Courtesy and Copyright Prabuddha Bharata
The word leader is known to all: but not everybody realizes the importance and significance of the word. Besides, the qualities that make for a true leader are very rare. The survival, growth, and progress of every society depend largely on its leaders. And every society – every collection of living beings, be it a group, clan, class, herd, or horde-inevitably has a leader. If a leader is weak, indecisive, or short-sighted, the group he or she is leading is bound to be destroyed-be it human society, or a society of beasts, birds, or insects. If a leader is courageous, intelligent, and decisive, the people under him will surely succeed in all respects; likewise among other beings.
The word leader immediately brings to mind the image of a king or statesman, politician or general boss or strongman. But human life is very complex, and in its different leaders. The life of an individual begins in a family; the head of the family is the leader there. If he or she lacks in leadership qualities, all the members of the family suffer. The decision of the head of the family is often destiny for the other members of that family. If the family head decides that education is unnecessary for the family’s younger members, then those younger members are destined to lead illiterate lives. Similarly, a student begins to grow in an educational institution; the principal is the leader there. If the principal is bereft of leadership qualities, the student’s growth is arrested.
The head of a family the principal of an institution, the chief of a village: such people, whom we usually do not consider as leaders, are our real leaders. If they fail to perform as true leaders-knowingly or unknowingly-they bring about a tremendous loss of human resources.
Who is a Leader?
Leaders fall into four categories, differentiated by the kind of work they do and the effect they have on others :(i) temporary, (ii) semi-permanent, (iii) permanent, and (iv) eternal
Temporary leader: Those who influence and guide a small group of people in a particular situation for a limited period of time may be termed temporary leaders.
In the wake of accidents and natural calamities like floods and earthquakes, there may be an individual who meets the challenges of the occasion and leads, guides, or organizes people. He or she may or may not have the qualities which are required of other types of leaders, but is generally obeyed by the people, and is able to effect good results.
Semi permanent leader: those who guide and govern a small group of people for a period of time and influence them for good or bad, thereby making a mark on society, are semi permanent leaders.
The head of a family, institution or village; the abbot of a monastery, the CEO of a company, a military commander, an MLA, a chief minister of a state, and even a prime minister or a king of a small kingdom are examples of semi-permanent leaders.
Semi-permanent leaders ought to have leadership qualities. Lacking these their decisions and guidance will be marred by mistakes and follies, and thus people under their leadership will suffer. In a small, and sometimes a big way, semi-permanent leaders may make or mar human society.
Permanent leader: those who seed a whole nation or population, whose influence and teachings are followed from generation to generation on that nation or population who also sometimes inspire other nations, and who create history and remain enshrined in it can be called permanent leaders. Kings like Ashoka and Akbar, military leaders like Napoleon, political revolutionaries like Lenin, statesmen like Abraham Lincoln, and politico-spiritual leaders like Mahatma Gandhi are permanent leaders.
Permanent leaders possess tremendous personal power and charisma and thereby influence their followers. In times of trial and tribulation, their followers neither doubt their leader nor question his or her personality. The important leadership qualities that we discuss below are absolutely essential for the making of good permanent leaders.
Many thinkers of present-day India lament the partition of the country, the problems of Kashmir, the creation of states on the basis of language different laws for different communities, inefficient education policies, criminality of Indian law-makers, and other difficulties and tragedies faced by the Indian people. The point is clear; decisions of its leaders, past and present, are affecting the nation today. Some decisions taken long back will continue to affect the nation for generations to come. Hitler’s leadership of Germany brought suffering to the whole world, a misery which has not yet seen its end.
Therefore, a democratic country like India needs to be very careful in choosing and accepting its leaders.
Eternal leader: Enlightened souls, great philosophers, seers-those who inspire not only a race or a nation, but the whole of humanity, whose leadership transcends all castes, creeds, and linguistic and cultural barriers, and does not remain confined to any geographical boundary, because they govern through unselfish love-are eternal leaders. Though they are born at different places, in different times, wear different dress and speak in different languages, yet their ideals are one: Be good yourself and do good to others.
The problems of the world come not from these ‘lights of humanity’ but from their followers. Most of the time, the catholic teachings of these great ones are misunderstood and misinterpreted by their over-enthusiastic followers. Ironically, their message of love is often spread through hatred and violence.
Media as Leader
In a remote part of India, where a television is virtually the only connection with the rest of the world, a group of young students insulted and abused their principal for a petty reason: he had arranged everything for them for a picnic. ‘In government institution, how could the in-charge take a sudden decision like that? They said. The principal stood his ground. Infuriated the students slapped the gentleman in front of the local people and police saved his life.
When the students were asked why they did this, they replied why the students of Bombay also do things like this! ‘Bombay students? How do you know? ‘We have seen it in such-and such movie’. A day or two before this incident, a well-known figure who is labeled on media circles as a ‘cultural ambassador of India’ was vehemently advocating freedom of cinema’ and denounced the cinema censor board. ‘Let people elect what they like to see! He said. Freedom is good; but are we the people to whom freedom of choice is given, capable of exercising that freedom responsibly?
