We had had too much of serious leadership stuff at Catalyst so decided to take a not-so-serious view! 🙂
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope”
– Martin Luther King
What explains the unprecedented results of Indian election May 2014? One important thread which ran across multiple sections, religions and faiths of people is the rise of ‘HOPE’. People of world’s largest democracy were united by the feeling of ‘collective desperation’ which permeated the rule of earlier government. Hence, when an aggressive, confident and highly expressive leader approached them with a promise of ‘good days ahead’, people once again could ‘HOPE’. They could again hope for fulfilling their aspirations and realizing their dreams.
The power of HOPE has been narrated in many anecdotes and struggles. Whenever despondency had eclipsed the mankind, hope emerged as powerful weapon to fight against all odds and establish a new rule. One such story goes like this…. When the king of Scotland, Robert the Bruce was defeated by the king of England six times in a row, Robert and his army were driven into flight and scattered in the woods. Robert hid in a cave, tired, sick at heart and ready to give up all hope. Then he noticed a spider over his head trying to weave a web. The spider failed many times but finally after many attempts, he was successful. The king was fascinated and decided to try one more time. He gathered his men and they fought with bravery to get their kingdom back. To this very day, victory and independence of Scotland is attributed to the spider which inspired the king.
Hope has also been played upon by various institutions like corporates, religious institutions, influential leaders etc. to push forward their idea, product or opinion. What works almost like a magic is the ability of the leader to connect with the pulse of the people and help them show the vision of what they want. When people are able to think, feel, see and hear about what they want, the mind gradually starts believing into the idea, thought. Some examples of such leaders are Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King who were able to create a vision of change and mobilize millions of people towards it. There are also many examples of failures that were led by misplaced faith based on wrong assumptions and fallacious grounds. Such examples include the rise and fall of Hitler who also connected with the aspirations of people but based it on retribution, resentment and hatred.
This has some important implications on the leaders to understand human mind. Anyone in the role of influencing others needs to be able to engage all mental faculties of their audience to be able to arouse emotions and feelings and give them ‘HOPE’ about desired possibilities. For the hope to survive in the long run, it is must that the leader devotes himself to the needs and aspirations of the people. This would definitely help bring about ‘good days ahead’ for a nation ready to take on the path of progress.
The stage at which India as a nation is poised, the question of ‘where we ought to be’ is a moot one. Irrespective of the current state of affairs w.r.t literacy, health and sanitation and globalization, India continues to be one of the most high-potential economies of the world. However, for all its potential, it is also a nation of multiple complexities – with multiple ethnic groups, a challenging set of neighbours, a legacy of not-so-wise economic policies and so on.
At this very critical juncture in its life-cycle as a nation , India was poised with a very important question about a month back – what kind of leadership is needed to guide this nation to ‘where it ought to be’. The nation very decisively chose a leader widely perceived as ‘authoritarian’. Is it a good decision? Only time will tell.. but there is merit in evaluating why the electorate thought as it did.
As per Lewin’s definition of ‘authoritarian leadership’, such a leader is one who believes in taking all the important decisions himself. It is the leader who decides how the work has to be done and by whom. The subordinates simply carry on with the work assigned to them. They are not allowed to give any input regarding how they should do their work or conduct daily activities. Every detail is pre-decided by the leader himself. This kind of leadership usually works well if the leader is competent and knowledgeable enough to decide about each and everything. Authoritarian (or autocratic) is considered one of the most effective leadership styles in case there is some emergency and quick decisions need to be taken. Such examples can be found in the real world in people like Bill Gates and John F. Kennedy. And more closely in the Indian political system, was Indira Gandhi.
Lewin also found that it is more difficult to move from an authoritarian style to a democratic style than vice versa. Abuse of this style is usually viewed as controlling, bossy, and dictatorial.
The Hay Group, however, too has studied leadership styles in detail and has come up with an alternative view of leadership where there is a clear segregation between a ‘coercive’ style and a ‘authoritative’ style. The difference lies not merely in the semantics but also in the entire approach that the leader takes. While a coercive leader tells the staff what is to be done and expects them to toe the line without any questions (much the same as an Lewin’s authoritarian leader), the authoritative leader is focused on communicating the long term vision and purpose and ensuring that everyone is aligned to and motivated by ‘the big picture’. He wins people over by convincing them that they want to do the job. He gives feedback to people about where they are vis-à-vis their goals and creates a positive climate. People under him too toe the line, but willingly and enthusiastically because they know what they need to do, why they need to do it and why their role is important.
It is early days to comment on Modi’s leadership style. A look at his past record presents a hazy picture. While by some he is viewed as a ‘change agent’ who made the right decisions and pushed them assertively through layers of inefficiency in Gujarat to create prosperity, by others he is viewed as dictatorial and self-centered in his leadership style. At the juncture that India is (emerging from the shadow of a lax government which made no decisive actions), what India needs for sure is a leader who is not afraid of making tough decisions and is ready to embrace the responsibility and accountability of taking his decisions to conclusion.