What are the attributes of leadership?

~Field Marshall. Sam Manekshaw, MC

The primary, the cardinal attribute of leadership is professional knowledge and professional competence. And you will agree with me, ladies and gentlemen, that you cannot be born with professional knowledge or professional competence. Not even if you are the son of the prime minister, an industrialist or a Field Marshal! Professional knowledge has to be acquired the hard way.

The problem in India is that as soon as one of us is put in a position of power, he feels that he has the monopoly of the entire knowledge.

It’s a continuous study and you never acquire enough in today’s fast moving, competitive, technological world that we are living in. You’ve got to keep up with your profession, whatever you are in. Doctors, engineers, scientists, all contribute to journals of their profession. They all have contact with their counterparts in other worlds.

The problem in India is that as soon as one of us is put in a position of power, he feels that he has the monopoly of the entire knowledge. Those who are responsible for the defence and security of this country, can they cross their hearts and swear that they have ever read a book on strategy, on tactics? On military campaigns, or weapons? Can they even distinguish between a mortar and a motor, a guerrilla from a gorilla? Professional knowledge and professional competence are the main attributes of leadership. Unless you know, and the men you command know that you know your job, you will never be a leader. Take industry for example. The automobile industry has gone through tremendous technological changes. It’s only recently that our industrialists have started thinking and producing a modern car. I want to tell you that unless you have professional knowledge and professional competence, you will never become a leader.

And that takes me to the next attribute of leadership, the ability to think; to make up your mind, to take a decision and accept full responsibility for that decision. Have you ever wondered, why a man doesn’t take a decision? Very simple, because he lacks professional knowledge and professional competence or he is afraid that if he takes a decision and goes wrong, he will have to carry the can. Ladies and gentlemen, as a law of average, if you take ten decisions, five should be right. And if you have professional competence and professional knowledge, nine should be right. And the one that is wrong will always be put right by a bright colleague, by an intelligent staff officer or by the gallantry of some soldier. I don’t want to give you too many examples of why and when people haven’t taken decisions and what has happened. I will give you just one. If the decision had been taken to ensure that the Sabri Masjid would not be destroyed, a whole community would not have been antagonized.

An act of omission can be corrected but an act of commission cannot be corrected. To do nothing is to do something, which is definitely wrong

An act of omission can be corrected but an act of commission cannot be corrected. To do nothing is to do something, which is definitely wrong. When I was the Army Chief, I visited my formation commanders and I asked one of them what he had been doing about some matter. He turned around and said “Sir, I have been thinking, I haven’t made up my mind”. It is absolutely necessary that a leader must be decisive.

The next attribute of the leadership is absolute honesty and impartiality. We all have our likes and dislikes, but, we must never allow our likes or our dislikes to influence our professional judgment. Those of us, who had the good fortune of commanding hundreds and thousands of men, know this. The leader must be absolutely impartial and honest in dealing with personnel. No man likes to be punished and yet a man will take his punishment if he knows that the punishment awarded to him is similar to the one for a similar crime committed by somebody who has influence, who has the ear of an industrialist, of a minister, of a member of parliament, or the Field Marshal. No man likes to be superseded. And yet, they will accept supersession, if they know they have been superseded by someone better, better qualified under the regulations but not by somebody who is a relative of the minister or by somebody for whom a ‘Godman’ intervenes. It is vitally important when you are dealing with men that you should be absolutely impartial. We must possess the courage to withstand these pressures.

A ‘Yes man’ is a dangerous man. He is a menace… He can become a minister, a secretary or a Field Marshal but he can never become a leader nor, ever be respected. He will be used by his superiors, disliked by his colleagues and despised by his subordinates. So discard the ‘Yes man’.

Moral and physical courage are the next vital attributes and I do not know which one is more important. While addressing young officers or young policemen, I will put emphasis on physical courage but since I am addressing this gathering, I will lay stress on moral courage. What is moral courage? Moral courage is the ability to distinguish right from wrong and having done so, to say so, irrespective of the consequences to you. A ‘Yes man’ is a dangerous man. He is a menace. He will go very far. He can become a minister, a secretary or a Field Marshal but he can never become a leader nor, ever be respected. He will be used by his superiors, disliked by his colleagues and despised by his subordinates. So discard the ‘Yes man’.

I am going to give you a personal example of moral courage. There is a very thin line between being dismissed and becoming a Field Marshal. In 1971, when Pakistan cracked down in East Pakistan, hundreds and thousands of refugees started pouring into India, into West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. The Prime Minister held a cabinet meeting in her office. The External Affairs Minister, Sardar Swaran Singh, the Agriculture Minister, Mr Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad, the Defence Minister, Babu Jagjivan Ram, and the Finance Minister, Yashwant Rao Chauhan were present. I was then summoned.