In present-day society the media is very powerful and has emerged as a kind of semi-permanent leader. The people working in the media-cinema television, radio, and print-must exercise responsibility concomitant with the medias position as a semi-permanent leader of society.
Since the whole of humanity is affected by the interpretation or guidance of the apostles, messengers, and disciples of the great souls, they too need to have all the qualities of leader-else they, the exponents, the so called torch-bearers of a particular faith, may transform nectar into poison.
Qualities of the Successful Leader
Ancient Indian thinkers gave a lot of importance to leaders and leadership. A bad leader means not merely a single bad person, but a bad fate for many.
Vidura Niti: A kings basic duties
A king should wish for the prosperity of all and should never set his heart on the misery of his subjects.
A king should look after people who have fallen into adversity and who are in distress.
A king should show kindness to all creatures
A king should never impede the growth and development of agriculture and economic activity in his kingdom.
A king should always do that which is for the food of all creatures.
A king should always be ready to protect those dependent on him.
A virtuous king is never indifferent to even the minutest suffering of his subjects.
A virtuous king enlists the confidence of his devoted subordinates by zealously looking after their welfare.
A king who renounces lust and anger, who bestows wealth upon proper recipients, and who is discriminative, learned, and active is regarded as an authority by all men.
A king who desires the highest success in all matters connected with worldly profit should from the very beginning, practice virtue. Prosperity takes its birth in good deeds.
What a king must avoid
The friendship of the sinful has to be avoided.
Misuse of wealth, harshness of speech, and extreme severity of punishment will ruin even firmly established monarchs.
Evil-minded kings, due to lack of sense-control, are destroyed by lust for expanding their territory.
A king’s prosperity built on mere crookedness is destined to be destroyed.
A king should never make a person his minister without examining him well. During examination a king should reject those who are ungrateful shameless, who have wicked dispositions, and who don’t give others their due.
Vidura the step-brother and learned minister of king Dhritarashtra, has explained the most important qualities a leadership and administration. Viduras advice and utterances are known as eight chapters (33 to 40) of the ‘Udyoga Parva’of the great Indian epic Mahabhaarata.
Vidura prescribes the following values for a ruler to be a perfect leader: simplicity, purity, contentment, truthfulness, self-restraint, patience, honesty, charity, steadiness, humility, faith, exertion, forbearance, sweetness in speech and good company.
Kautilya, another famous thinker on leadership and statesmanship in ancient India, emphasizes that the foundation of an organization is its financial strength, its economy. No good organization or country can run effectively without having its economy in good condition. According to Kautilya the objective of any king is to create, expand, protect and enjoy wealth. A leader should know that spending wealth in the proper manner is as important as earning it. In his famous book arthashastra (Economics), he tells the king’ Be ever active in management of the economy, because the root of wealth is economic activity; inactivity brings material distress. Without any active policy, Both current prosperity and future gains are destroyed.
According to Kautilya, a good leader should know how to handle the masses and people with different temperaments, attitudes, and thinking capacity. Understanding people is the most important quality of a leader. Kautilya felt that a king or a leader should know the secrets of administration, which according to him include(i) sama, counseling; (ii) dana, offering gifts; (iii) danda, punishment; and (iv) bheda, separation.
Sri K V Rao, in his research on the ‘Sundarakanda’ of the Ramayana, found that all the best qualities of a leader are present in Mahavir Hanuman: (i) motivation, (ii) communication (iii) determination, (iv) sharp intellect, (v) excellence at work, (vi) courage, (vii) commitment, (viii) mind control, (ix) self-confidence, and (x) integrity or trustworthiness.
Swami Vivekananda on Leadership
Swami Vivkananda, one of the greatest thinkers modern India modern India has produced, is very specific about the qualities of a leader. According to him, the position of a leader is not for enjoyment but for sacrifice. He says, ‘It is a very difficult task to take on the role of leader. –One must be dasasya das: a servant of servants, and must accommodate a thousand minds. There must not be a shade of jealousy or selfishness, and then you are a leader”.
There are two types of administration: by fear and force, and by love and loyalty. History shows that most leaders prefer the first method: by fear and force. But swami Vivekananda advocates the second method of administration. In his opinion, “The best leader, however, is one who “leads like the baby’. The baby, though apparently depending on everyone is the king of the household. At least, to my thinking that is the secret [to being the best leader]’.
The administrator who wants to rule through love and loyalty needs a perfect character. He or she must be impersonal, equal to all, and above all, unselfish. Such a leader should draw love and respect equally from his or her followers. According to Swamiji, ‘there is no allegiance possible where there is no character in the leader and perfect purity ensures the most lasting allegiance and confidence’.
