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  • Tarun Kumar

Being a Leader is Choice

Leadership is a choice. It is not a rank or a title. I know many people at the senior most levels of organizations who are just not leaders. They are Seniors with certain authorities, and we do what they say because they have this so called authority over us, but we do not follow them. Similarly, I know of people who are one of the many in the organization with no authority and yet they are fantastic leaders. Why so? It is because they have chosen to be available when someone is in dire straits, going out of their way to help colleagues. This is what leadership is all about, exhibiting empathy which builds trust and cooperation.

As an Officer in the Indian Army it is a done thing, that we eat post ensuring that my men have had their meals. During exercises we would come back late in the night yet will visit the cook house to see that my soldiers were served hot meals after a hard day’s work. The tradition continued, I was on an operational reconnaissance during Operation Parakram (attack on Indian Parliament), where I would get my meals packed and would check from my team of driver and wireless operator to confirm if they were carrying their meals. We were out on long trips where we would reach back to base during early mornings and within 4 hours would be off before sun rises in the east. Once our vehicle had a flat tyre and while tyre was being changed we decided to have our meal break. I was offered my packed meal and on asking my team they informed their meal couldn’t be prepared as we left two hours early. So, I offered them my meal. It is not the food or the hunger but the thought that welfare of the men I command is uppermost which makes all the difference. Next time onwards whenever we went out in the field, my Team will bring some of their food, because that's what happens when we look after somebody - they reciprocate. That’s why Leaders are followed by their team members because they go first, because they take the risk before anybody else does. Whatever be the circumstances, they will choose to sacrifice so that their people may be safe and protected. When we do such random acts of kindness, the natural response is that people will sacrifice for us. They will give their blood, sweat and tears to ensure that their leader's vision comes to life. If you ask them, "Why would you do that? Why would you give your blood, sweat and tears for him?". They will all say the same thing, "Because they would have done it for me." Who wouldn’t love to be in an organization like that to work in? I was blessed to be in the Army to gain first-hand experience of what brotherhood and camaraderie is all about. Where ever I’ve narrated my experience from the Army, one singular question that has cropped up time and again is, where do people like that come from? What is it that makes soldiers so different from their brethren’s in the civvy street? How do you define that inexplicable feeling of belongingness? This is somewhat complex, probably an emotional bonding with your team. It all boils down to the environment prevailing in the Unit/battalion/regiment. There is love, compassion, and trust. I would love to be born again and again and again in this environment which promotes growth, harmony and bonding with your teammates. My observation of the corporate world differs, in the military, they give medals to people who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may live. In business, we give promotions to people who are willing to sacrifice others so that company may gain. We have it skewed, isn’t it? Many scholars have tried to fathom this concept of human behavior to understand where do people like these soldiers come from? Their initial assessment was that they're just better people who get selected through a rigid process called SSB. That's why they're attracted to the military. These better people are attracted to this concept of selfless service. I feel this understanding of theirs is completely wonky. Always remember, it's the environment, and if you get the environment right, every single one of us has the ability to match, and more importantly, our capability is a victim of our mentality. I've had the great honour of serving with soldiers, who are called heroes, who have put themselves and their lives at risk to save others. If you asked them, "Why would you do it? Why did you do it?" They all say the same thing, "Because my teammates would have done it for me." It's this deep sense of trust and cooperation which is really important here. If you look pragmatically, we are discussing feeling which cannot be passed in any operational orders or routine military instructions. There are generated based on our associations with each other as soldiers and human beings. You see, if the conditions are wrong, we are forced to spend our time and energy in protecting ourselves from each other, and that inherently weakens the organization. When we feel safe inside the organization, we will naturally combine our talents and our strengths and work tirelessly to face the dangers outside and seize the opportunities. That’s how Army functions and that’s what I offer as part of Battlefield to Boardroom strategies for creating an environment of growth your organization. This is in essence the reason humanity has survived so far because we feel for each other.

Would you be interested in having a similar culture where people thrive on each other’s strength rather playing on their weaknesses?

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