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 And now they're asking you and your government for a bailout to end their troubled, outdated, low quality, wasteful production system.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.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


The first responsibility of the leader is to define what can be.
The last is to say thank you.
In between the two, the leader must become a servant and debtor.

- Max DePree

Being a leader is not about making yourself more powerful.
It's about making people around you more powerful.

- Betty Linton

If you tell people the destination, but not how to get there,
you'll be amazed at the results.

- George Patton

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I was returning from leave, and was travelling by train in an AC 2 Tier compartment from Delhi to Coimbatore. Fortunately during this nearly 2 day journey, I had the company of an army Colonel from the Corps of EME. We got talking during the journey and the topic turned to leadership at one point. The other gentleman narrated a first hand account of what he considered to be good leadership. This gentleman, let's call him 'A', was commanding an EME workshop in the Siliguri region and the Corps Commander in that region was General Gill. This is what he had to say about Gen. Gill and his leadership, in brief......

One day a jawan was marched up to 'A' by the JCO (a middle manager), who mentioned that this driver had just had an accident with the Corps Commander's jeep in the hilly region North of Siliguri. This put 'A' in a very tight spot - firstly an accident, and that too with the Corps Commander. 'A' said that he did not know how to react to this news, and what further course of action to follow, when suddenly the phone rang. 'A' picked it up and there was General Gill on the other side. Gen. Gill told 'A' that one of A's drivers had had an accident with his jeep and that Gen. Gill had already admonished him and that the Commanding Officer need not take any further action, as it was just a genuine error on the part of the driver who was new to the hill driving. This call relieved 'A' of the need to take any further action.

What had happened was that while taking a turn in the hills, this driver had taken a slightly wide turn around a blind corner and had hit the General's jeep coming from the opposite direction. The General had called this driver and told him to drive carefully in the hills, specially around blind corners, and then let him go with a warning to drive carefully and by the rules, especially in the hills. This driver came back and gave this information to his JCO, who marched him up to the CO. Hitting the General's vehicle is not one of the normal things to do in the army. It is considered serious by every one around.

The General was known in the army circles as one of the finest leaders. After this incident, he took the time to think through of what the sequence of events would be when this jawan reported this incident to his superiors. He realised that the driver would be marched up to his Commanding Officer (CO), and the CO would have no option but to investigate the matter, and thereafter punish the driver. He realised that his intervention could save the driver, and the unit a lot of unnecessary trouble by just one phone call. He felt that this was not a violation, but a genuine error on the part of the driver. In addition, he felt that the driver would never forget the vital lesson that he had learnt about hill driving through this incident. The General then made this phone call to the CO.

The General could have forgotten about the whole episode after the event or could have delegated this task of informing this incident to the unit concerned through his subordinate staff. He neither delegated nor forgot about the incident because he felt that it was important to prevent a genuine learning error from being punished. Also, his call stopped the unit from wasting time on unnecessary initiation and conduct of disciplinary proceedings and put everyone involved at ease.

Good leadership looks at the macro picture, and permits genuine errors by turning them into learning opportunities, because good leaders believe that 'to err is human' and that genuine errors are the best teachers. Good leadership does not punish genuine errors and also takes the time to ensure that these are not punished anywhere in their organisations.

People are the finest assets of any good leader and a good leader values each and every person in the organisation, irrespective of level - from the lowest to the highest. These traits of a leader help organisations develop a strong culture and bonding - morale in the defence forces.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


A young fighter pilot, a jilted lover, committed suicide by diving his MIG-21 into the ground, so they said. A Court of Inquiry is in progress to find out the cause of the accident. One of my squadron officer's, S, is called by the court for a statement. S gives his statement and on being questioned tells the court that their questioning would drive him to do the same as the other young officer.

I am called by my boss and told "If I were in your position, I would stop S from flying". Was that a hint?

I stop S's flying with immediate effect, realising that S must be under stress after such a mishap. Life continues, and so does the court.

A few days later I have S walk into my office, he gives me a smart salute and with a very stern look on his face asks me, "When do I start flying?" I look him in the eye from behind my desk, and unthinkingly without batting an eyelid, respond, "The day I see a smile on your face, S". S bursts into a broad smile, like a young kid who has been given his toy back after a punishment.

