Leadership lessons from Prime Minister Vajpayee

India lost its three time Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee on 16th August 2018 at the age of 93 after a prolonged illness. The nation received the news with numbed silence. I have personally been a great admirer of this person. I do not have any political affiliations but the personality of this human being was magnetic to say the least and that made me a ardent fan. I was saddened by his death and decided to list ten learnings from this statesman, which any human being could try to imbibe in their daily life.

Inclusiveness was in his blood. He had expressed in thought and action through his speeches, poems and actions. I have not heard or met anyone who has known him complaining of his ignoring them. Even the common man felt he was accessible and was never felt excluded in any public actions or policies.

One of the most difficult tasks of a leader is to balance the team, especially when you have members with opposing ideologies to manage. He had the ability to manage diversity and foster inclusiveness through his fairness and equity. Such was his stature and credibility that his silence spoke more than his words.

Even after balancing a team, it is important for a leader to carry along every member of his team. He was a master of listening to all shades of opinion and still being decisive. He had the ability to carry along people with opposing views gracefully. This is difficult to practise especially in a diverse political spectrum when you are running a coalition government.

His ability to build consensus was par excellence. If we look back on the decision to go nuclear or win a war against an erring neighbour was built on political consensus. He was diplomatic but firm. He could place national interests above narrow political considerations and influence people of all political shades to support his views in the overall interest of India.

We hear stories of how he fell on the feet of a tribal woman entrepreneur, who gave employment to hundreds of needy women. His outreach on the Kashmir issue has no parallels in Indian history. He could extend a hand of friendship even to his rivals provided it was in national interest. Humility and humaneness was felt in his thoughts and actions.

He was one of India’s best known orators. He could make his critics laugh even while made a scathing attack on their stance. Such was his stature in parliament and outside that even the opposition listened to him in rapt attention when he spoke. I have repeatedly listened to his speeches to learn the art of differing without hurting others.

His sense of humour had to experienced to be believed. He was an inspirational poet. He could use words, gestures and even pauses to silence his critics. He could sway the sombre mood of any audience with his humour. Even in humour, he had the grace of being dignified.

A statesman is judged by his actions and not by his words. His ability to reach out and contribute to international issues without compromising on India’s interests raised his political stature. He did not give up on resolving international conflicts even when all his humanitarian gestures were snubbed. Such was his personality that even the government in power made him India’s leader in the United Nations although he was only the leader of the opposition.

India’s interest was the basis of all his decisions. He never entertained any action, which was against national interest. We hear instances wherein he even declined suggestions even from his cabinet colleagues if it was not in overall national interest. He was also willing to invite suggestions from political rivals on national issues.

One of his best qualities I would love to imbibe is his ability to criticise respectfully. I have heard many of his speeches in parliament – both as prime minister and as leader of the opposition, wherein he has been scathing in his criticism but without crossing the line of dignity. No politician could ever raise a finger against him for his language, delivery or content although they may not have agreed with his views on any subject.

I have attempted to illustrate a short list of ten qualities, which I admired in him. I am too small a person and have never met him so do not know much about him except from information in the public domain.

This is just my tribute to PM Vajpayee as a common man on the day when his body was cremated in New Delhi and the entire nation paid their last respects to him.

RIP

S Ramesh Shankar

16th August 2018

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