A very angry, grim-faced Prime Minister read out the telegrams from the Chief Ministers of West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. She then turned around to me and said, “What are you doing about it?” And I said, “Nothing, it’s got nothing to do with me. You didn’t consult me when you allowed the BSF, the CRP and RAW to encourage the Pakistanis to revolt. Now that you are in trouble, you come to me. I have a long nose. I know what’s happening.” I then asked her what she wanted me to do. She said, “I want you to enter East Pakistan.” And I responded, “That means war!” She said, “I do not mind if it is war. Have you read the Bible?” I queried.

The Foreign Minister, Sardar Swaran Singh asked, “What has the Bible got to do with this?” I explained, that the first book, the first chapter, the first words, the first sentence God said was, “Let there be light” and there was light. Now you say, “Let there be war” and there will be war, but are you prepared? I am certainly not. This is the end of April. The Himalayan passes are opening and there can be an attack from China if China gives us an ultimatum. The Foreign Minister asked, “Will China give an ultimatum?” And I said, “You are the Foreign Minister, you tell me”. I told them that my armoured division and two of my infantry divisions were away. One in the Jhansi/Babina area, the other in Samba and the third one in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. I mentioned that I would require all the road space, all the railway wagons, the entire railway system to move these formations to the operational areas and that harvesting was in progress in the Punjab and UP and they would not be able to move the harvest which would rot; and I pointed out to the Agriculture Minister that it wouldn’t be my responsibility if there were a famine.

…and said, “Prime Minister, before you open your mouth, may I send you my resignation on grounds of health, mental or physical?” She said, “Every thing you told me is true”. “Yes! It is my job to tell you the truth” I responded, “and it is my job to fight, it is my job to fight to win and I have told you the truth.”

Then I said, “My armoured division, which is my big striking force is supposed to have one hundred eighty nine tanks operational. I have got only eleven tanks that are fit to fight.” The Finance Minister, who is a friend of mine asked, “Sam why only eleven?” So I told him, “Because you are the Finance Minister. I have been asking you for money for over a year and you say you haven’t got it!” And finally I turned around to the Prime Minister and said that the rains were about to start in East Pakistan and when it rains there, it pours and when it pours, the whole countryside is flooded. The snows are melting, the rivers would become like oceans. If you stand on one bank, you cannot see the other. All my movement would be confined to roads.

The Air Force, because of climatic conditions would not be able to support me. Now Prime Minister, give me your orders. The grim Prime Minister with her teeth clenched said, “The Cabinet will meet again at four o-clock”. The members of the Cabinet started walking out. I being the junior most was the last to go and as I was leaving, she said, “Chief, will you stay back?” I turned around and said, “Prime Minister, before you open your mouth, may I send you my resignation on grounds of health, mental or physical?” She said, “Every thing you told me is true”. “Yes! It is my job to tell you the truth” I responded, “and it is my job to fight, it is my job to fight to win and I have told you the truth,” She smiled at me and said, “All right Sam, you know what I want?” I said, “Yes, I know what you want!”

I had the moral courage to tell her the truth. A leader must have moral courage otherwise he will not be respected.

I now come to physical courage. Fear, like hunger and sex, is a natural phenomenon and the man who says he is not frightened is a liar. But to be frightened is one thing and to show fear is something quite different. It is when your knees are knocking and your teeth are chattering – that is when the real leader comes out. If you once show fear to your men, you will never have their respect. I could quote you many examples of my own life. I am not a brave man! Please believe me. You have to have physical courage. Never show your fear. How often has a course of a battle, when everything was going wrong, changed because some young officer has picked up a handful of men and changed the situation by his physical courage? How often a poor old Inspector of Police with nothing but a little swagger stick in his hand quelled a riot by showing physical courage?

The other attribute of leadership is loyalty. We all except loyalty but do we give loyalty? Look at things happening around you. The sons of kings, chief ministers and heads of governments have shown disloyalty.

The other attribute of leadership is loyalty. We all except loyalty but do we give loyalty? Look at things happening around you. The sons of kings, chief ministers and heads of governments have shown disloyalty. Loyalty you must get from your subordinates and also give loyalty to your superiors, colleagues and subordinates. Men may give you trouble and create problems but a leader must deal with them immediately and sternly. A leader must remember that human beings have human problems, so the leader must have a human touch. Leaders must have the gift of the gab and a sense of humour. And finally, men and women all over the world like their leader to be a man, to have manly qualities. It is not that only a person who has no vices is a good leader. Look at Caesar or Napoleon, they had vices but they were outstanding leaders.

Since I joined the Army, many changes have taken place; the .303 rifle has been replaced by a new weapon. Horses and mules have been replaced by vehicles and tanks. Signal communications have advanced a great deal. Satellites now give the entire information to the Commanders. But for infantry soldiers, one thing has not changed, and that is their job. Their job is to fight and win. If you lose, you would disgrace your country, your village, your home and your wife. Let your motto be, ‘No one provokes me with impunity’. In other words, or in a soldier’s language, if your enemy hits you on the chin, black both his eyes and push his teeth down his throat! If you can instil this quality in your men, you will be a great leader. The leader that this country lacks at all levels, in all walks of life.

Regards,

ääRÐëë

“The trouble with corporate life is… there is no clear enemies, just a lot of customers”

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