This isn’t a column on how Congress can revive itself. The joke will be on me for having any such hopes, especially after the recent inconsequential Congress Working Committee meeting.
However, Congress offers excellent lessons on what not to do as a leader. Here are 10 practical lessons for current and aspiring leaders, whether in corporates, startups or institutions.
- Don’t blame your juniors: When several Congress leaders gathered courage to write a letter expressing their concerns, the leadership’s first reaction was to blame the letter writers. They called them traitors and questioned their timing. The concerns expressed in the letter were never discussed. As a leader, never do that. Take responsibility and listen to your team.
- Don’t waste time in useless meetings: The entire seven-hour CWC meet was a drama. Sonia Gandhi offered her resignation, then remained as interim Congress president. This entire meeting could have been replaced with a five word email – I am not going anywhere. As a leader, don’t waste your or your team’s time.
- Don’t become a dinosaur: BJP has evolved dramatically over the last 10 years. Despite being rooted in Indian tradition and history, they are one of the most technologically savvy parties. BJP inducted interesting leaders in Northeast and Bengal to scale up there. BJP is like Amazon, growing and opening new frontiers. Congress is still like a lalaji ki dukaan, where lalaji scolds his minions for not fanning the flies away from the sweets. Don’t be a lalaji, ever.
- Don’t have blind spots: There’s privilege, and then there’s insane, absolute, blind spot inducing privilege like that of Rahul Gandhi. A lot of privileged people are self-aware. They can also spot talent, respect it and work with them. These people succeed, in either political party, despite being from a dynasty. However, the epic privileged, like Rahul view the world differently. You don’t even understand privilege. You feel entitled to rule. Any negative feedback is seen as stupid or jealous people trying to bring you down. As a leader, be self-aware.
- Don’t ignore the voter (or customer/ audience): If you’re in the business of serving someone, never ignore them. India has been telling Congress to change since 2011. People literally came on the streets then and made the party lose two elections terribly. Nothing changed. It’s as if the Congress leadership has headphones covering their ears, with heavy metal music playing at full blast. They just won’t listen. Indians don’t want Rahul to lead, control, indirectly control or influence the Congress. What? What did you say? Sorry, the music is too loud.
- Don’t be less committed: As a leader, or entrepreneur or CEO or team supervisor, you have to work harder than your subordinates. True entrepreneurs work damn hard. The PM’s work hours are well known. Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Tim Cook, Sundar Pichai – they all work hard. As a leader, be all-in.
- Don’t ignore your limitations: Good oratory goes a long way for a politician. In general, especially when a nation’s population is young, a leader needs to inspire. Rahul cannot make a coherent, unscripted, passionate and powerful speech. This isn’t a criticism. Most people in the world can’t. However, the job requires you to do so. Similarly, a politician needs to know the pulse of the people, what people actually want – and make a political opportunity out of it. A good politician can also, as per needs, strike alliances, dump partners and make certain moves to get the numbers. Rahul hasn’t demonstrated that. Good leaders know their weak spots and take actions to fill that void, such as hiring the right people or working on their weak points.
- Don’t surround yourself with chamchas: If your team members are always praising you, begging you to lead the way, say they can’t live without you – they are useless. For chamchas, or sycophants, are the greatest impediments to growth. BJP isn’t immune to this, either. However, Congress sycophancy is next level. Even after Congress lost, sycophants surround Congress leaders and assure they did nothing wrong. As a leader, keep no sycophants.
- Don’t be gutless: You can hire smart or competent people if you don’t have the intelligence or lack certain skills. However, you can’t hire guts. You have to show courage and make the bold moves if you aspire to be a leader. This one is not on the Gandhis. This is on the other Congress leaders who know things are terrible, want change, but lack real guts. They are scared that if they raise their voice, the other sycophants will attack them like hungry piranhas and finish them. Still, no guts, no glory. CM Modi took on the BJP old guard to become PM Modi. It seems not such a big deal now, but it was a risky move that could have finished his career if it went wrong. As a leader, show courage.
- Don’t be selfish: Today, with Congress in such terrible shape, the country has no real opposition. This is terrible for our democracy. A one-sided concentration of power will undermine our institutions, whether intentionally done by the government or not. However, the Congress leadership cares little about India or its democracy. It cares about the family, and particularly the son’s career, more than anything else. If you’re running an organisation, think beyond. Think about the greater good. That’s what makes a leader truly great.
Congress deserves thanks for teaching us such valuable leadership and management lessons. Here’s hoping they stay this way and continue their slow crumble, so a generation of young Indians can draw important life lessons from them.