Lead­er­ship: The Way to Do is to Be

The Way to Do is to Be

India Strategic - - CONTENTS - By Air Mar­shal AK Trikha (Retd)

WEAPONS AND other com­bat gear are ob­vi­ously nec­es­sary tools for war fight­ing. Their qual­ity and num­bers are im­por­tant in­dices to gauge rel­a­tive strength of ad­ver­saries. How­ever, suc­cess in com­bat de­pends as much (if not more) on qual­ity of lead­er­ship as on any other fac­tor. His­tory is re­plete with ex­am­ples wherein great mil­i­tary lead­ers have in­spired their men to vic­tory un­der seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble cir­cum­stances.

No set of rules or pre­scrip­tions can fully de­scribe at­tributes that a leader must pos­sess to in­spire his sub­or­di­nates to make the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice. Pro­fes­sional com­pe­tence and skill is of course es­sen­tial. With­out them no lead­er­ship func­tion is pos­si­ble. But, in­spir­ing lead­er­ship which com­pels sub­or­di­nates to fol­low the leader into un­char­tered per­ils de­mands more than just pro­fi­ciency in the craft. Sub­or­di­nates fol­low a leader out of loy­alty which is en­gen­dered by a con­vic­tion that the leader is wor­thy of trust. Sub­or­di­nates’ trust is the most pre­cious pos­ses­sion that a leader can have and it is of­fered read­ily to only those who are per­ceived to be per­sons of unim­peach­able in­tegrity. Since fidelity to duty is a part of moral ethic, a morally up­right per­son would au­to­mat­i­cally hold duty in high es­teem. It is worth a thought whether there is suf­fi­cient recog­ni­tion of these cru­cial es­sen­tials of lead­er­ship in our emerg­ing mi­lieu.

In­dia is to­day be­ing pro­pelled into the 21st cen­tury at a breath­tak­ing pace. More­over, this trans­for­ma­tion is tak­ing place in a rel­a­tively open so­cio- po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment, which ren­ders it unique as an ex­am­ple - un­par­al­leled by any other, any­where else at any point in his­tory. In this pe­riod of in­tense churn­ing, most time­less pil­lars of fix­ity – defin­ing moral­ity and bounds of so­cial con­duct are crum­bling. Sur­vey­ing the In­dian scene, an em­i­nent so­cial sci­en­tist frames con­tem­po­rary In­dia’s morals as ‘hy­per- in­stru­men­tal­ism.’ The fun­da­men­tal un­der­pin­ning of this stream of think­ing is that ‘any ac­tiv­ity that pro­duces ma­te­rial ad­vance­ment is good’. Un­en­cum­bered by any re­straint of prin­ci­ples, this ‘free for all and devil takes the hind­most’ has be­come the new cul­tural norm. Elec­tronic me­dia al­ways in search for more and more eye­balls feeds the frenzy for glam­our as­so­ci­ated with con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion. By pum­mel­ing all eth­i­cal, moral and other weighty is­sues con­fronting so­ci­ety to triv­ial sound bites, it is also con­tribut­ing sig­nif­i­cantly to numb­ness of think­ing. No sig­nif­i­cant seg­ment of In­dian so­ci­ety has been able to re­sist the pow­er­ful sweep of elec­tronic me­dia’s hype. On the other hand, un­der its re­lent­less as­sault, even the most ven­er­a­ble in­sti­tu­tions of state and so­ci­ety (high­est ju­di­ciary, par­lia­ment, academia etc.) stand ex­posed like the prover­bial monarch with no clothes. There­fore, all those paragons of virtue once held in

high es­teem, to­day suf­fer from a cri­sis of cred­i­bil­ity. In this en­vi­ron­ment of gen­eral dis­be­lief and cyn­i­cism, the hal­lowed idea of plac­ing ser­vice be­fore self ap­pears to be so out of tune with the new nor­mal, that a rare fol­lower of the creed may be seen as an odd­ity from the Mars. Trapped in an at­mos­phere poi­soned by greed and cor­rup­tion, each in­di­vid­ual tries to in­vent his or her own sur­vival kit – bury­ing deep any thought of public or com­mon good.

