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.


S Ramesh Shankar

16th August 2018

Looking back or Moving forward

It is that time of the year when the Christmas carols can be heard. The end of a calendar year and the beginning of a brand new year. We look back to move forward. All of us love to reflect on the past year and build hope for the next year. We are happy of some events and regret others while we look back. We are optimistic about the future and hence wish the new year brings joy and happiness to all of us.

It may be a good idea to look back. But, what should we look back at. We need to realise that looking back and being grateful to people, who have contributed to our success in the previous year may be a good idea. It may be worthwhile to feel happy about some of our key accomplishments during the year. It may be worthwhile to learn from some of the mistakes we may have committed in the previous year.

But many of us tend to spend more time looking back then moving forward. This is what we need to guard against. It is like driving a car looking at the rear view mirror. The rear view mirror is very helpful when we need to reverse or when we need to overtake someone on the road. It is not possible to drive a car on the highway by only looking at the rear view mirror. We need to look at the windscreen and anticipate what is coming in front of us and how the road is twisting and turning before us.

It may be a better idea to move forward rather than looking back at all times. We need to believe in ourselves. We need to realise that there would always be a sunrise after a sunset. We need to hope that tomorrow would be better than yesterday and today. It is like most of us do not spend time in planning for an event. We spend more time in fixing issues while an even is occurring in our lives.

It is better to plan and foresee the future. It is better to dream and anticipate change. It is fun to hope and aspire for the upcoming year. We tend to spend more time in analysing what went wrong rather than anticipating what could happen in the future. It is this change in attitude, which would help us navigate change. It will help us anticipate and prepare for whatever is likely to happen.

I am a born optimist. I would prefer to spend less time analysing the past and more time in dreaming about the future. We cannot do much about what has happened in the past. But, we can create a future of our choice. While past is history, future is mystery, yet to explored. While history can teach us lessons, it may not be able to anticipate what is likely to happen. I would prefer to brood less about the past and dream more about the future.

I have learnt in my life that it is worthwhile to reflect on the past to learn for the future. But, if it is better to spend less time looking back then moving forward. The past will not necessarily lead us to the future. It is important to remember that we need to move on in life irrespective of what happened in the past. We need to cherish good memories but it may be worthwhile to spend more time in shaping our future.

As in the photo above, the peacock in the forest was not sure whether to look back or move forward.

Let us learn to drive our life by looking more at the front windshield rather than looking at the rear view mirror. I am by no means suggesting that we need not look back at the past. I am only recommending that looking ahead in life is more fruitful than brooding about the past. I am saying we need to learn to move ahead. The earlier we learn this lesson, the better we can anticipate the future of our life.

Lets move forward.

S Ramesh Shankar

Raising the bar


I am always in awe of Sergey Bubka, the pole vaulter, who broke his own record at least seven times in his sporting career and has 35 world records to his credit. Many of us will tend to believe that if we have reached a peak in our career or vocation, we can relax and there is nothing more to aspire for.  But the people, who excel always think that there are no limits to excellence.  It is like this plane in the photo.  You do not know if it is landing or taking off.  You may reach your destination but the plane continues its journey.

Excellence is a journey and not a destination.  This is true in all aspects of life.  It does not matter what vocation or career or business we are in.  I recall my college days.  We used to have a bus conductor, who used to excel in his role.  He would sing songs, be courteous to passengers and crack jokes with everyone.  This made him a role model for all bus conductors to follow.  We see auto drivers, who are excellent.  They are courteous, provide newspapers and magazines, provide wifi and are always looking to improve their services to their customers.

In life, it does not matter what we are doing.  There is always scope for raising the bar.  As a sports person would say, it is up to us to define our goal.  There are no limitations in this world except our own mental limits.  We tend to be caught in our own circles and then blame the environment or other people when we cannot raise the bar.  The best in the world are always restless.  They try to seek the impossible and make it easily possible.

Many a time as ordinary mortals we fear the unknown.  We are afraid to take risks and tread a path of comfort.  We tend to believe that we are doing our best and nothing further can be accomplished.  Most of us stretch ourselves only when challenged.  Either a visionary manager or the competitive landscape around us challenges us.  Even then, we try to find an escape route.  We tend to find excuses for our own limitations.  We do not want to dwell in the world of the Unknown.

The greatest of women and men in the world have always done the impossible.  There are millions of examples in our lives, where people have excelled in unbelieable circumstances.  We recently saw the Winter Olympics and saw athletes from around the world, who excelled without any infrastructure or facilities to back their preparations.  They never complained but steadfastly pursued the goal to excel in whatever they do.

It is time to reflect.  What makes people excel ?  It is not the resources but the spirit within us.  Some times, the competitive environment may propel excellence but the power to compete with oneself time and again comes from within.  We should be hungry to beat ourselves in everything we do.  We should aim to be the best in the world always.  But being the best is never permanent.  The sooner we realize this, the better the chances for us to excel in this journey of excellence.

The best in the world compete with others and compete with themselves.  They always have the dream of bettering the best.

We can try.

S Ramesh Shankar

Inspiration versus Perspiration

In simple words, inspiration is when someone  motivates you through their actions or words to do something. Perspiration is sweating it out after a physical activity.

In life, we need both perspiration and inspiration.   Managers learn to work hard as they grow up the career ladder. They not only learn how to perspire but master the art of making their team members also perspire.  This is a critical attribute to succeed in career and life.

However, as we grow in the organisational hierarchy, we have to grow from being a manager to a leader. The manager focuses on tasks while the leader focuses on people. While accomplishing your task is a basic necessity in organisations, motivating your people is critical for success and growth.

In my books, when managers get their jobs done they make their team perspire. On the other hand, when leaders create an environment for their team to give their best, they inspire them. Thus managers focus on perspiration while leaders on inspiration.

Is perspiration necessary ? In my view, we need to focus on tasks and hence it may be necessary to work hard and perspire. But beyond a point, when team members feel empowered and are able to accomplish their tasks without any guidance they need to be inspired to move to the next level.

So, in the organisational context, we have to strike a fine balance between perspiration and inspiration. It may be worthwhile to conclude that as we grow in the hierarchy, we have to evolve as an inspirational leader rather than be known a perspirational manager.

This may be equally true in life. Even in our own families as children grow up we need to inculcate the value of hard work. We may call this as perspiration. But as they approach teenage and grow beyond, we as parents have to be a role model so that they are inspired by our actions.  We may realize sooner than later that teenage children are no longer interested in our advice. They may follow our actions more than  our words.

It may be worthwhile to conclude that as leaders, managers or parents we have to lead by example. Our actions speak louder than words. So, according to me, perspiration may be getting things done whereas inspiration may be role modelling what you expect from others.

Time to strike the right balance between perspiration and inspiration. Try yourself as you are the best judge.

S Ramesh Shankar