Wednesday, February 1, 2012


National Defence Academy, 1969 or 1970. We (Cadets - age group 15 - 19 years) were assembled in the ante-room for our usual evening assembly. Our Cadet Sergeant Major (CSM) walked in - read out all the routine orders and then said that he wanted to speak about something close to his heart. He had a burning desire that our squadron do well in cross country. We were a very laid back squadron, and somehow never made it in the top 50% in cross country. We were all ears to hear what our CSM had to say....

Cross country was a competitive event that was held once in every term, or twice a year. Squadrons had to put up all the able bodied cadets to run the 4.5 kms race that took us across the glider-drome, fields, over the lone tree hill, down the other side, across a road, climb another hill, slightly down again, then run along the sky line and finally down the hill onto the glider drome to finish where we had started. It was gruelling, specially for people like me, who had never done anything like this before joining NDA. The timing was not fixed but was linked to the cadet who arrived first. There were six enclosures put up. The person first in the race went into the first enclosure. The enclosure closed exactly two minutes after his entry. All cadets who made it in those two minutes entered the first enclosure and so on, up to the fifth enclosure; 2 - 4 minutes for the second; 4 - 6 mts for the third; 6 - 8 mts for the fourth; 8 - 10 mts for the fifth; and finally all the laggards like me would be herded in to the last enclosure. Each enclosure was allotted certain points and the number of cadets of each squadron in every enclosure were counted and this number was multiplied with the points for the enclosure. This was done for each enclosure and the final total was calculated for each squadron - the squadron with the highest points was the winner, and so on.

Cross country was considered to be an important event and all twelve squadrons would practice very hard, Sunday being the favourite day for practice. Each squadron would don the squadron vest and it was a treat to watch about 1400 cadets in twelve different coloured vests, with white shorts and drill boots run the cross country. We also had horses riding along side, just in case of any problems. The event was well organised in typical Army style.

Our CSM gave us a short motivational talk about how it was important for us to do well in cross country... we had heard that earlier, but somehow we had resigned ourselves to being in the bottom half of the pile. He next told us something that was different. He said, "Gentlemen each one of you is wearing the squadron colours on that day, and it is your duty and responsibility to do your best to ensure that our squadron colours are seen in the top half of the pile". He further stated that, "when anyone sees anyone wearing an India squadron vest walking, it is his responsibility to tap him lightly on the shoulder, and it is the duty of the person who is being tapped to run for ten steps at least thereafter". This sounded simple, and do-able.

On the day of the cross country, each one of us ran through the glider drome, across the road, up the lone tree hill, down the hill, across the road and this is where most people like me ran out breath. I started to walk... light tap... ran ten steps... found an India squadron vest walking.... I tap him, he runs... I start walking.... tap, I run, I tap, and so on......for every one the feeling was that I should not be the one to let my squadron down. Each one of us did our bit. I ran most of the route, along which I would have normally walked.

The result was that I ended up in the fourth enclosure for the first, and only, time. Many others like me also had jumped at least two enclosures from their normal best. Our squadron ended up fourth in cross country that term. We rejoiced for having broken our poor record, and it was soon forgotten, or so I thought. However, this lesson always stayed with me - there was no forcing us, just a suggestion, a do-able plan of action (just run for ten steps, when tapped)and the desire of every one to live up to one's responsibilities, and to perform one's duties. Each one of us did our part and the results were there for all of us to see.....

Was this a great lesson in leadership/ team spirit/ team work?

I do believe so.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


Mid 70s at Air Force base, Lohegaon, Poona (then). Our new boss, G, had just taken over, and he was a man in a hurry, who wanted every one to perform. We, the younger lot, loved it because he was determined to bring some life into our laid back way of doing things. (Our previous boss, a Super Connie pilot, could not hurt a fly and thus let everyone do their own thing, with the result that things moved like the good old Hindu rate of growth..very slowly). He was qualified on the Canberra and had taken over our mixed squadron operating the Canberra and the Super Constellation aircraft in the maritime strike and maritime reconnaissance roles respectively. His decisions were like a good Commander, as per my private defintion of a good commander. My definition of a good officer is one who follows all rules, as given in the book; a bad officer is one who breaks rules; and a good commander is one who intelligently interprets the spirit of the rules. Later in life, I learnt a term through another one of my commander's that said, "if one puts the butt of the rifle on one's shoulder, no body will question". This meant taking the recoil of reaction, if things go wrong. Commanders are people who get things done without breaking the spirit of the rules, rather than hide behind the rule book seeking endless clarifications from higher ups. One day 'G' caught me in the corridor. I was a young flying officer with just about three years of commissioned service.

