About a Chief Minister and a Boss

Watching a video of a much-in-the-news chief minister of an Indian state, I couldn’t help recalling someone from my professional life. That person was my boss in the early nineties.

The minister had been invited to speak and field questions at a seminar hosted last year by a newspaper known for its hostility to him. He was the proverbial lamb for the slaughter to be served for the audience which was drawn up from the country’s liberal elite, which was smacking its lips in anticipation of a most satisfying kill.

LeadershipFor the first few minutes in the video, the minister speaks of his development mantra. He explains that development will not happen just because resolutions are taken, funds allocated and plans drawn. Real development, real change will happen only when they believe that they are instruments of change, that they are prime movers of a social and economic revolution. He explains how, everything remaining same, the same people could find creative solutions to problems, could work diligently and efficiently to complete projects, when earlier they would sleep through until projects exceeded time and budget and in many cases never saw light of day.  The same people could be motivated to accomplish tasks with no expectation except the satisfaction and thrill of being part of a revolution.

Harking back to my early professional days in the 80’s-90’s – before India arrived on the world scene as an Infotech powerhouse – my boss did very much similar. He made me and my software marketing team believe that we were not just selling boxes of shrink-wrapped software: we were creating a revolution in the software industry and changing the way small businesses operate, bringing the benefits of computers and high quality software to the small and medium businessmen in every nook and corner of the country. When we launched our software, the invitation read “It will never be the same again!”. Our ads shook the traditional business and their methods. Our entire distribution network was also excited and thrilled and made to feel part of the mission. The result was there to see: our enthusiasm showed in the effort and pride showed in our results.

In the remaining part of the video, the minister is seen fielding questions. The audience was not interested at all in the great work he had done, or in his development mantra. One by one, each got up and asked the same hostile questions. The minister answered them patiently, politely, firmly, without losing his sense of humour and sometimes hitting back with a deft stroke.

It reminded me of a customer meeting in Kolkata that my boss asked me to arrange. I deputed one of my trusted and experienced team member to Kolkata to resolve all customer grievances in the region before the Customer Meet. When my boss came back to Mumbai, I asked how was the event. He answered angrily that it was a “fixed match”. It was no fun as he was not challenged with tough questions, grievances and complaints.

Couldn’t help comparing the Chief Minister and the Boss, albeit on a difference scale of scope.
If you wish to view the video in question, here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-egGR6LwNA

On the other side, one can say this is a ploy to drive people to sacrifice their family and lives for a corporate goal; that such inspiring visionary talk just is goeblesian opium. My late father, a pucca gujarati vaaniya, once told me, “You are working so hard, but your bosses are playing golf!”. It is not that he was discouraging me from work: on the contrary, he wanted to put the same committment for myself, and start my own enterprise, howsoever small. He said “You should be employing people, not be employed”.

It would be interesting to know what you think of the lofty corporate visionary appeal vs my father’s simple, straightforward thinking. I would be thankful if you would take this poll: