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.

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