He asked me as to what I was up to. Being the youngest in this very senior outfit, I was generally lumped with most duties, which I willingly undertook because of the fact that I even got flying in similar proportions, and I really loved to fly. I answered, "nothing very special". So he told me to think and come up with a flight safety corner for the Canberra flight. I said OK, and the matter ended. About a week later he caught me again in the same place on his way to the aircraft and asked me about the progress of the flight safety corner. In typical Indian government functioning style I replied that I had chosen the corner, thought up an idea but no physical work had been done as yet. "Why", he enquired. I replied, "I need to buy chart paper, ribbon, and other stuff for which I need money and I have not been able to get money for these items from the Officer incharge, who was away on an outstation trip". This really angered G. He lost his cool and gave me one big dressing down, right then and there. His last words left me totally speechless. He said, "You could have spent money from your own pocket in such a situation and it would have been re-imbursed, you donot need to stop work for this reason. This is just an excuse for non-performance and I donot accept it". In my heart of hearts I realised that there was an element of truth in what he said. The entire material would not have cost more than Rs. 100.00. I felt small, and very hurt. As soon as he spared me, I picked up my bike and drove to town and bought all the required stuff; came back to the squadron and went for lunch only on completing the flight safety corner.

In his next visit my boss made it a point to notice the corner, called for me and gave me a pat on the back in public with words of encouragement. He added further that this is how work should be done. I will never forget this incident as it taught me a lot of about work and its rightful place in our life; procrastination, silly excuses; the manner of dressing down and thumping someone's back at the right time. I learnt many things from this boss and from all the bosses that followed him during my journey over the years. One's leadership style is an amalgam of all these small incidents that one picks up while serving under various leaders.

This incident taught me of the need, and manner, to chide someone; always in private and how important it was to praise the same person in public for a job well done after that. It is important to never belittle the individual but focus on the task not done, poorly done or well done. I also picked up another fact from this incident and always demanded a firm date from my subordinates by which the task would be completed; always noted that in my diary in their presence, and then demanded accountability from them - just a way of ensuring that people live up to their words and have the capacity to assess the requirements of the task.

Monday, November 24, 2008


Quote. What Toyota knows that GM doesnt?

Do you know how many hourly jobs GM has laid off from 2006 to July 2008? Take a guess. How about 34,000? And now, they're talking about another 5,500 layoffs. And now they're asking you and your government for a bailout to end their troubled, outdated, low quality, wasteful production system. But, let's not focus on fixing GM's problems with an infusion of cash. There's something even deeper going on here that's really wrong.

OK, here's a better question. How many hourly jobs has Toyota 's American production system laid off in the same time frame? Zero. That's right. ZERO. How? Isn't Toyota experiencing the same slow down in auto sales as GM is? Yes, it is. And yes, Toyota has halted production at its Texas and Indiana plants for the past 3 months. But the 4,500 people who work at those plants have not been laid off. What!?!?! How? Why?
The answer: Toyota has a special culture, deep-rooted values, and respect for their workforce. Toyota 's tradition is to NOT lay off employees during hard times. This tradition hasn't really been put to the test until now. And Toyota has stuck to its guns and its values.

"This was the first chance we've really had to live out our values," says Latondra Newton, general manager of Toyota 's Team Member Development Center in Erlanger , Ky. "We're not just keeping people on the payroll because we're nice. At the end of all this, our hope is that we'll end up with a more skilled North American workforce."

Interesting. But what does that last line mean? "At the end of all this, our hope is that we'll end up with a more skilled North American workforce." It means that while these employees were not manufacturing automobiles, they were in training. They were doing safety drills, participating in productivity improvement exercises, attending presentations on material handling and workplace hazards, taking diversity and ethics classes, attending maintenance education and taking a stream of online tests to measure and record their skill improvements. Toyota is shifted the Texas and Indiana workers temporarily to Toyota plants whose assembly lines were moving at full speed, such as the Camry assembly plant in Georgetown, Ky. In addition to all of this, the workers also spent some time painting the plants and even helped build Habitat for Humanity homes. And they were getting paid.

