School for future politicians

I was super excited by the political experiments that were happening in the capital when Aam Aadmi Party was launched after the successful India-Against-Corruption movement. But my excitement didn’t last too long.

Personally, I felt sad that the Kejriwal goverment decided to quit. As an observer and eternal optimist I was hoping that this experiment would last longer. My own random ideas of what happened/should have been done e.g. –

  • AAP should have just focused on 2 or 3 problems and delivered on them.
  • AAP didn’t seem to have a first-100-days plan in place – I guess they were never hoping to form the Delhi Government
  • One cannot open up multiple simultaneous battle-fronts. You can not alienate everyone and make blanket accusations. They seem to have been in a continous conflict with almost everyone.
  • As a disruptive force their tactics were suited to be a good opposition player but not as the party mandated to lead the administration.
  • They needed a Chanakya – a sound strategist – who could make sense of all the chaos they were in and maybe compounding day-by-day
  • People will start discounting your words if you just keep on complaining. Share some good news, be generous in showering praises too. They failed miserably in doing so.
  • As a leader you cannot be dragged into every debate. You don’t need to respond to every accusation and charge. All extremes are bad. A prime minister who doesn’t say anything is as bad as a chief minister who talks way too much.
  • And many more…

But one thing was very clear. In the Indian context someone who understands the beauracracy might not always be a good leader. Difference between working and getting work done.

School for Political management


And hence I thought, why don’t we have a School for Political Management – something which arms future political leaders with the right kind of tools, skills, exposure. A school whose core objective is to churn out graduates who would be comfortable in the political arena, who would “understand the system” and hopefully bear strong moral and ethical standards.

I see it as a good business proposition. Imagine the kind of demand from political families where politics is what the next generation is supposed to get into. Its what the local strongmen would want to go to, to polish their rough edges. The school would give all graduates vaccinations against Foot-in-the-mouth disease, that plagues some of the top wannabe leaders right now.

The school could have an interesting mix of curriculum:

  • Indian Constitution and Law : Hopefully any grad from the school who takes charge of law ministry, would know that they cannot summon the judges. The Judiciary is not under their “control”. As the democracy matures, lawyers will continue to play an increasing role in politics. A strong understanding of the law can help draft stronger policies and hence action.
  • Basic Management principles : Esp stuff on leverage, delegation etc. As a minister, you cannot do all the work on your own. Your ministry is effective if you focus on removing hurdles, drafting right policies & programs and empowering an efficient administration that delivers on the ground results.
  • National and Political History:  Way too many lessons to be learnt from domestic and global history. There was a time when Lalu Chalisa was sold at Bihar railway stations and if someone had ever suggested that Lalu might be jailed, it would have been a case of very vivid imagination.
  • Public Speaking
  • Internships: Work along with a state or national level minister. Understand first hand the challenges in the ministry, how the administration works. There is considerable merit in the age old Marwari tradition of letting the next generation dirty their hands as an apprentice before they take charge of the business.
  • And since no college is taken seriously unless it has some global affiliation – this school would have tie-ups with the leading counterparts in other countries. Special sessions with visiting Presidents/Prime Ministers would be arranged – given that this college would produce tommorow’s leaders – it should not be impossible to arrange.

So what do you think? Would this help? Should it be a 1 year or a 2 year course?

How do we screen the candidates? Coz I believe we would get way too many applicants. And this would surely be a price-inelastic demand.

Leadership Lessons from Making of India – Book by Ranbir Vohra

making of India - Ranbir VohraIt was quite some time back that I read the book – Making of India – by Ranbir Vohra.  This was December 2006 and I had a habit of taking notes from any book that I read. Sometimes even movies. So what you read below are my interpretations of the historical narration of India’s journey of acquiring its national identity.

Good Leadership involves Policy Making. More effective than individual action.

For Political leadership, this has obvious relevance, but I would feel safe betting that this is true in a business context too. Imagine the kind of ripple-effects that the CEO can create, by clearly articulating effective rules and policies. This would include not only the core values that the organization wants to pursue but also how to conduct itself in the marketplace. How is performance measure, how are incentives decided, how do you gradually build the culture and the DNA of the organization. All of these could be better achieved by effective policy making esp in the context of a big organization.

Learn to trust your team and delegate effectively.

Delegation is a pretty obvious trait one would expect in a leader. Motivation to delegate might differ. Some leaders might be inspired to create free time to think, like Jeff Weiner(CEO Linkedin) does  whereas others might do it out of sheer laziness (which by the way is again a good virtue of a leader, if found alongside intelligence).

Sometimes you need to lead a team of people you don’t trust or consider incompetent.

Sometimes, with the bigger goal in sight, you might be forced to choose a path where you end up leading a team of people you don’t really trust. Or whom you consider grossly incompetent. And inspite of your drastic opinion if the party(or organization or team) enjoys the support of the people (or the market in case of an organization), it wouldn’t be wise to remove them as the first step once you assume charge of the new office. Create an able leadership that is recognised by making the machinery work and slowly remove them in a phased manner. While this might sound scheming to many, I saw this as a way to keep the bigger interests of the party at the center.

To get your way through a tough negotiation- Create a diversion

Sometimes when you are stuck in a tough negotiation situation, a serious distraction might help. Create a new clause and pretend that this is what matters most to you. But be careful to choose something that the other party would find almost impossible to concede. Now with this new clause coming in, the other party (hopefully) focuses energies there and might go easy on the original bone-of-contention.

Need for Symbols. How do you inspire people?

Gandhiji’s Dandi march is a great example of how you build support. Find something that many can relate to or find an activity that many can participate in. Symbols can similarly act as a strong rallying point for your team/supporters. Symbol doesn’t necessarily have to be a prop or a logo or an image. It could be a simple tradition – like wearing Khadi . Create traditions that can start to mean a lot to people involved over a period of time. And you might end up creating a legacy that generations can relate to.

Also it is important to stay connected with your organization. Stay connected by talking to them regularly. Start by clearly articulating a dream, a vision, a reason to exist (for you, for your professional self, for the party or for the organization). And then keep re-iterating this vision. Make them believe in it as much as you do.