Making a leader

Issue 17 - Aug 2008
Sam HFJ Manekshaw

THE FIRST, the primary, indeed the cardinal attribute of leadership is professional knowledge and professional competence. Now you will agree with me that you cannot be born with professional knowledge and professional competence even if you are the child of the prime minister, or the son of an industrialist or the progeny of a field marshal. Professional knowledge and professional competence have to be acquired by hard work and by constant study. In this fast-moving technologically developing world you can never acquire sufficient professional knowledge.

You have to keep at it, and at it, and at it. Can those of our political masters who are responsible for the security and defence of our country cross their hearts and say they have ever read a book on military history, on strategy, on weapons developments? Cam they distinguish a mortar from a motor, a gun from a howitzer, a guerilla from a gorilla, though a vast majority of them resemble the latter.

Professional knowledge and competence are the sine qua non of leadership. Unless you know what you are talking about, unless you understand your profession, you can never be a leader.

The next thing you need for leadership is the ability to make up your mind and make a decision and accept full responsibility for that decision. Have you ever wondered why people do not make a decision? The answer is quite simple. It is because they lack professional knowledge and competence, or they are worried that their decision may be wrong and they will have to carry the can. According to the law of averages, if you take ten decisions, five ought to be right. If you have professional knowledge and competence, nine will be right and the one that might not be correct will probably be put right by a subordinate officer or colleague. But if you do not take a decision you are doing something wrong. An act of omission is worse than an act of commission. An act of commission can be put right. An act of omission cannot. Take the example of the time when the Babri Masjid was about to be destroyed. If the prime minister, at that stage, had taken a decision to stop it, a whole community—180 million people—would not have been harmed. But, because he did not take a decision, you have at least 180 million people in this country alone who do not like us.
What comes next for leadership? Absolute honesty, fairness and justice—we are dealing with people.
We in India have tremendous pressures—pressures from the government, pressures from superior officers, pressures from families, pressures from wives, uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews and girlfriends, and we lack the courage to withstand those pressures. That takes me to the next attribute of leadership—moral and physical courage.

This takes me to the next attribute: physical courage. Fear, like hunger and sex, is a natural phenomenon. Any man who says he is not frightened is a liar or a Gorkha. It is one thing to be frightened. It is another to show fear.

Finally, for leadership, men and women like their leader to be a man, with all the manly qualities or virtues. The man who says “I do not smoke, I do not drink, I do not (No, I will not say it), does not make a leader.