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When honest politicians are ‘bad leaders’

“An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought” – Simon Cameron (American politician, 1799-1889)

We’ve often heard the phrase ‘physician heal thyself’ meaning that doctors may have the ability to heal sickness in others but may sometimes not be willing to heal themselves. Being proud of his own knowledge and wellbeing, a doctor may ignore sound medical advice and allow his own personal disease to grow. This principle applies to leaders at all levels, especially to modern day politicians in a democratic set up. Some politicians could be nice and gentle but are they effective as National leaders is a million dollar question. They need to take some leadership lessons themselves as they lead a billion plus citizens. Without improving their own inner sense of worth, the leadership of the political class wouldn’t inspire others. As H.L. Mencken, one of the most influential American writers quipped, “looking for an honest politician is like looking for an ethical burglar.”

manmohan-singh-300x221India, the world’s largest democracy suffers an overdose of populist measures, launched by leaders at the drop of their Gandhian hat. Besides, politicians are often seen to be corrupt, reckless and wash dirty linen in public. At such times, the politics of Manmohan Singh, the Indian Premier was lauded as ‘politics of decency’. His persistent refusal to indulge in war mongering or hurl ill names at his political adversaries has earned him respect and credibility. However BBC correspondent SoutikBiswas reveals this is history; in his recent article on Asia analysis, he reveals Mr. Singh’s government is now charged with graft and inaction. The Economist magazine has also declared, “Mr Singh has plainly run out of steam”.  It’s clear to many that Manmohan Singh’s personal decency is blended with his timidity; his nicety is now unacceptable as a substitute for inaction.  Knowing him to be a puppet in the hands of Mrs Sonia Gandhi, his decency lacks moral integrity and spiritual strength.  Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words ring in my ears, “Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty”

Need for decisiveness

Leaders are expected to be decisive; a leader needs to have his own independent thinking. His being a team player is not proved by his silent confirmation to the’ big boss ’ but rather by his ability to openly share his views with others. He is willing to confront his own team members and challenge the proposals, yet remains loyal and commits to the team’s decision.

A leader’s maturity is seen by his or her willingness to confront when credibility is at stake. Most timid leaders reconcile and compromise on principles just to remain popular or to please some others who may be fulfilling their material needs. The net result of such sycophancy leadership is you land up pleasing none; your friends eventually turn to be your detractors and you cut a sorry figure. Mr Singh’s former media advisor, Harish Khare openly declared, “Manmohan Singh may not be corrupt, but he’s definitely guilty of pursuing a politics of decency and elevating reconciliation to a matter of state policy”.

Besides, feeble and vacillating leadership also brings suffering upon the very lives of those you are seeking to serve. That’s what is happening toManmohan Singh and the Indian people.

Balancing ‘courage’ and ‘consideration’

Steven Covey writes insightfully in his ‘Seven habits of highly effective people’that mature leadership has the principal characteristic of balancing courage with consideration. Most, in an attempt to keep relationships intact compromise on principles; they practise ‘consideration’ but ignore ‘courage’. There are others who are straightforward and stick to ‘truth’. However they often fail on being ‘considerate’ and lack sensitivity while leading with issues that have serious long-term consequences. A ‘courageous’ leader may take risks and challenges but by lacking ‘consideration’ loses his team members. A ‘considerate’ leader on the other hand, may keep his team, but the team doesn’t move forward. Hence one needs to balance both ‘courage’ and ‘consideration’

A spiritual leader’s decision making abilities grow from his internal conviction that he isn’t the be- all and end-all of this world. He is simply an instrument to achieve positivity and with this belief ingrained, he seeks to take bold decisions. There are no ‘ego trips’ in such decision making; the need to do good for others is stronger than self-aggrandizement.  This purity of purpose helps him naturally achieve the balance between courage and consideration.

‘PAPAD’ formula for decision making

When I am personally faced with provocative or challenging situations and am responsible for a decision, I use the PAPAD formula.

Prayers- first pray to the Lord to give you the intelligence to know what the right decision is. During this prayer session, a spiritual leader reaffirms his desire to serve and be free from any selfish agendas. This exercise keeps the motives pure, an important first step in taking decisions that especially involve dealing with other people’s lives and expectations.

Analysis- now use your own intelligence.  In the earlier step you used your heart, and now you invoke your brain.  Consider the pros and cons of the various alternatives and see how it either fits with your vision or is a deviant. Also at this stage consider other opinions, if needed. This step requires hard work and clear mind; a time to take responsibility for the decision you are about take.

Pray- Once the decision is clear and internally made, pause a moment before you make it official. Offer a prayer to the Lord, thanking Him for the help in making this decision. Then once again express your honest intent to serve rather than seek any self-serving need. Prayer at this stage, before you make an announcement of the decision, is guaranteed to keep you humble; if the decision works well you are grateful. And if the decision proves a disaster, since you have already connected to the Lord through prayers, you are peaceful despite the material failure.

Act- Now no looking back. This is the stage of decisiveness. Bob Woodward, the associate editor of The Washington Postremarked, “When you see how the President makes political or policy decisions, you see who he is. The essence of Presidency is decision making.” The essence of any leadership is same, ‘decision making’.

Don’t regret- this is the most important stage of the decision making process. Playwright and composer Jonathon Larson died young due to a wrong diagnosis by the doctor. He did receive awards, albeit posthumously and at 36, he left a poignant quote for us to reflect upon, “Forget regret or life is yours to miss.”

Growth beyond ‘Success’ and ‘failures’

Regret and fear of failure is a major stumbling block on your success course. Are you willing to take the backlash for the ‘wrong’ decision? And your willingness to humbly share the glory and give credit to others for the success of the decision will reveal the substance of your character. Most indecisive leaders can’t handle failures; they are only eager for the crown of success to decorate their heads. This attachment to success and aversion to failure prevents them from learning and growing in life.

A truly effective spiritual leader is not bogged down by the fleeting fame and criticisms of this world. He takes decisions in the larger interests, being fully aware that even if his decision is ‘wrong’ and a ‘mistake’ he himself as a person, is not a ‘mistake’. His conscience is clear and he is only too happy to serve again. After all in this decision making process, you have twice sought shelter of the Lord through prayers. This brings you closer to God and to the sacred universal principles of inner peace and harmony. And there can be no mistake on that front; your spiritual experiences are the evidence of your right intent in taking decisions.

Now the real question is will ourpolitical leaders humbly learn and lead themselves before leading one seventh of the world’s population down the ditch. Let’s ponder over the warnings given in the classic spiritual literature, SrimadBhagavatam, (7.5.31)

“As blind men guided by another blind man miss the right path and fall into the ditch, materially attached people, led by other materially attached leaders are bound by ropes of fruitive labour and continuously suffer.”

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