Leadership: The Way to Do is to Be
The Way to Do is to Be
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
LCA (Tejas): IAF yet to form the first LCA squadron Flying the tri-colour high: IAF’s leading air dominance fighter Su-30 MKI
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