I'm often asked how I
got the idea for the manifesto/book. So if you're interested (the story's quite long), here goes.
How it started
Actually, I started out by trying to solve a
problem that had nothing to do with bosses: In all the 60 years of strife after independence, the leaders of India
and Pakistan weren't making any progress towards a genuine peace. Despite
all the conferencing and the summiteering, it was business as usual -
violence and deaths. Not that I am
so important that it matters what I think, but this issue was something that
troubled me. So here's the question I was addressing:
Why can't the leaders of India and
Pakistan just sit down and talk sensibly to each other?
Why did India and Pakistan still have so much trouble understanding each
other? Surely it couldn't be that difficult? The two countries even speak a
common language and share a common heritage.
One thing that leaders of both India and
Pakistan keep getting told, quite reasonably, by their own citizens and
other world leaders is: you need to sit down and talk. Of course, it's not
that the leaders weren't talking. But they apparently weren't making sense
to one another. It didn't seem to matter who the leaders of the two nations
I thought it quite strange that in six
decades, neither country had come up with an individual each who could sit
across a table and talk. I was wondering about this, when events in Pakistan
repeated history - a military man had overthrown an elected man.
Prime Minister in a bloodless coup
After Pakistan's military chief General Pervez Musharraf
yanked the reins from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in a bloodless coup, the General
gave himself the title of 'Chief Executive' and later 'President'. So at any given time, Musharraf
called himself General, Chief executive or President. The Pakistani and international media
too called him by whatever he called himself, as though the title was a part
of an ever-changing name. But every so often, the international media would call him what
he really was: a dictator.
I've trained as a journalist, and
journalists are trained to watch out for fuzzy language that
politicians (or CEOs) may use to evade hard questions. While watching the
news of Musharraf's coup, it hit me that dictators
frequently give themselves freedom-implying titles such as 'President' to disguise the reality of their
dictatorships. While not all media organizations fall for this, the word
President often gets added to the dictator's name; his dictatorship
instantly and easily acquires an air of respectability. Thus, without doing any of the hard work that it takes for a country to
progress from authoritarianism to freedom, the dictator is able to give
himself a nice, protective sheen of credibility. And while it's not ok to
invite Dictator Musharraf to the White House, it's perfectly ok to invite
(Pakistan has had elected leaders
intermittently, but the country's military has always been the elephant in
the room. So even when Pakistan's elected leaders spoke to India's leaders, the
elephant was always there).
Leader vs dictator
For all their faults, elected leaders
have to go through several hoops before they get called 'leader'. They have
to learn the art of talking, listening, campaigning, debating, compromising,
adjusting and so on, all to get your vote. Moreover, a vast
institutional framework supports the simple word 'elected' - the election
commission that runs the elections fairly, the executive, the judiciary and
so on. The game is played by a certain set of rules. So people who want to
be leaders not only need to know the rules of this game, they need to have a
particular mindset and a complex set of skills to be able to play the game.
In contrast, a dictator can do pretty
much what he wants. He makes the rules - he is the law. He's the master of
all that he surveys. Now, put the (unelected) dictator and the (elected)
leader in a room, and ask them to talk meaningfully. What are the chances of
that happening? The dictator might say, "I think it's reasonable that you
give me [whatever]." Now, the leader sitting across the table could respond,
"I'll first have to check with my Parliament." The dictator will be shocked
because he doesn't understand why the leader has to go back and debate an
issue with other elected leaders.
I'm going to digress here. Several
months after writing the book and the above paragraph, I found that what I
said above was literally true.
I read an article written by Shekhar Gupta, the editor of the Indian Express, one of the country's leading English-language newspapers. In the article, Gupta described a summit meeting between the then India Prime Minister, A B Vajpayee, and General Pervez Musharraf.
Smart, sharp dictator
vs sloppy, sleepy leader
Shekhar Gupta wrote:
"The Indian politician bumbles, the
Pakistani general strides purposefully in his natty suits. Guess who keeps
his country stable."
