Process and Leadership.

First a Caveat. In his book ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,’ considered by many as the bible on Motorcycle Travel literature, Mr. Robert Prisig writes in the introduction, “However, it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles either.” My confession here is, this blog is neither about Process (Chemical or otherwise) nor it is a lesson 101 on Leadership.

The only ‘Process’ I remembered before M S Dhoni (Former Indian Cricket Captain) started talking about it was the ‘Bessemer Process’ from high school textbooks. Bessemer process was the first inexpensive industrial process for the mass production of Steel from molten pig iron. We by-hearted it because it was a definite question in exams. We never associated the word with playing the game of cricket. Let me elaborate.

The first Indian Captain we regularly saw on TV on post-match interviews was Mohammad Azauruddin. He limited his interviews to one-line gems like, “Boys played well” if we won and “Boys played poorly’ if we lost. If he was in very talkative mood, he added couple of sentences “We fielded well”‘ or Our boys bowled poorly” etc. That was it.

Sachin Tendulkar was not very eloquent either. He was bit like M G Ramachandran, the famous Tamil movie hero and the former Chief Minister of Tamilnadu. Mr. MGR not only wanted to do good for people but also wanted to look ‘speaking and doing good’ in front of people. Tendulkar was in similar mode, always careful to say the right things. So there was nothing to write about his post-match interviews. It did not matter if we won or lost. His interviews lacked punch.

Saurav Ganguly was the first captain who instilled the burning desire to win in the team’s mind and he spoke why we won or lost the match with hard facts. He never gave winding speeches.

Then came Mr. Dhoni or MSD as he was affectionately called. He was not known to speak a lot in the dressing room or player meetings. Ravi Ashwin, the leading Indian Test Match bowler often said that player meetings under Dhoni lasted whole of two minutes. One minute speech by MSD and one-minute-long motivational talk by the then team coach. But Dhoni kept all his talking skills reserved for post-match interviews. He gave long speeches and most of the sentences included the word, ‘Process.’ He would impatiently wait for the interviewer to finish an innocuous question and jump on to his theory on how process is more important than the result. We all learnt from him for the first time in our lives, that, if we took care of the Processes, the results would take care of themselves.

We believed him; we had to. Under his captaincy, India won all the three ICC tournaments, T20 World Cup, Champions Trophy and the One Day Internationals World Cup. No other captain in the history of Cricket had achieved this till date. He also became the most successful captain in Franchise Cricket, the Indian Premier League or IPL. Soon we forgot the what the word ‘Process’ meant in English under different contexts. We thought the ‘Process’ is the way we played the great game of cricket. Bessemer Process and other Chemical reactions were long forgotten.

MS Dhoni_BCCI Kolkata_0

M S Doni talking about ‘Process’ in one of the Post Match Interviews. 

The other word which has become part of everyone’s vocabulary is ‘Leadership.’ It is probably the most used/misused/overused word in English Language at least from an Indian perspective.

Before India freed up its market and ‘Glasnost’ became the buzzword for the economic development, no one really talked about leadership in India. The only leaders we had were leaders of Political Parties and the Prime Minister was ‘THE LEADER.’ It all changed when General Electric more importantly, Jack Welch entered India. We did not know of any Leaders outside of political spectrum. Jack Welch changed all that. Before we heard from Welch, we never thought corporate honchos were leaders. Under our socialist upbringing, business was a dubious activity and ‘profit’ was a dirty word.

In our professional lives, we did what our Managers told us to do till we became Managers and then asked others to do things for us. The we started reading about Leadership and how it was different from Management. The first book I read on Leadership was. ‘The Welch Way – 24 Lessons from the World’s Greatest CEO.’ This was toted as the Employee handbook for enhancing corporate performance.

Soon we graduated to other Jack Welch books like ‘Winning,’ ‘The Jack Welch Way,’ and “Straight From The Gut.’ These books became part of executive attire. In the YUPPIE culture of those days (YUPPIE – Young Urban Professional for the uninitiated), executives were seen carrying a Welch book in a flight or business lounge. This was as important to us Yuppies as zipping in a Zen. It was bit like, our elder brothers and cousins carrying a James Hadley Chase novel wherever they went in the seventies and early eighties. It did not matter if you did not read them nor understood a word of it. It was important to be seen carrying a Chase novel.

The Welch Way

The First of the many books that were to make all of us ‘Great Leaders.’

It went without saying, we thought that these books of Welch would help us to build million dollar businesses and make us rich. After all, under Jack Welch GE’s Market Cap went from 12 Billion USD to 410 Billion USD and retired with half a billion dollar as parting gift from GE. So it was the right example to follow.

But then the world changed. GE market cap started looking like pocket money or peanuts in the digital world as companies got billion dollar valuations without making single dollar profit. Markets and economy changed but the Leadership buzzword only gained strength thanks mainly to social media. Now everyone could talk, write and post his/her golden thoughts on Leadership. If you are a LinkedIN member you would know what I mean. Every second post is about Leadership. Leadership is the new panacea. It can cure everything from Cash flow problems in Corporate entities to Colon Cancer. In the LinkedIN world, everyone is a Peter Drucker and Philip Kotler.

What is amusing in those LinkedIN posts is the open sycophancy you read about bosses. In the olden days we just talked high about our boss only when we were alone with him/her to curry favours. Now it is all in the open. Everyone is on record saying how his/her boss is the greatest leader the humankind has seen.

Two of the best bosses I worked with, after I became a Manager, were Uday (Patankar) and Mike (Grundy). They never talked about Leadership. They just laid down the guidelines and let us do the work. May be they were from an old school, or they believed in setting an example would do lot of good than just talking about it. In team meetings, there never was any leadership drivel. Even the big bosses who descended from USA did not talk much about it. It was a different era.

Today the word has become not just a buzzword but an essential tool for survival. One should make the correct noises about being a leader to see a quarter through. And then, Indian children have one more person to contend with on becoming a leaders. Till couple of weeks back, Indian Parents exhorted their Children to become a leader like Satya Nadella or Sundar Pichai. Now there is one person they have in hand to beat their children with. Rishi Sunak!

Featured Image: Bessemer Furnace.


One thought on “Process and Leadership.

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  1. This write up held our attention throughout. The tone is pretty easy on the reader, with a leisurely pace in expressions. The mild amusing style is refreshing.


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