LEAD­ER­SHIP LESSONS FROM SEX WORK­ERS

Hindustan Times ST (Jaipur) - - Nation - KARAN THAPAR Karan Thapar is the au­thor of The Devil’s Ad­vo­cate: The Un­told Story The views ex­pressed are per­sonal Udayan Mukher­jee is Con­sult­ing Ed­i­tor, CNBC TV18. His first novel Dark Cir­cles is now avail­able on Ama­zon The views ex­pressed are per­sonal

Can sex work­ers be in­tel­li­gently, se­ri­ously and use­fully com­pared to busi­ness lead­ers and, when they are, might they come out bet­ter? An anal­y­sis along these lines is one of the more in­ter­est­ing parts of a book due to be re­leased next month. I was sent a pre­view copy and found it fas­ci­nat­ing.

Called A Stranger Truth, it’s by a clearly tal­ented au­thor, Ashok Alexan­der. His ca­reer started as a high-pro­file ex­ec­u­tive with the in­ter­na­tional con­sul­tants, McKin­sey & Com­pany. Then, one day, he threw it up to head Ava­han, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foun­da­tion’s pro­gramme to fight HIV. He ended up run­ning this or­gan­i­sa­tion for a decade. The book is based on his ex­pe­ri­ences.

It be­gins in the most strik­ing way pos­si­ble: “‘Don’t step on the peo­ple hav­ing sex!’ the NGO worker whis­pered ur­gently as we ven­tured into the dark­ness.” This was Alexan­der’s first en­counter with sex work­ers. Their names were Par­vati, Vat­sala and Jayan­thi. “I could hear them gig­gle as they watched me move gin­gerly around the cou­ples that lay strewn around the field… sounds of fran­tic coitus em­anated from be­hind the bushes.”

Chap­ter six con­tains the com­par­i­son I found in­trigu­ing. It’s called ‘Lead­er­ship se­crets of the com­mer­cial sex worker’. “Ev­ery time I met and in­ter­acted with sex work­ers I would pon­der over a fun­da­men­tal ques­tion”, Alexan­der writes. “Why did sex work­ers show so many more lead­er­ship at­tributes than a busi­ness leader? The an­swer is straight­for­ward — out of ne­ces­sity.”

As Alexan­der points out, busi­ness lead­ers have the at­tributes they need to have and “very of­ten just one or two might suf­fice”. Rarely does a busi­ness leader have to be an all-rounder in terms of lead­er­ship qual­i­ties. He has peo­ple to cover for him.

Fe­male sex work­ers are very dif­fer­ent. “Her world is far more com­plex, much more chal­leng­ing. She must deal with emo­tional, health and fi­nan­cial crises all the time.

There’s the con­stant threat of vi­o­lence and her first mis­sion is re­ally to sur­vive. She has no power, but she still must stay in con­trol. She has no sup­port sys­tem, but she must cope. She sim­ply can­not win with just one or two will the stock mar­ket; that should be as clear as day­light. While the RBI was de­sert­ing the cur­rency, the govern­ment was do­ing that to its ad­mir­ers in the stock mar­ket, who had hith­erto nursed lofty no­tions of its re­formist cre­den­tials. In ask­ing oil mar­ket­ing com­pa­nies to carry part of the bur­den on fuel prices, it shat­tered the only se­ri­ous piece of re­form this govern­ment had un­der­taken in its term, that of fuel price dereg­u­la­tion. The mes­sage was clear — ev­ery­thing could be sac­ri­ficed on the elec­toral al­tar. It went down hard with the stock mar­ket which has kept crash­ing since that day. The govern­ment is pan­ick­ing and when that hap­pens, mar­kets panic even more.

Stock prices go up and they come down. There’s noth­ing earth shat­ter­ing about that. How­ever, bull and bear mar­kets are in­trin­si­cally dif­fer­ent. One crip­pling as­pect of a bear mar­ket is that it comes as a sur­prise, on the back of soar­ing stock prices and bub­bling con­fi­dence and by the time one OC­TO­BER 16: In a dra­matic move, PM Indira Gandhi dis­missed two min­is­ters of state, S Gu­ru­padaswamy and Pari­mal Ghosh, and two deputy min­is­ters, JP Muthyal Rae and Ja­gan­nath Pa­ha­dia, in or­der to fa­cil­i­tate a "co­he­sive and pur­pose­ful Govern­ment." shots in her game. She needs a whole reper­toire.”

Alexan­der got to know sex work­ers well. He says they’re “tremen­dous judges of body lan­guage”. They de­velop this fac­ulty to sur­vive. This also means “they’re amaz­ing judges of peo­ple, es­pe­cially of men”. They can size up an in­di­vid­ual not just in a mo­ment but from as far as twenty feet.

Not sur­pris­ingly, ne­go­ti­a­tion is one of their prime skills. “It’s not just busi­ness lead­ers who have to be adept at ne­go­ti­at­ing. A sex worker ne­go­ti­ates all the time with her clients for safe sex.” On the out­come de­pends more than the suc­cess of a busi­ness. It can de­ter­mine the sex worker’s life.

Alexan­der’s con­clu­sion is sim­ple and straight­for­ward: “I was con­stantly learn­ing about life, lead­er­ship and val­ues from the com­mer­cial sex worker.” I sus­pect the for­mer McKin­sey ex­ec­u­tive ended up a very dif­fer­ent per­son and a bet­ter man.

Now, if you think about it, there’s noth­ing sur­pris­ing about Alexan­der’s anal­y­sis.

In­deed, it’s hard to dis­agree with. The jolt lies in the fact this is not a sub­ject we think about leave aside dis­cuss. Alexan­der has bro­ken that taboo. The re­sult is a truth he calls strange but which feels un­de­ni­able.

THE POR­TENTS WERE DIRE

FOR SOME TIME. BUT THE MAR­KETS STAYED AFLOAT IN THE BE­LIEF THAT THE SIT­U­A­TION IS UN­DER

CON­TROL. THAT HAS CHANGED

re­alises that the regime has changed, port­fo­lio val­ues are of­ten down by a third. We are barely three months into this one, and al­ready se­ri­ous dam­age has been in­flicted. Much more so, if one looks out­side the ten stocks which have kept the il­lu­sion of re­silience float­ing.

At this stage, it is tough to say how vi­cious this bear mar­ket will be. Af­ter all, the mother mar­ket, the US, has just started fall­ing. Stocks, which are sup­posed to price in the fu­ture, are telling us that the road ahead looks ugly. In­vestors need to be very, very care­ful. While it is true that stocks bought in bear mar­kets, and held pa­tiently, do mul­ti­ply when good times re­turn, the temp­ta­tion to rush in right af­ter a bull mar­ket has ended, needs to be curbed. In­vestors of­ten mea­sure op­por­tu­nity by how much stock prices have cor­rected from their peaks, omit­ting to check how much they rose be­fore that. The trick, in bear mar­kets, is to buy slowly. Very slowly. These phases can be cruel to stock prices and pa­tience gen­er­ally turns out to be a prof­itable ploy. The only hope is that, even if its bru­tal, it is short-lived. Yes, it is only a bear mar­ket, not the end of the world. Though it al­ways feels like that.

OF THE WEEK

OC­TO­BER 17: Af­ter con­duct­ing the ex­per­i­ments in con­di­tions of deep vac­uum and weight­less­ness, Soyuz-6 cos­mo­nauts re­turned home to­day while their five col­leagues who fol­lowed them into space con­tin­ued to or­bit round the earth

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