"One of the great untold stories of the Agra summit is how
challenging it was for both [India's Prime Minister] Vajpayee and
[Pakistan's dictator] Musharraf to deal with each other.
One thought he had the answer even before a question had been asked. The
other would think for ever, and often tire out his interlocutor. Apparently
at one of the mid-day review sessions Musharraf shared his exasperation with
his aides. He said something like, I know you guys told me he [Vajpayee] takes time
responding to anything, but how do I deal with somebody who takes so long
and then says nothing?
"Now listen to the story from the other
end. What exasperated Vajpayee most of all was Musharraf’s cocky
“decisiveness”. “You are the prime minister, I am the president, if we agree
on something, let’s sign,” he would say, while at the same time making
changes on the draft of a likely agreement and asking Vajpayee to okay it.
He simply wouldn’t buy Vajpayee’s argument that he had a cabinet to go back
to. “Par aap prime minister hain. Aap faisla keejiye (But you are the prime
minister, you decide),” Musharraf would say.
"So when Vajpayee briefed his
aides and fellow members of the Cabinet Committee on Security (who, barring
George Fernandes, were in Agra), he said about his counterpart pretty much
the opposite of what he said of him: “He is in such a hurry. Kuchch sochne
ko taiyyar nahin hain. Sub kuch faisala abhi chahte hain, kaise samjhaoon
bhai.” This sentence by the Indian
Prime Minister is telling: translated, it means, "He [Musharraf] wants all
the decisions right now, how do I get him to understand?"
Indians, like the citizens of many
countries, have a very low opinion of their leaders, politicians that they
are. Many Indians admire General Musharraf, and, as Gupta says in his
"How many times, since he [Musharraf] came on his first visit for
the Agra summit, have we heard fellow Indians, including serious,
knowledgeable people, talk of him with a sense of awe? See, how confident he
looks, how well he speaks, the swagger, so impressive, knows his mind, is so
fit and energetic, so much in control, so macho, can-do and so on. The
sub-text was, view this in total contrast with our own political class:
overweight, badly dressed, clumsy, evasive in their answers, indecisive,
inarticulate and, horror of horrors, not even able to speak any English."
"And then came Shaukat Aziz [Pakistan's unelected Prime Minister, appointed by Musharraf], on
secondment from Citibank. So smart, articulate, in his smartly cut suits,
blah, blah and blah. And what kind of people did we have holding the same
job in India? [Deve] Gowda, who slept in Parliament. [Atal Behari] Vajpayee, who never seems to
answer any question. [Inder Kumar] Gujral who only uttered diplomatic platitudes that
meant nothing. And Narasimha Rao, who mostly pretended he had not even heard
[International readers: Deve Gowda, I K Gujral,
A B Vajpayee and Narasimha Rao were all Prime Ministers of India]
Gupta asks the question:
"Now, think, who finally won. The indecisive,
inarticulate, ineffective slob who did not seem to have an answer to
anything [ie, the elected leader], or the macho, confident, smart, decisive, modern smartie
[ie the dictator] who
seemed to have an answer to everything?"
The sad answer is that Pakistan is in
quite a mess, with one newsmagazine calling it the most dangerous place on
earth. India, with its apparently sloppy - though elected - leaders is in a
far better state, with talk of the country even being a world economic power
in the future.
[Update: Pakistan now has elected
leaders, after Musharraf gave up his throne. Hopefully, the army will not
interfere again, as it has often done so in the past]
So, why can't the
leader and the dictator talk?
Returning to my question of why the
leaders of India and Pakistan couldn't make sense of one another, I realized
why, or at least one of the reasons why. The leaders of the two countries
were actually animals from two different species. One
was elected, the other wasn't. One derived his power from the people, the
other from the bullet. One was a leader, the other was a dictator.
So expecting the dictator and the leader
to converse sensibly about complicated and emotionally charged issues would be expecting a bit much. Not that it
is impossible, but it's obviously easier of both parties understand the mindset of
the other side.
