Wednesday, July 9, 2008

7 lessons from Sam Bahadur

7 lessons from Sam Bahadur

For corporate leaders aspiring to make the crossover from good to great, the Field Marshal's life can be the ultimate inspiration.

Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw

V. K. Madhav Mohan

Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw has passed (on June 27) into the pantheon of immortal Indian heroes and all-time great military leaders. The saga of his life will continue to motivate and inspire untold generations of Indians. In a country that is hamstrung by a predominance of pseudo-leaders he shone like a diamond.

For corporate leaders aspiring to make the crossover from good to great, the departed Field Marshal is the ultimate role model. What can we learn from the 94 years of brilliance, joie de vivre and selfless service that Sam Bahadur gave us?

Raw Courage

First, of course, is that any aspiring leader needs raw courage in abundance. Sam Bahadur was wounded critically twice and highly decorated for gallantry while personally leading troops in combat. Raw physical courage he possessed in full and overflowing measure but does a CEO need it?

Of course he does because natural disasters, terrorist strikes, industrial accidents and all kinds of emergencies are just a heartbeat away. In such an eventuality will the CEO be the first to run or first to respond? His response could make or break his organisation and his own future.

Even more important is courage of the moral kind that Sam demonstrated. The courage of conviction, the courage to do that which is right, the courage to stand up to political pressure: these are of utmost importance in defining and demonstrating leadership. Buckling under pressure and deviating from the path of organisational welfare are options that true corporate leaders don't have if they are to retain loyalty and followership.

Spotting & Deploying Talent

The second lesson is to build an ability to spot and deploy talent. Identifying the right person for a particular assignment, a person with the skill set and mindscape that guarantees delivery can spell the difference between success and failure.

This can only come about if the CEO has an intimate knowledge of the capabilities of his people. For that he has to develop close relationships across the organisation. Many observers are unanimous that the real genius of Sam lay in his choice of field commanders. That is a skill that every CEO must build.

Planning & Faith

The third lesson is to plan to the nth degree and simultaneously invest consummate faith in your people. Sam practised this expertly throughout his career. The most visible example was Sam's planning for the East Pakistan (Bangla Desh liberation) campaign when he handpicked the team to lead it and backed them to the hilt.

CEOs need to drive detailed and meticulous planning and then support the team totally; every member should know for certain that if things go wrong the CEO will back them fully.

Seek The Best Ideas

The fourth lesson is to seek the best ideas wherever they may emanate. The best ideas may be embedded deep within the organisation. The CEO's job is to ferret them out and implement them.

Sam seemed to excel in this; he would never pull rank when his juniors tried to tell him something that was very different from his own ideas. Debate and discussions are used by all great leaders to clarify their own thought process to facilitate decision making.

Strategy-Tactics balance

The fifth lesson is to balance strategy with tactics. Organisation building and tactical plans must be synchronised. While deferring the East Pakistan campaign by three months despite political pressure, Sam assembled his assault force and supplied them with strategic guidance while demanding operational targets and execution plans from the field commanders.

This balance is what CEOs need. While strategic initiatives are important, grassroots implementation is equally vital. I fear that the acquisitions that corporate India has so aggressively concluded in the last 18 months will come to naught with non-achievement of sales and profitability targets in the near future.

Direct Communication

The sixth lesson that Sam teaches us is the importance of simple, direct and, many times, earthy communication. Known for his wit and informality, he could get straight to the heart of the matter. CEOs must imbibe this in full measure.

Many times corporate communications and discussions are mired in obfuscation and jargonising. The principle of, "say what you will do and then do what you said" is the bedrock of credibility.

Unshakeable Principles

The seventh lesson Sam leaves us with is the importance of unshakeable principles. In a famous incident he is reported to have given only two options to an officer found prima facie involved in corruption: either resign or shoot yourself.

Sam's greatness lay in living the principles with wit, wisdom and humility. CEO's can learn to dilute their self-importance while sticking to the values necessary for leadership. The leadership legacy of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw is formidable. It needs deep study and research by the premier business schools in India following which it can be integrated into management curricula. The true tribute we can pay to this great son of India is to universalise the principles by which he lived.

This message has been posted on HMGoogleGroup by: Moen Kandlore
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