LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM SEX WORKERS
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
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