This was a revelation to me, though in
retrospect it seems "why didn't I think of it before" obvious. My
antennae started twitching every time I heard or spotted the word 'leader'. When you're
deciding to buy a model of a particular car, you suddenly notice that model
all over the place. The cars have always been there of course, but you
notice them properly only now. That's exactly what happened to me at the
began noticing the proliferation of leaders - group leaders, team leaders,
project leaders, department leaders, organisation leaders et al. The office
was full of them.
Project leaders, group leaders, team
leaders and other fake leaders
With my new eyes, I realized that these bosses were not leaders. Because they had power over their subordinates, but didn't derive this power from those subordinates, these bosses were dictators. Just like dictators who use words like President or "Dear Leader" to disguise their dictatorships, it struck me that we've tried to give bosses - such as managers or supervisors - an air of respectability by re-labeling them as leaders. So, if your manager is bossing you around, that's bad. But if your leader is bossing you around, well, he's just a leader exhibiting tough leadership. And tough leadership - that's always considered a good thing of course. See how easily and quickly things get reframed?
This got me thinking about dictators at the workplace. Subordinates often say, "my boss is a dictator", but what they really mean is that their boss behaves dictatorially. It's quite ironic that a truth being spoken all the time isn't recognized as such - the truth that the boss really is a dictator. Suddenly, boss behavior began to make sense, but I was still looking for some kind of framework with which to understand all this.
The other pieces of the jigsaw
I had studied Systems Thinking as part of
my MBA, and we had done a case study on a low-cost airline called People
Express. The airline was extremely successful when it first launched, but
As part of the study, we were given a software tool that simulated
the case. The aim was to prevent the airline from going bust. We tried several things - when demand spiked, we would buy new airplanes. If service levels dropped, we would hire more staff. But whatever we did, something else would go wrong, leading to the collapse of the airline.
The thing was, we were looking at each problem in isolation - analytically. Instead, we should have looked at the problem wholistically, that is, using Systems Thinking. It sounds easy and obvious, but it is actually a profound, fundamental shift in thinking.
lesson was this: systems matter. Good people in bad systems produce bad
The Whitehall Studies
I was aware of the Whitehall studies
because I had worked in the British civil service myself. The civil service
hierarchy has clear grades, and you know exactly where you stand relative to
the top and the bottom. T
he Whitehall study was extremely interesting
because it went against conventional wisdom: that it's the top bosses who
suffer the most because of the high stresses associated with top jobs.
My personal experience
And of course, I've also had 'bad' bosses. But the thing was, I went through a phase where I had four bad bosses in a
row, whose behaviors would change suddenly and without warning. Initially, I blamed myself, because that's what we're supposed to do - it's never the boss's fault.
But these were people I had thought
were very nice, and I hadn't anticipated any trouble. Their apparently out-of-character changes in
behaviour took me completely by surprise. This got me thinking. I realized
that something strange was going on - boss behaviour seemed to be related
more to the boss-subordinate relationship than to the individuals involved.
Obviously, that's nothing new because we
already have sayings such as "power went to his head" as a way of explaining
someone's autocratic behaviour. But it was the first time that I really
understood what it meant - that you could disconnect an individual from his
behaviour, and that behaviour could be a result of something external.
Things then began falling into place.
Having said all this, it may sound as though everything fell into place
smoothly, culminating in a burst of stunning insight. But the reality is far
more prosaic. The process was more like the one in which you see a hazy
picture emerging out of your thinking, and you keep exploring, researching
and fine-tuning until you are able to see the picture clearly.
How long did it take to write the book?
From hearing about Musharraf's coup, the 'thinking and mulling over' process took about five years. In late 2005, I put
my thoughts down in the form of a manifesto on ChangeThis.com. Following
that, I got an offer from my publisher Cyan to write the book.
The literal writing of the book took
about a year, including research, which means the final product - the book -
was about eight years in the making (1999-2007).
Eight years is a long time of course, and although I had dreamt of writing a book, I didn't know this would be "The One". Once I started thinking of the problem, it became something of an obsession. It's only after the manifesto and book were published, that I was able to sleep better at night.
© Chetan Dhruve