rightly predicted I feel. It takes away nothing from Late Col MN Rai’s valor and leadership. Most casualties occur either in the first TWO MINUTES of a contact or then, in urban ops, during attempts to break in by the Search elements. In this case it was neither. I recall a similar situation at a village called Batpura, on outskirts of the Old Airfield, where in a long stand off with six to eight LeT trts in 2000, the then GOC Victor Force forced me (I was then Col GS) against my advice to take him to the Cordon to witness the search operations. We were watching the operations without Bullet Proof Jackets and standing on a vantage point provided by the terrace of an incomplete house. Suddenly, I found two trts breaking the close cordon and running towards us, firing on the run. The fire raked the building around and we could just pull the GOC out of harms way. The valiant soldiers of 6 SIKH then eliminated the two trts. I learnt my lesson of not interfering with ops of ground troops.

Late Col Rai’s action is not akin to the above. He was providing frontline leadership. It is usual in the RR for the CO to move to the spot with his QRT and take charge. Let us not fault him on that at all. I am not aware whether he was wearing a BPJ; he must have been because that is an SOP. Possibly, for a momentary break in SOPs he stepped out from cover to examine for himself where the target area was. That is when possibly he was shot at. A case of sheer bad luck but then people have to realize that officers of our Army have this passion to be there with the men and facing the same odds that their men face. If it is not so, no individual under fire is going to raise his head. The presence of a CO with them energizes all ranks. That is the risk that Late Col Rai took and no one can fault him for it. Given the situation I would have done exactly what he did. There is an element of such risk which goes with your responsibility. That is why we are all saying that Late Col MN Rai, YSM, sacrificed his life in the finest tradition of the Indian Army. Such acts need not be faulted, for the sake of the officer – man relationship which exists in our Army.”

Leadership in the army is walk the talk. Harold AcAlindon once said, “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.  ” That is exactly what our brave soldiers do, when they are battling the enemy. They leave a trail behind them, a trail that few us can comprehend, much less follow. To such an army, what tribute or homage do I pay? My eyes are filled with unshed tears, knowing that while they lay down their lives to protect us, their families miss them in the everyday routine. A song heard, a festival celebrated, a birthday party hosted, a movie watched…how does one get over the vaccuum. The absence of that one person in the family leaves a void that can never be fulfilled, a dark gash that cuts through the family every time they think of him. I have lost friends who died fighting for us. The families feel proud….yet, there is an emotional part that dies with the soldier. A mother whose youth snapped over her son’s death, a father who weeps silently rocking himself on a chair, grandparents who keep wondering why it couldn’t be them, instead of their grandson, a wife who feels is presence in everything around her.

For my part, I can only spread the word, share my feelings and help build an awareness of what is it that our Armed Forces are all about. Remember, we have a confirmed threat against our country and I for one am grateful for the Indian Armed Forces sitting in deserts, on snowy peaks and plains all through out the year. I see three commonalities.

(1) Passion. The Indian Armed Forces runs on this one factor…passion to serve the nation, passion to protect, passion to be the best.

(2) This brings me to the second commonality…we are all Indians. Yes, we fuss, we have differences of opinions, but we are all Indians and not hyphenated Indians.

(3) The third and most important commonality is the fact that we all bleed red.

And from where I am, it is the same red blood that is seeping through my land, turning the colour of the soil, choking me, numbing me and a silent cry…how many more, how many more?

 

 

Fallen But Not Forgotten…A Tribute To Our Unsung Heroes!

Lonely I was when I stood staring at the sky Our heroes

Had a gun in my hand, was too afraid to cry

Fought bitter battles and never lived to tell

How at the altar of freedom, my body fell

My soul searches for reasons as to why I died

Did I save my people, had I tried?

Do they remember me, my deeds, my name

Are they proud of me or did I bring them shame 

My battered body stood testimony to my fate

My heart had stopped in a battle brought about by hate

I had screamed in pain, and shivered with fright

But before I died, I did put up a fight 

Remember me, my beloved country

It was I, my men, who brought you victory

I fought to the last bullet in my gun

I was a soldier, I was your son.

fallen but not forgottenThe dead soldiers do not speak…yet they are heard in the still houses of people who care for them. They are shrouded in a silence that speaks for them, a silence that mocks us…the living. This silence talks to me…what does it tell me? It says they have done what they could but until it is finished it is not done. The silence says they have given their lives but until it is finished no one can know what their lives gave. The same silence throws at me the truth that their deaths are not theirs, they are ours and they will mean what we make them. Whether their lives and their deaths were for peace and a new hope or for nothing they cannot say. It is you and I who must say this. Finally, the silence says they were young, they died young, so remember them.

Remembering them was exactly what happened last weekend in Bangalore. Amidst the election fervor and Samarpanacampaigning, Samarpana,a social initiative by a group of students of PES University paid tribute and homage to the fallen soldiers of the Indian Army. Samarpana is the brainchild of students from PES College of Engineering and was started after the 26/11 bombing in Mumbai. The thought behind starting this social initiative was very noble. The founders felt very strongly about the martyred soldiers who died protecting the citizens of this country…their question was, “What happens to the families of these soldiers?”

A seed was sown in 2009/2010 with the students taking the ownership of making this a success. In the last four years more than 60 families have been identified and felicitated for the sacrifice they have made. The project works on facilitating basic documentation processes, helping them get connected to medical facilities, children’s scholarship, employment or self employment opportunities for the widows or parents of these unsung heroes.

This year I had a chance to interact with 16 families who had made the supreme sacrifice. It was an emotional two days where I got to hear from various family members the heroism of their fallen soldiers. I also saw the ugly side of what happens to the families thereafter, especially if they are in remote rural places. Samarpana works to ease the pain of neglect.

World war IIA one of it’s kind project, Samarpana is poised to grow and touch more & more lives across India. It’s a shining example of how selflessly the human heart can give if we as individuals decide to. I had the privilege of meeting an old lady whose husband had died serving the Indian Army in World War II. She had been married less than a year whenshe lost her husband. It was also very emotional to interact withanother lady who lost her husband in Kargil, the highest battleground in the world.She also was married for just two years when tragedy struck their family. What was heartening to see was that these people were given the basic support from their families & government.

What they need today is also social acceptance at multiple levels, to become part of a community that recognizes their agony, can empthasize with them.

My dream & heartfelt prayer is to see such initiatives in other colleges and institutions across our country.

I was also forced to think about how many people in our country actually
even think of our armed forces. I know the stereo typical impression
civilians have about the armed forces and the life they live. It never
ceases to amaze me about how these impressions have carried on for years.
It also shows how much awareness is created about our defence services. This needs to be a collective effort from all concerned – the government,
the defence forces themselves and people like us who are closely
associated with the armed forces.

As we continue to enjoy our freedom, our borders that are guarded by these unsung heroes remain intact. We sleep
well at night only because of the security we have. For those who find it hard to believe, you should talk to
people of war ravaged countries about freedom and value of security. After all, what is expected of us…

When you see a soldier
Be sure to shake his or her hand,
And let that soldier know you’re grateful
For the protection the military affords our land

But most of all express your thanks
For every soldier’s personal sacrifice.
In order to serve our country,
They risked their entire lives.