I call the flight commander and ask him to put S on the flying programme for the next day. I was aware of the enormous risk I was taking, specially after the big, and not so subtle hint, given to me by my boss. Next day, I cross my toes and my fingers and wait for S to go to the aircraft. He goes up in the sky..... and comes back safely, and signs 'DCO' (Duty Carried Out) in the authorisation book. I now find time to uncross my fingers and toes.

God has been with me. My faith and trust in S has not been unfounded. I loved S for confronting me with his 'right to fly', but I loved him even more for living upto the trust that I had placed in him. I had risked my career on this one move. Leadership never comes without risk.

Uncharted territory is always risky, and it is the leader's duty to tread on it, even though he has nothing to gain from it personally, but a lot to gain for his follower and the organisation which he serves. Leadership, they say, is not for the weak hearted.

Friday, September 5, 2008


The pre-requisite to become a good leader is to be a good follower. This is a fact that confuses many people. However, this is absolutely true. How and why? A good leader always 'walks the talk'. I am sure no one has any doubts on this aspect. In case this is true then the only way that the leader can walk the talk would be by following all the rules that he lays down, because if he does not do so nobody else will take the rules seriously. So, he has to be a good follower. This realisation came to me when I was put in a leadership postion. I realised that I had to follow all the rules that I had laid down, whereas my subordinates could break some of the rules that they did not like/ agree with. I was thus the greatest follower of my own leadership. My leadership position also gave me an insight into the functioning of this universe.
I had always wondered as to why there was suffering in the world when God could eradicate it. Why did God not do it? On one occasion I was confronted with a similar problem. One of my subordinates whom I liked had gone against the orders and I was required to take action against him. My inner self did not want to take any action but my outer self wanted that action should be initiated against him, otherwise it would send a very wrong message to everyone else around. So, with a heavy heart I did the needful. I did not feel nice about it but had to do the right thing. God is probably in a similar position. He is just watching us do our part and we get the fruits of our karma. God does not intervene because even He is bound by his own rules. Once in a while, in exceptional circumstances, He grants His Grace. These are very rare occasions and only deserving cases can expect this - like the President can pardon a death sentence, but does so only in very rare cases. Even God is a great follower of his own rules and so should we, if we aspire to be good leaders.


What are the qualities of a good leader?

Leadership is always in a particular context. You could be placed in a leadership position in business, in military, in politics, or in an emergency situation. Every situation will demand a different set of qualities in a leader, in preference to another set. However, certain qualities are pretty much the same across the board, I believe.

Regarding the question - I believe the most important quality that a leader must have is 'Vision' - a vision that can encompass all those that follow, and more. The vision should be able to touch people's inner cravings and these cravings are, I believe, much larger than just one self. Gandhiji could inspire millions of people to give up violence and give themselves to lathi charges by the police, without retaliating. Humans crave for freedom and he could sense that yearning of people's souls and could provide leadership to reach this goal of freedom, and finally Indian independence. The next quality is the ‘ability to inspire’ by translating that vision – translation into something more practical for the followers. A translation of how the stated vision would help the followers satisfy that inner craving. Remember the ‘I have a dream……..’ speech by Martin Luther King. Barack Obama is today living that dream in U.S. politics. That was the inspirational context of Martin Luther King’s speech. He was also inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. Next quality is the ability to 'lead by example', which implies self belief, honesty and integrity. Finally, of course the leader has to have lots of empathy – a quality that helps the leader get to know the inner feelings and struggles of each of his followers.

Are people born as good leaders, or can good leaders be bred?