Wow! So what is this costing Toyota ? The estimate is at least $50 million dollars, plus the loss of revenue of shutting down production. Why is this value and tradition worth so much to Toyota ? Why would they be willing to spend $50 million rather than lay people off? It's because Toyota believes that its people, yes, its PEOPLE are its greatest investment and its greatest asset. You hear so many companies say that, but would they really put their money where their mouths are when the rubber hits the road (no pun intended)? In Toyota 's case, the answer is yes they would.

So what does Toyota get out of this? When, not if, the plants return to full production, Toyota will have well trained employees on the front line, ready and able to meet the demand for their vehicles. And not only will they be well trained, they'll be happy and motivated to work. Because Toyota is willing to go to the mat for their people, their people will be willing to do the same for Toyota .

The lesson here: Unlike their counterparts GM and Ford, Toyota has always taken a long-term strategic view about their employees. Toyota understands that laying off thousands of employees for slowdowns or plant retooling is counter productive. They wisely utilize the time to redistribute their workforce to understaffed plants, provide additional training for the new products, and leverage their workforce to speed the transition for newer products. Their philosophy has avoided labor disputes and staffing shortages. It has kept the company as a leader in quality and profitability over its shortsighted competitors.
So, the message for you in all of this: Really commit to upholding the value that your people, let me repeat that, your PEOPLE are your greatest asset. Treat them with respect and dignity. Do everything in your power and your imagination to keep them on the payroll during the rough times. If you don't, you may not find those people again on the upside of the downturn. And if you do, you'll have hyper-productive, motivated teams delivering quality because they're committed on a deeper level to your company. Unquote.
Received by e-mail. Source unknown. However, the lessons are very real for today's economic meltdown scenario.......Love the message. No doubt Toyota is a market leader - their cars are the 'best value for money', and reliable too. (I can personally vouch for them. I drove a Toyota Sienna van for 4 years; put in only the recommended oil and gas, and never had to do any other repair/ service. Clocked over 90000 kms in 4 years without any problems. The Toyota off road guarantee in North America never needed to be tested). With this kind of a company philosophy, I have no doubts that these employees would build cars that are as reliable as their company - hats off to Toyota. Leadership cannot exist without followership. What good is a leader if the only way out of a slow down is to fire the followers?? Do you know of any other leaders in industry who standby their employees during really tough times??
Post Script: I recently heard an interview on TV wherein Mr Nandan Nilekani, Co-Chairman of Infosys was asked a question if he was going to lay-off people because of the slowdown. He responded that Infosys had invested in human capital and there was no question of laying off anyone. I have always admired Infosys and its work ethics. Nandan Nilekani's response was quite inline with the best of leadership practices. (28Nov08)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I believe that every individual wants to be a part of a winning team. Winning teams don't just happen. They are built over time on the solid foundation of certain values that form the basis of the functioning of that organisation. These values are thus called 'core values'. Every organisation needs to establish a set of core values. These values are the foundation on which the day to day business of this organisation would then be conducted.

Leadership plays an important role in modeling the core values, and leaders at every level are directly responsible in instilling these values in every member of the organisation, starting with the management team. Once these values are imbibed by each and every employee of the organisation, then there is a noticeable change in the behaviour pattern of the organisation. I believe modeling, defining and instilling the core values is a very important leadership function, of course, with willing acceptance from the majority of the employees. The willing acceptance is the easier part if the values reflect the desire of leadership to bring about common good.

Looking back..... this is what i had defined as our core values in the squadron on my first meeting with all my squadron officers.

Be a good human being: Being a good human being implied that one respected all of God's creation in general and human beings in particular without consideration of caste, creed, colour, religion or any other form of human prejudice.

Be a good Indian: You are a good Indian if you respect the greatest symbols of our nation - the Constitution and the national flag, and are willing to live up to the rights and responsibilities as laid down in the Constitution and also if you can ensure that you donot trample on the rights of other Indian citizens.

Be a good Officer (Leader/Manager): This implied that as an officer you always looked after the interests of those placed below you first, always and every time.

Be a good Professional: Being a good professional is very important to do your job to its best. However, the defence forces is a vocation where-in one may be called in to lay down one's life too. You may be the best professional around but if you are not good in the order listed above you may not be able to deliver what is required by the nation and that is the reason this was the last requirement in my scheme of things.

I have seen the core values of a number of business organisations now and find that these are defined in terms of attributes like integrity, team work, excellence, respect, learning, teaching, etc. etc. I am not sure if the core values can be the same in the defence forces and in business organisations. What do you think??

