April 23, 2019

Should Leaders Play Games?

What do you think?

Although there is no definitive statement defining the qualities of leadership, it is quite interesting to analyse its various attributes, especially those of toughness, and strategic gamesmanship,all of which are necessary in the overall make up of a great leader. This was true in ancient times as is quite evident from the tough games played by rival politicians and leaders- Shakuni and Krishna from that Epic- The Mahabharatha. It remains relevant even today, more so in light of the current political contexts in India, as well as rest of the world.

Let us understand what encompasses toughness of character, with the help of an example from the popular American tele-serial of yesteryears- Star Trek, which was broadcast quite some time ago. More recently the successful serial was reprised by the Hollywood movie franchise of the same name.

For those who have never watched the original, the serial is all about the Starship Endeavor, which traverses galaxies in search of new worlds. The ship is ably led by Captain Kirk (role assayed by William Shatner) and it possesses many ultra modern gizmos. One of these gizmos happens to be a Transponder that instantaneously transports people, or objects, across multidimensional space by atomizing them, and later recombining them at a different set of coordinates in the multidimensional space.

On one occasion when the captain is being transported, the machine develops a snag and splits the personality of the Captain into two: one that comprises all that is good in him, and the other that comprises all that is bad in him. The good side remains in command of the ship, while the bad side lives up to its bad potential and wreaks havoc inside the ship. In the meanwhile on another front, the Starship encounters a crisis situation and some real hard decisions need to be taken by the captain. His moral dilemma is that he has to decide for the greatest good of the greatest number of people under his command, which means that a few good people may have to be sacrificed to save the rest. The good side of the captain which is currently in command of the ship lacks the competency to take those tough decisions and time is running out. Eventually the good Dr. Scott discovers the snag and manages to recombine the split personalities of the captain back into one. The captain regains his sharp demeanour, his keen sight, his brisk stride, his ability to weigh the risks and take tough decisions, all of which helps him to save the day for all, even for those unfortunates who would have lost their lives otherwise! The metaphor in the story helps explain my point about the toughness of character.

The captain needed the darker shades of his personality to be the complete leader, his good side proved incapable of handling the task on its own! Leadership is not always about being hunky dory with all. It involves dealing with diverse variables, such as the various stakeholders of the organization, external agencies, competitors who may be hostile and strange environments etc,. Sometimes it requires the handling of tough situations, and the ability to take hard decisions. Sometimes a leader needs to be wily and cunning like the fox!

Let me quote a real life example before we conclude. This is a story about how Winston Churchill knew about the impending attack on Pearl Harbour, quite a few hours before it was actually perpetrated. In fact the story goes that at the very moment he was told about the cracking of the Japanese radio codes by the MI6 and the impending attack, he was entertaining two American diplomats for dinner. Upon being informed by his butler, he went out of the room to attend the phone call that revealed the news to him. He then came back and stoically sat through the entire event without so much as dropping a hint to the two Americans. He later mentioned in his memoirs, declassified 50 years after the WW II, that he had kept quiet for a reason. He knew that unless America, with all of its Military and Industrial might, got involved in the war, England was doomed to NAZI domination and the world would have been worse for it. On its own, England was incapable of winning the war with NAZI Germany. Until that point America had not really been showing any keenness to join the cause: it was far away from the theatre of war.  He decided to let the seriousness of the situation sink in (no pun intended!) by keeping his own counsel. He must have had bare minutes to decide, and what a decision to have to make! Eventually 1600 officers and men of the US Marines died on that fateful day. But America joined issue and the world is a much safer place today than it would have been, millions more lives across Europe and the world were saved.

One wonders whether it ever plagued his conscience later, but he did what he had to do! One can only admire his guts to digest such a decision, even while entertaining two diplomats from that other country!

So, should leaders play tough politics, or tricks and games? Well, I guess, they do!



Sentient Poet,amateur writer, perennial student and a persistent analyst, the author is a Senior Management Professional in the Indian Microfinance Sector