Mem­bers of the armed forces are drawn es­sen­tially from the same so­cio-cul­tural mi­lieu. And yet by the very na­ture of their calling, they are re­quired to sub­scribe to a very dif­fer­ent ethic. They swim in the same pond but by virtue of the na­ture of their pro­fes­sion, de­mands placed on them are of an en­tirely dif­fer­ent or­der than on the rest of the so­ci­ety. For in­stance, while in­di­vid­ual free­dom is the lodestar of demo­cratic as­pi­ra­tion for ev­ery other In­dian, a sol­dier must be asked to sub­li­mate his in­di­vid­u­al­ism for the sake of the group or the cause. New age cel­e­brates ma­te­rial ad­vance­ment and mea­sures suc­cess by that yard­stick. Yet the sol­dier must sub­or­di­nate his im­pulse for ma­te­rial gain to a dif­fer­ent set of val­ues.

In­sis­tence on ad­her­ence to a dif­fer­ent set of val­ues which places ser­vice above self-in­ter­est on the high­est pedestal is vi­tal to mil­i­tary ethos be­cause in its ab­sence no fight­ing unit can achieve or main­tain its co­he­sion. This sin­gu­lar re­quire­ment places unique bur­dens on mem­bers of the mil­i­tary pro­fes­sion. State and civil so­ci­ety is ex­pected to recog­nise this oner­ous de­mand and com­pen­sate the sol­dier such that he feels priv­i­leged to bear arms for the state. This has been a time hon­ored com­pact for which sol­diers are ex­pected to sac­ri­fice their all with­out a sec­ond thought. Re­cent events sug­gest that this com­pact is fray­ing at the edges. Rank and file of vet­er­ans are us­ing public plat­forms to ex­press their

angst – thus re­veal­ing a deep deficit of trust and cyn­i­cism aris­ing out of a per­cep­tion of po­lit­i­cal and bu­reau­cratic es­tab­lish­ment’s chi­canery in meet­ing their just de­mands.

In­dian mil­i­tary lead­er­ship is al­ready faced with se­vere chal­lenges. Our neigh­bor­hood to the West is aflame and specter of fur­ther vi­o­lence and in­sta­bil­ity ap­pears to be at our doorstep. In­sur­gency re­mains ram­pant in large parts of the coun­try. There­fore to keep fight­ing forces in fine trim re­mains lead­er­ship’s up­per­most re­spon­si­bil­ity. Strain of long and re­peated tenures in in­sur­gent ar­eas where en­emy is nowhere and yet ev­ery­where, iso­la­tion in harsh cli­matic zones with­out fam­ily sup­port can sap any brave heart’s spirit. For­tu­nately through long and arduous ex­pe­ri­ence, fight­ing for­ma­tions have de­vel­oped ro­bust eco-sys­tems to con­tain stress at man­age­able lev­els. There­fore a com­fort­ing feel­ing pre­vails that sit­u­a­tion is un­der con­trol. How­ever to dis­miss the cur­rent at­mos­phere of protest and ag­i­ta­tion as a one-off phe­nom­e­non, or its im­pact on serv­ing cadres as triv­ial or in­con­se­quen­tial would be per­ilous.

The chal­lenge thus con­fronting lead­er­ship is ‘How to tem­per sim­mer­ing dis­con­tent stem­ming from a per­ceived sense of in­jus­tice and yet main­tain co­he­sion and morale of the fight­ing man’. Much of what needs to be done to re­dress griev­ances lies out­side the au­thor­ity of a mil­i­tary leader. And yet there is much that he can and must do to keep his men’s faith. Loy­alty and obe­di­ence, in­tegrity and courage, sub­or­di­na­tion of the self to the good of the unit and the coun­try con­sti­tute the ker­nel of mil­i­tary virtues. To en­dure with these val­ues de­spite all odds is the hall­mark of elite fight­ing for­ma­tions. Com­man­ders must en­deavor to im­bue their com­mands with these val­ues. But how is it to be done? Many lead­er­ship cour­ses, pam­phlets and gu­rus pre­scribe dif­fer­ent strate­gies to sculpt ideal lead­ers. Pro­fes­sional and per­sonal rec­ti­tude, trans­parency of mo­tives, al­ways sub­or­di­nat­ing per­sonal in­ter­est to pro­fes­sional func­tion are nec­es­sary at­tributes. On the other hand there is noth­ing more dam­ag­ing to a leader’s re­spect than if he is seen to be fight­ing for his own corner.

The best and most in­fal­li­ble way to be wor­thy of mil­i­tary lead­er­ship and to in­spire is to fol­low the sound ad­vice given by an an­cient Chinese philoso­pher “The way to do is to be”.

Much of what needs to be done to re­dress griev­ances lies out­side the au­thor­ity of a mil­i­tary leader. And yet there is much that he can and must do to keep his men’s faith

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