Thursday, November 6, 2008


Barack Obama will be the 44th U.S. President - a historic moment in the evolution of the American democracy. This event, i believe, is as big as previous events like the Boston tea party, the American civil war, the franchisement of women in the U.S. and the right to vote for the blacks in the US. 2008 will be remembered for generations to come as the year in which history was made in the US. Why is it such a big issue?

To me, Obama's victory signifies the triumph of democracy - a triumph of 'for the people, by the people and of the people'. This has a huge import for all democracies around the world, as also for all the people who are not living in democracies. It gives hope to people around the world - people whether they belong to majority or minority communities based on religion, race, colour or any other form of human prejudice.

I wanted Obama to win in my heart of hearts but did not see this happening, but the American people have risen to the occasion and proven me wrong. I am happy to be proven wrong on this one occasion. My faith in the American dream - a dream that Martin Luther King had seen, and articulated, way back in the 60s has been re-energised.

I consider America to be the country of my second birth - my stint of about one year in the US in 1989-90 had put me through a lot of introspection and education about the functioning of a democracy. I cherish the lessons that I had learnt in the US, both formally and informally. However, the last decade had put doubts in my mind about what was meant by democracy - was it a shallow ideal where you believed in the concept only for people who swore allegiance to the US flag or was it a concept that would better the way of life for humanity per se, irrespective of their country of allegiance. That doubt has been put to rest in my mind now.

Barack Obama has proven to be a very charismatic and inspiring leader who will hopefully bring about 'change' and 'hope' for the people in the US, and around the world. Now that the easier part is over, he will have to translate his vision, and that of Martin Luther King Jr., into pragamatic steps towards the betterment of people in general. Will he be able to deliver what he promised - Change, fast enough and hope, for eternity??

Friday, October 24, 2008


Credibility - The condition of being credible or believable.
Credible - (Of a person or statement) Believable or worthy of belief.

Why would any one follow a person who is not credible or one who has low credibility? Can a person with low credibility ever become a leader? Do not mistake most of our political representatives as leaders. Given a choice no body would want to follow them.

What exactly is credibility?

Credibility is about honesty; it is about living up to your word; it is about being capable of delivering what you promise; it is finally about delivering what you had promised; it is about being enthusiastic, passionate about the goal or vision, and it is finally about firing up the followers with the same passion and enthusiasm. In case the leader is not passionate about his vision then his exhortations to his followers would not be credible.

I have analysed my own life and found that I am always passionate about things that are very close to my heart. Once something is close to one's heart, it becomes very easy to ignite the same fire in everyone around. Of course the only condition is that the vision, goal or dream should be much larger than just oneself and should encompass every follower and beyond. Leadership appeals to the soul.

Were Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King credible? Were they great leaders?

Thursday, October 2, 2008


There is a lot of negative publicity going on in the media about the stand taken by the Service Chiefs with regard to the implementation of the VI Pay Commission. This negativism is coming from people who do not understand the ethos of the services. I would like to put on record my take on the whole issue, as I see it.

The service chiefs head their particular service. The ethos of the service demands that every person put the country first, every time, followed by the people placed below him, and lastly himself. This is exactly what the three chiefs have done. They had been suitably compensated by the Pay Commission and could have just sat down quietly and let the people below them simmer on account of the injustice done. Simmering discontent in the services can only lead to one thing - drop in morale. Morale is one of the greatest assets of any fighting force. A low morale can be very detrimental to the well being of the service, and the nation. It must be understood that the men in uniform have no safety valve in terms of rights to form unions, associations or go out in protest. Thus there is no other way that the grievances of the force can be resolved except by looking up to their commanders to do what is best for them. The service chiefs have thus done what was in the best interests of the nation and the people placed below them without thinking about themselves. They could have sat quietly, hoping to get a diplomatic assignment on completion of their tenures as Chiefs. This would have been very un-soldierly.

The way things are being construed is rather unfortunate. It appears that the chiefs may not be given any diplomatic posts after retirement, primarily for being unselfish and for having kept the nation, and the people below them, above their own selfish interests. What actually have they done wrong? They apprised the Defence Minister at every step, they communicated the same to every one placed below them, so as to prevent rumours and the grapevine news about the goings on . The grapevine can be dangerous. It is a Commander's job to communicate with his subordinates and keep them posted on all issues affecting them, and their service. I sincerely believe the three Service Chiefs have shown great leadership, and have done an exemplary service to the nation, and also to the respective service they head. May India have many more such Chiefs.