We need leaders not in love with money but in love with justice. Not in love with publicity but in love with humanity. Leaders who can subject their particular egos to the pressing urgencies of the great cause of freedom…..a time like this demands great leaders. — Dr Martin Luther King, Jr.
As India gets ready to vote in twelve months, Dr King’s inspiring words from 1956 become even more relevant.
India needs leaders who can inspire with their words and vision. India has almost 4,900 elected politicians both nationally and in state legislatures. Some have risen to their position in governance because of lineage, some because of money and muscle. An astounding 34% have criminal records with 21% facing serious criminal charges of murder, rape and kidnapping. More than 80% are crorepatis in a country where ninety percent of the people make less than Rs.10,000 per month.
India has over 4900 politicians but very few leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Ronald Reagan or Lee Kuan Yew.
What separates a leader from a politician? Here are twelve powerful traits that true leaders possess but politicians don’t.
- Leaders have a vision for the people they lead. They have “ fire in their belly” and are passionate about the things they believe in. Politicians only have a vision for themselves and have one goal– self-preservation. Mahatma Gandhi had one vision–India’s freedom through non-violence. He pursued it with vigour and inspired an entire nation to follow him on this path. Is there anyone in Indian politics today that has a clear, unwavering vision of the path to India’s transformation?
- Leaders are interested in partnerships, politicians in partisanship. From 2001 to 2003, both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha sat for 100% of their allocated time, because Mr Vajpayee who was then PM of India, was a consensus builder and cooperated diligently with members of other parties on matters of policy. In 2017, that number fell to 20% because the current government refuses to work cooperatively with other parties resulting in a mean-spirited and vitiated political atmosphere.
- Leaders don’t care who gets the credit as long as the job gets done. Politicians hunker for credit and personal aggrandizement. They never give credit to others. In 1983, US President Reagan worked closely with the Leader of the Opposition ( Tip O’Neill) to pass important tax cuts that revived the US economy. In a joint announcement with O’Neill, Reagan gracefully gave him full credit for his support. It is hard to imagine Indian politicians, who spend most of their time tearing down the opposition, having the courage to work with or give credit to political opponents.
- Leaders unite people, politicians divide them into vote banks. Indian politicians use disparaging words like “the poor” and “the Dalits” and “the Scheduled Caste” as if they were somehow different from the rest. This verbal separation further exacerbates the caste divide in the country.
- Leaders are great listeners and always open to alternative viewpoints. They are comfortable surrounding themselves with smart people and delegating. Politicians are self-obsessed with their abilities and think they have all the answers. Lee Kuan Yew, the leader who built Singapore, was known for his obsession with surrounding himself with the top experts from all walks of life and listening to them. If only Mr Modi had done that before the ill-fated decision to demonetize the currency. There is nothing wrong or small in listening to other people who know more –that’s leadership.
- Leaders console and reassure people at times of common tragedy. Politicians use such tragedies to score political points. In January 1986 when the space shuttle Challenger exploded in full view of the world, President Reagan gave a wonderful reassuring speech to the nation. Contrast this with the recent rape and murder of an 8 years old girl in Jammu an event that shocked the nation. It would have been comforting if senior politicians, especially the women in positions of power, had spoken a message of reassurance to the millions of traumatized parents and young girls. But being politicians, self-preservation and political positioning was more important than leadership. The New York Times had a biting criticism of Mr Modi’s silence on these national tragedies when it wrote, ” he has exhibited a pattern of silence and deflection that is deeply worrying to anybody who cares about the health of the world’s largest democracy.”
- Leaders take responsibility and don’t blame others. Politicians do just the opposite. When was the last time you heard an Indian politician say “ I am sorry I messed up?” The implementation of GST has been flawed from the very beginning. In less than a year since it’s implementation in July 2017, more than 2,000 changes have been made. The uncertainty this creates has had a profound effect on businesses. Yet, no one from the Finance Ministry has ever acknowledged that mistakes were made and that they were trying to get it right. The business community would welcome a few words of assurance that someone is taking responsibility and trying to fix things.
- Leaders lead by example and by committing to do the best. For politicians personal ethics is irrelevant. They are concerned only about getting caught and the resulting shame. Lal Bahadur Shastri, a leader of great integrity, resigned as India’s Railway Minister in 1956 after taking responsibility for a train accident that killed 142 people. Such moral fortitude is rare among Indian politicians these days.
- Leaders are humble people. They exhibit acts of humility such as learning from criticism and admitting mistakes, empowering followers to learn and develop, and taking personal risks for the greater good. Like the bamboo, the higher they grow they deeper they bow. Politicians, on the other hand, are arrogant. Indian politicians in power refer to “ hamare raj mein” ( during our rule). From administrators and servants of the people, they become rulers.
- Leaders believe in principles, not policies. Politicians are obsessed with policies especially ones named after them. The best leaders in the world have a broad set of principles that guide them. They then try to find the best set of policies to achieve those goals. Politicians love quick fixes and policies, especially those named after them because policies provide an instant measure of accomplishment. Indian politicians rattle off policies for this and that but are clueless about how these fit into a well-thought-out and principled game plan.
- Leaders think strategically and have a vision for the future. Politicians can’t think beyond the first order and the immediate. Strategic thinking doesn’t necessarily mean big, bold and risky ideas like demonetization. Strategic thinkers think sequentially and spatially and have a clear path to the ultimate goal which may be years away. Reagan knew that the only way to end the cold war was to somehow dismantle the Soviet Union He worked strategically through a series of steps starting in 1980 that ultimately culminated in the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
- Leaders inspire people with their words. An entire nation was inspired by Martin Luther ‘s words: “I have a dream that one day a person will be judged not by the colour of his skin but by the content of his character.” When was the last time you heard an Indian politician speak such inspirational words?
The real leaders are out there, but we have to look in different places to find them. Currently, the vast majority of elected officials in India are either people from the legal profession or whose family business is politics. This limits the range of experiences from which new ideas can be drawn. Where are the entrepreneurs? The small business owners? The military leaders? Those from the corporate world with global business experience? The academics? India needs dedicated leaders from these fields to step up.
In twelve months from now, Indian voters will have the power to decide whether they want politicians or leaders. Let’s hope they choose people with principles, integrity, courage, humility, dignity, and vision. The transformation of India will require leaders, not politicians.