Rajeshwar Upadhyaya


Dear Leader, Allow Yourself To Make Better Decisions!

Rajeshwar Upadhyaya

Difficult Decisions

In 1978, Michael H. Hart wrote “The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History”. This book, as the name suggests, not only named the most influential people in the history of mankind but also ranked them. If memory serves me right, a lot of furore was created around the book. Everybody and their uncle had an opinion on the ranks individuals were assigned, if not the inclusion or omission. However, what struck me most was the fact that out of the top ten individuals in the list, only Albert Einstein was born in the 19th century and he was ranked 10th!
Muhammad, Newton, Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, St. Paul, Ts’ai Lun (inventor of paper), Gutenberg (inventor of the printing press), and Columbus. How some individuals, who lived centuries, even millennia ago, still hold such influence? Well, this can be a good research question but from the face of it, they influenced the lives of billions of individuals in their lifetime or long after it. They changed the idea of ‘normal’. They shaped the ethos of entire civilisations. They laid the foundations of the world we have inherited. They put mankind on a path to greatness. They are leaders of humanity. And it all started for them with the approaches they adopted. The choices they exercised. And the decisions they made. Imagine a world where Jesus takes up carpentry, Columbus decides to settle down, and Newton ignores the apple!
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. A leader in the ultimate analysis is as good as the decisions he makes. Those who made the wrong decisions earn ridicule and ignominy. Many times such mistakes are rooted in inability of a leader to spot an opportunity. In 1979, Ross Perot did not see value in spending $60 million on acquiring this new firm Microsoft. A good 100 years before this, William Orten, the Czar of telegraph and the President of Western Union, turned down an opportunity to patent the telephone technology for $100,000. One can look at them in hindsight and sigh! But it is virtually impossible to devise a fool-proof method to predict the future. However, many other times the mistakes in decision making happen when a leader misreads the present.
In 1999, the Taliban did not allow Indian military action against the hijackers of IC 814 and there were no consequences. They tried the same misadventure with the United States in 2001 and were bombed back to the stone ages. When his entire air force consisted of just 15 old Russian fighter jets, why would Mullah Omar take on the might of the United States? Why would he warn the United States of perilous consequences? Why did he not hand over Osama Bin Laden instead? There are many complicated explanations to these. And there is a simple answer to it. I will go with the occam’s razor. His sense of reality was clouded by his emotions and he did not get to access it objectively. And when emotions cloud your sense of reality, poof goes the Islamic Emirates of Afghanistan!

Stupid Taliban

Greatest of leaders have derailed because they do not see the change in the context and misjudge the reality. A distorted sense of self-image plays its own part in it. When one earns all his success with a particular disposition, it calls for a great sense of humility to see it misfit in the changing context. In an achievement centric worldview, it is a mighty difficult task to convince the self of the supremacy of the context over it. Therefore, it would not be ill-advised for the leaders to practice impulse control to begin with. The world was not blown to bits in the October of 1962 because John F Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev controlled their impulse to attack the enemy. But it was just the beginning. A first step of sorts. Once you control, or even delay, your impulse to act, you give yourself the chance to see through the haze of emotions. And Kennedy- Khrushchev duo did just that. Fierce negotiations followed suit. Eventually a direct hotline between Washington and Moscow was set up. Two superpowers which were just a bad decision away from a nuclear war, were now talking.
The next level of competence for a leader is to identify one’s own prejudices and biases. The ability to step back and observe his or her own emotions interfering and impacting the quality of his decisions.  When that happens, can he actually be in a position to find out solutions to complex problems where emotions run high. When Anna Hazare was trying to make water available to the villagers of Ralegan Siddhi, a state government project was started in the village. It included nalla bunding, contour bunding and land shaping for soil conservation. In line with most government sponsored projects, it was also inflicted with corruption, apathy, and incompetence. The villagers, driven by the ideals of Anna Hazare were in no mood to put up with this. The first impulse of Hazare was to complain against the concerned officials and to lead a protest against them. But with the desperation villagers felt to get water for irrigation, he feared that emotional frenzy could take over. He put his thought together and came up with a unique solution to this problem. He asked the villagers to do shramdaan (voluntary labour) for the project. While this added to the efficiency of the project, the villagers could also monitor it at all times. It worked.
Another example of such emotional maturity that comes to my mind is that of Mumbai politicians. Yes, you read it correct. Mumbai politicians, along with community leaders and policemen, came together to prevent a communally volatile situation from turning into a full-fledged communal riot. Last year on January 4, some young men in the zeal of Eid-e-Milad celebrations were riding their bikes at high speed through the narrow streets of South Mumbai. It was not out of ordinary. And they collided with a lady who suffered minor injuries. Again something, not out of the ordinary. But the tempers flared and soon it took communal overtones. Whatsapp forward played their role. Soon a Hindu mob emerged near the Shivsena dominated Lalbagh. Muslim mobs as well were beginning to gather and move towards the ground zero. And just when it seemed the situation has turned ugly, senior politicians from the ruling alliance of BJP-Shivsena reached Lalbaug to contain the angry Hindu crowds. At the same time, Muslim politicians and activists worked overtime to dispel the rumours of mass attacks on Muslim areas and calmed the tempers. Those who saw the 1992-93 riots in Mumbai were expecting both the sets of politicians to lead angry mobs. Instead they pacified and dispersed the mobs. The police showed restraint, like it did during the Azaad Maidaan riots. But this time the political and social leaders were able to see through their own emotions and biases. In turn they were able to find solution to the problem which was fuelled solely with emotions.



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