I do believe that there are some gifted, born leaders. However, there are an even larger number of people who transcend their own limitations and become really good leaders. To be a good leader, you first need to be a good follower. It is very important for a follower to find someone who can touch his soul, and then follow this person with a great amount of trust. When you can do this, you are right on track to becoming a good leader. Leadership qualities will be evident to you when you follow a good leader. And if you are a good follower, you will automatically imbibe the right qualities and internalize them. This is a process which takes time, the duration varying with how closely and truthfully you follow the leader. Good leaders are born but they become great by working towards meeting the aspirations of others. In NDA, we had a motto of ‘Service before Self’. Any officer who has lived up to this motto has always done himself, his service, and his followers proud, every time. As a leader, you need to put yourself last, and the dichotomy is, if you are a really good leader your followers will never let you be last.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


We had been through the DASI phase I (surprise) inspection and were given 60 days to prepare for the phase II inspection. This is the ultimate operational audit of any fighter squadron in the Indian Air Force and covers all facets of squadron functioning - operations, administration and maintenance. The surprise inspection is conducted to test a squadron's operational capability in the here and now mode. We had done well in this inspection and it was expected that we would do even better in the planned inspection after 60 days. Nothing succeeds like success. Once a squadron tastes success, there is no holding the squadron back thereafter and the morale of all the personnel goes sky high - which also happens to be the one of the important requirement for any organisation, specially the defence forces where it is absolutely essential. As a Commanding Officer, I wanted to let my people know that we were already there and also that everyone had to put in his bit to make it happen. I wanted a slogan that could help all the personnel focus on the objective of doing what they were capable of doing and what they all wanted to do.

I pondered over 'Together we can do it'. The more I thought of this, the more i realised that all that this slogan did was to let people know that yes we can do it together. This was just a statement of fact because everyone had it in them to do it.

I then thought of 'Together we must do it'. I felt that this sounded too official and did not capture the spirit of my personnel.

Finally, I decided on 'Together we will do it'. This conveyed what we had in mind. It put in words the fact that all the personnel were trained to do it, and thus could do it. In addition it vocalised their thought of wanting to do something good for the squadron. This message was put up on a placard and placed at a spot where it was read by everyone of our people when they passed through during their routine work. Everyone read it atleast once a day for the next 60 days, and it gave them a sort of a positive energy to achieve what we had decided to do. The result was that we had a very motivated team that did well in the DASI inspection. The placard and the slogan were not what helped us achieve our goal. It was the verbalisation of our thoughts that led us to do well.

Many a times we want to do something for our organisation but are not sure about how and what to do. We all feel this, specially if we love to work for an organisation. This feeling is palpable and the leader must have a pulse of this. It is then the leader's duty and job to help people focus on what they want to do but are unable to put their thoughts through the 3-step sequence of thought, followed by word and finally the deed. Every action follows this process. It is a leader's job to help people convert their inner thoughts into acts by helping them through the 3-steps.

Seems elementary, but like common sense it is not very commonly used. Thought is the most powerful tool with any human being. However, this thought has to go through the process of verabalisation and action before it could be of any use in the physical world. Many years ago while visiting Disney world in Florida I had read a saying that said:

'What your mind can imagine, you can create'.

This profound saying has stayed with me, hopefully for life.

Yes, one can create what one imagines, but do we?.......That is the difference between 'can' and 'will'. Think about it. It is a good leader's job to convert the 'can' to 'will'.


Leadership is about leading.
A group of people.
To what end?
To achieve an aim that is always bigger than the individual needs/ aspirations of each member of the group.
Who are the people who comprise this group of followers?
These are people who are totally taken up with the 'Vision' that is projected by the leader.
Is leadership always positive?
No. Sometimes it could lead people in a negative direction. Remember Hitler. He was a great leader but led people the wrong way. Gandhiji was a great leader who led people in the right direction.
Can leadership fool the people who are following?
Sometimes, but not for very long. Leaders always lead, and thus every follower is scrutinising the leader at all times. The leader has to walk the talk or else he looses credibility, and his leadership role.
How is the leadership role assigned in the military?
In the military the leader is appointed after being duly selected and trained. The leader then has to go and earn his leadership position with his troops or else he remains a leader by the books, but not in the hearts and minds of his troops. A true leader rules the minds and hearts of his troops. This kind of a leader can lead his troops into the valley of death, without anyone asking why, how, what.
Can leadership be learnt?
Yes. One needs to be fired with a vision that is much larger than oneself and the vision includes the needs/ aspirations of all those one thinks would follow him to fulfill the vision.