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The Leadership 'Guide'

I was studying in college when I watched Dev Anand’s movie ‘Guide.’ In early part of this movie shows Dev Anand sleeping on the steps of a temple. At the dawn, a Sadhu notices him, puts his saffron shawl on the sleeping hero and quietly walks away. The villagers who notice the hero, sleeping on the temple steps, covered with his saffron shawl, take him to be a Sadhu! And he too behaves like a Sadhu!!

Looking back I realise that it was my first introduction to how people get catapulted to leadership position.

Several years later I came to know Dr Anil Awchat. I had read his books and articles but had never met personally till then. He took me to Muktangan, the alcohol and drug de-addiction centre in Pune. Muktangan occupies today a place of pride for the work it has done over the years. It was established by Dr Anita Awchat who was asked by one of her close friends to treat her son who had taken to substance abuse. Dr Anita pointed out that de-addiction was not her specialisation in medical treatment, advised her friend to take her son to a better doctor, but her friend insisted on her treating the son. Dr Anita relented. One thing led to another and we know its culmination: she established Muktangan.

I had read about Datta Iswalkar and finally met him. Dattaji worked as a clerk in Modern Mills and he was, by no stretch of imagination, a union leader. When the Mills were closed following the prolonged Textile strike, he was drawn in the labour movement to stand for protecting the workers’ interests. He is today given credit for providing houses to more than twenty thousand textile workers. [Datta Iswalkar in Twenty Thousand Homes]

Dr Anita Awchat and Datta Iswalkar got catapulted to leadership positions – shall we call it the ‘Guide’ syndrome.

They evolved as leaders and became increasingly better leaders as their work progressed. You always ‘evolve’ as a leader – you cannot ‘acquire’ leadership – that is to say being a good leader has to do so much with what you are, what you stand for and what you do not stand for too.

That is my conclusion from these two stories. Leadership development programs provide good thoughts. However, if we are not reflecting on our own experiences and learning from it, we will surely not evolve as a better leader. That conclusion also holds answer to what we must do to evolve as a leader – reflection and meditation.

The importance of reflection and meditation in one’s development can never be overstated. Those who have attended vipassana will readily agree.

I am always puzzled about this: when people think of leadership, they think of positions in organisations. Some of those positions are ‘leadership’ positions, some others may not be. And we aspire to be in the coveted leadership position. We forget however that there is one institution where we have no choice not to be a leader. That is our family. Not many consciously think of it as a leadership position. As a father or mother, we are the leader of our family. We shape the culture, we mentor the children, and we take major decisions which affect all members of the family.

In that sense, we too are affected by the ‘Guide’ syndrome. There is no escape!

Having said that I would also like to share a word that makes me uncomfortable. It is ‘Vision.’ There are a lot of misconceptions about this word, in my opinion.

Corporate world holds seminars to define vision. It is then published and printed everywhere. Take the lives of Datta Iswalkar and Dr Anita Awchat to contrast it. They did not do any visioning workshops. But both built institutions. Visions, it is my understanding, develops as we move along a certain path – it is built and developed through all those involved in our work.

The trouble is that meaningful conversations are so sorely missing in our personal and professional lives.

Three things are important for us to recognise: Firstly, we can’t wish away leadership. Secondly, reflection and meditation helps us develop it. Thirdly, meaningful conversations help us contribute meaningfully!

[At a leadership development program I was asked to make an introductory speech. This is what I spoke….]

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