Thoughts on economics and liberty

Tag: FTI – leadership, team building

Is FTI drifting towards an elitist “High Command”?

This question (in some form or shape) keeps being raised every few months. It has come up again, and while I clarify (indeed any FTI member can see how totally democratic FTI processes are – to the point of being exceptionally slow at times (democracy takes time)) – it appears that there can never be enough clarification!

Below are extracts from a conversation with an FTI member today:

FTI member:

I want to ask you a very simple question which is best answered in Yes or No. You may think that the question is frivolous, that the question has been answered before or that now is not the time for this question. I think the question is of fundamental importance, at least to me.

Q. Do you, personally, agree that supporters of FTI's future political avtaar, i.e members of the future  political party should have the right to nominate and elect it's leaders, and candidates for various elections, on the principle of one member one vote (and not just the power to endorse or not endorse a leader or candidate in a non-binding way)?

Yes or No answer would be helpful in settling my doubts.

As for me, my answer is a definite Yes, otherwise I do not see much difference between His or Her Majesty's Government, the Indian National Congress, the BJP, the BSP, the UPSC and FTI, all of these being bodies who have promised, or continue to promise that they will provide high calibre leaders to the people of India. People know better from previous experience.

My response:

My view is that FTI members will decide how the political avataar operates. Therefore it doesn't matter what I think.

Having said that I'm quite happy for future supporters of FTI (e.g. FPI members – if such an entity comes into existence) to choose which of the FTI members to nominate as candidates. It doesn't make sense for FTI members to nominate themselves. There must be some indicator of their popularity with the  voters. I'm assuming that this process (and a range of other quality checks) will be imposed by FTI members at the time of creation of the political avataar (if any).

FTI member:

Thanks for your response. I see that as a Yes, and in so far as we agree on this important issue, at least on a personal level, I am most reassured.

My response:

On one thing I'm clear: if we are here for ourselves we are wasting our time. We are here to work for a common cause along with other like-minded people. My goal for FTI is not to create an institution for me or for you but for freedom in India. That means that the team will, at all times, have to decide keeping in mind what is good for India. You and I are (relatively speaking) irrelevant: just one among a crowd. 

I definitely did not ever intend nor will intend to create a 'high command' atmosphere on FTI.

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100% is not enough

Gabrielle Dolan and Yamini Naidu of One Thousand and One sent in this wonderful story. Given that I like to use my blog also as a personal library on leadership (for the benefit of FTI members) , I'm reproducing the relevant extract here. Btw, I thoroughly recommend Gabrielle and Yamini's work. I've attended one of their workshops and believe their approach has much value to add to any organisation.

The story

Jon was in a meeting where the CEO and Supply Chain Executive were disputing what the firm’s supply chain service levels should be – 95%? 96%? 97%?  Unable to reach agreement, they turned to Jon for a point of view.  Not wanting to take sides or pluck a figure out of thin air Jon responded with this story.

“A few years ago I was in Portland, Oregon and my wife Dianne had given me a long shopping list which included a very specific pair of Guess jeans. I was in Nordstrom (a US department store), and loaded down with shopping bags, went to the ladies wear department to look for Dianne’s jeans.  The sales assistant said, ‘We don’t stock Guess jeans but can I interest you in a pair of Diesel or Lee jeans?’ I said it’s for my wife and I had specific instructions for this exact pair of Guess jeans.  The assistant then said, ‘Are you happy to leave your bags here with another staff member and come with me?’.  

I agreed and she escorted me out of the store and down the street to the Guess store.  She introduced me by name to the Guess sales assistant who found the jeans I was after and I completed my purchase.  I then returned with the Nordstrom sales assistant to Nordstrom to get my bags that they were holding for me.  What is the relevance of this story? Nordstrom’s customer service level was 110%.  That is the right answer for any firm’s service levels”.

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First "follower"

A friend sent in this video. Truly remarkable. I never thought about such a role ("first follower"), but it touches a deep chord in human nature and shows how important it is to encourage someone who sticks his neck out.

The video also tells me that FTI will succeed. As soon as a few people start raising their hands and standing up to lead (and many already have!), all other liberal leaders in India will join in. Guaranteed.

A tipping point is the next step for FTI now. Once it is reached, the reform movement can begin.

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Leadership lessons from India’s independence movement

Here's something really nice – lessons in leadership from India's Independence (not Freedom!) struggle. I've copied across from Sonia Jaspal's excellent blog: I encourage you to visit her blog, a blog surely worth subscribing to! I came across it through Facebook today. I'll also let Sonia know that I've duplicated her post for my readers (currently without consent). I trust she'll agree to let this remain here as part of my leadership toolkit. If not you'll see this post modified in a day or two.

The following is particularly relevant to FTI members. I endorse each and everyone one of these principles.


8 Management Lessons from India’s Freedom Struggle

By Sonia Jaspal

We recently celebrated Indian Independence Day on 15 August. I cherish the freedom and celebrate India’s growth towards global recognition. Going back in history, Indian freedom struggle lasted nearly a century. The last 25 years of the struggle was lead by Mahatma Gandhi on the concept of non-violence. India is one of the unique countries which gained freedom without much bloodshed. I think there are lot of management lessons which corporate world is implementing presently which were prevalent in the freedom struggle.

In this post I am exploring Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership and management style, and linking it to the current management practices.

1. Walk the talk

Mahatma Gandhi preached the concept of simple living and high thinking, although he came from an affluent Indian family. He came up with various austere living standards and requested his followers to adopt them. His kept his life open to public scrutiny. People may debate regarding his personal choices but no one would raise questions on his ethics and integrity. Irrespective of the difficulty involved, he always was able to take the high moral ground and never compromised on his personal values. In the present corporate world we respect the leaders who are able to walk the talk, demonstrate ethical and principled behavior and lead by example.

2. Think out of the box

The strategy and tactics adopted during the Indian independence struggle were unlike any other country’s revolution. Some of the concepts were:

 • Non-violence – A war fought on the basis of principles without any bloodshed.

• Civil disobedience- Court arrest if the British officials are threatening imprisonment for demanding your rights.

 • Non-cooperation- The message given was maintain your jobs with the British Empire, however do not support it regarding its practices against Indian people. Managements today are advocating out of the box thinking and competing strategically. The organization which implements a unique strategy generally wins the market.

3. Brand building

Mahatma Gandhi’s personal brand has lasted 60 years after his death without any investment. He created a brand of a simple moral man living life on the principle of Ahimsa (non-violence). His home spun cotton clothes, wooden shaft, leather slippers, vegetarian meals and home at the ashram all embodied his personal brand. His character and communication depicted his core values to the masses. We must acknowledge that fact that very few leaders in history have as strong a brand image as Gandhi. The corporate world is spending huge sums on advertising to build the corporate brand. We hear Tom Peters and other management gurus talking about building the “Brand You”.

4. Competitor’s size doesn’t matter

The Indian freedom struggle gained ground by the idea of a few committed individuals who wished to bring about a change. They envisaged taking on the might of British Empire who had the resources, funds, weapons and management capability. The Indian leadership team acknowledged the strengths of the British Empire and devised a strategy which minimized those strengths. They built a strategy on the following:

• Non-violence which required no weapons;

• Asked masses to contribute for the independence and live frugally, hence survived on minimal resources;

• Developed local leadership across all regions under Congress banner. Using a similar strategy Barrack Obama won the American president elections when he had no funds and support. Also, one notices small IT companies (e.g. hotmail) which developed into big names just by pioneering a unique product and leveraging the market properly.

5. Build dream teams

Indian Congress Party besides Gandhi had a number of other accomplished leaders. Namely, C. Rajagopalachari, Jawaharlal Nehru,  Vallabhbhai Patel, Subhash Chandra Bose and others. These leaders all had different personalities and ideologies, however worked for a common cause. Gandhi and Nehru complimented each other tremendously and mostly operated as two in a box. Senior leaders acted as mentors for the younger generation. The party had leaders at grass root level, and people were encouraged to develop leadership traits. Business world is focusing on building dream teams with leadership at all levels. The Human resource Departments are focused on concepts of two in a box, alternate leaders, chief mentors and succession planning.

6. Engage and empower people

Mahatma Gandhi in his speech on the eve of Dandi March said -“Wherever there are local leaders, their orders should be obeyed by the people. Where there are no leaders and only a handful of men have faith in the programme, they may do what they can, if they have enough self-confidence”. He encouraged common man to show leadership and commitment under the overall umbrella of Congress. He united the people by specifying the mission, vision and code of conduct of Congress. The masses were committed to the cause and in all his symbolic protests he involved people participation. The corporate world’s biggest challenge is of disengaged employees due to actual or perceived lack of empowerment. It is becoming apparent that success or failure of the organization is increasingly dependent on a healthy organization culture which encourages employee participation.

7. Accept and encourage diversity

The British are generally blamed for implementing “divide and rule policy” in India. On the contrary, India already was already divided into various regions, religions and castes before the British rule. Mahatma Gandhi in his struggle for independence attempted to unify the country. He encouraged the princely states to join hands, brought Hindus and Muslims on the same platform and removed caste barriers for joining the freedom moment. He supported gender equality and encouraged women to actively participate in the movement. His wife, Kasturba Gandhi played a pivotal role in getting women’s participation. With less than 10% women in senior management positions in the corporate world, the mantra today is to bring more women on board. With globalization the concept of accepting and encouraging diversity has taken hold.

8. Don’t make it personal

In the Quit India speech in 1942, Mahatma Gandhi stated- “Then, there is the question of your attitude towards the British. I have noticed that there is hatred towards the British among the people. The people say they are disgusted with their behavior. The people make no distinction between British imperialism and the British people”. Deal with the issue and not the person; this is the corporate mandate today. Mahatma Gandhi pioneered this thought process. In all his communication and dealings he stood up against British Imperialism. He however, had friendly relationships with Britishers and never made a personal attack in his speeches. On the other hand, he continuously advocated decent and humane behavior even towards ones enemy. His thought process was- address the issue at hand and keep a positive attitude towards a person from the competing camp. In nut shell, there is a lot to learn from the Indian freedom struggle for the corporate world. It had unique dimensions which are gaining hold now as corporate best practices. History is the best teacher, if we are willing to learn from other people’s successes and failures.

Sonia can be reached at: soniajaspal[at]sify[dot]com

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