In a letter to sister Nivdita, he divulges the secret of his leadership: ‘I see persons giving me almost the whole of mine in return for that day the work would be ruined. Yet there are some who will look for such a return, not having the breadth of the impersonal view. It is absolutely necessary to the work that I should have the enthusiastic love of as many as possible, while I must remain entirely impersonal. Otherwise jealousy and quarrels would break up everything. A leader must be impersonal. I am sure you understand this. I do not mean that one should be a brute, making use of the devotion of others for his own ends, and laughing in his sleeve meanwhile. What I mean is what I am, intensely personal in my own hand, if it becomes necessary, “for the good of many, for the welfare o many” as Buddha said’
Pitfalls to Effective Leadership
One day in the office of secretary to the Government of India, a very senior IAS officer and a few other high-ranking officers-assistant secretaries, directors, and so on- were drinking tea and charting after their official work. Suddenly one gentleman displayed a newspaper and pointing to the picture of a present-day national leader said He has been judged first in a popularity assessment by securing 47 percent of the votes (of the readers of that particular newspaper) ‘. The senior IAS officer looked at the paper with disgust and shrugged and snorted.
His body language clearly revealed his dislike. He then looked at me and asked, ‘Swamiji, why can we Indians not become good leaders and administrators? Though from 1947 we have traveled a long way, and statistics show that great progress has been made within these few years, yet we have lost our values and all self-respect. Why? What is your opinion about the degradation of leadership quality, degradation of moral values, and how we can overcome these?
This shrug, this snort, these questions, can be seen and heard everywhere in India. This widespread disrespect for leaders is not a healthy sigh.
There was a time when the world was mad to discover India. Adventurous people sailed over rough uncharted oceans to reach her shores. In prosperity, in wealth, in education in spirituality, in every respect India was a beacon light. Pre-independence Indian leaders and masses joined the freedom movement not for post or position but as a sacred duty. They fought against the British not with a selfish motive but with a zeal for sacrifice. Why then do we find few such people or little of these qualities among our present-day leaders? What happened to our leaders once they began to rule the country?
Swami Vivekananda gives the answer to this question in two short words: slave mentality’.
What is slave mentality? Swamiji writes’ “I won’t let anyone risers!’” that jealousy, that absence of conjoint action is the very nature of enslaved nations… Our fellows in this respect are the enfranchised Negroes of this country [USA] – if but one amongst them rises to greatness, all the others would at once ser themselves against him and try to level him down’
Indians were excluded from positions of national leadership for nearly eight hundred years. For forty generations we lived and worked under the ruling rod of foreign monarchs. Prevented from thinking any original thought, never doing any work according to our free will, subjugated, and dependent on the ruling masters, we slowly developed a slave under a tyrant master is humble and obedient but when the slave becomes the master he supersedes his master in tyranny. Mean-mindedness, jealousy, hatred, backbiting, short-sightedness, feeling inferior, and above all, selfishness are the signs of a slave.
When those with slave mentality become leaders, they will not allow anyone better than themselves in their administration. Shackled by an inferiority complex they will always prefer that their subordinates be more unworthy than they. They obstruct the life and growth of anyone having personality, intelligence, self-respect, and other leadership qualities. This leads to an administration filled with sycophants.
Swami Vivekananda explains, ‘Here in India’ everybody wants to become a leader, and there is nobody to obey. Everyone should learn to obey before he can command. There is no end to our jealousies; and the more important the Hindu, the more jealous he is. Until this absence of jealousy and obedience to leaders are learnt by the Hindu, there will be no power or organization’.
Reforming Leaders’ Character
India is a vast country, a sub-continent with a wonderful variety of languages, religions, cultures, and climate. But with all this apparent diversity, she is one-even from the days of the Mahabharata. Krishna and Arjuna visited the north –east states like Assam, Arunachal, and Manipur. Arjuna married a Naga girl. Krishna’s nephew came all the way from Gujarat to Assam to marry a beautiful princess of Assam. India was always united in her diversity.
One who would be a member of the Indian Parliament must be dedicated to the unity of India, know her history and geography, and have a fair knowledge of her social structure. He or she must visit different parts of India before standing for election, to gather first-hand experience of Indian social life. He or she must serve society for a minimum of ten years as a voluntary social worker, thus gaining competence to become a law-maker of India. Swami Vivekananda words can be a guiding principle for all leaders: Three things are necessary to make every man great every nation great:
1. Conviction of the powers of goodness.
2. Absence of jealousy and suspicion.
3. Helping all who are trying to be and do good’.
We know how a misguided leader, after gaining power, can create permanent and serious problems for the whole nation. Thus we must choose our leaders carefully, not out of emotion, but exercising our power of discrimination. Merely leaving one’s antisocial activities and joining the national mainstream or receiving education in some foreign land, is not sufficient qualification for becoming a leader. One who would lead should first prove his or her capability and integrity through social service. A capable leader means a prosperous nation.
If we love our motherland, India, we must be united to shake off the terrible jealousy from our character. Let us take this vow, repeating swami Vivekananda’s powerful words; ‘at any cost, any price, any sacrifice, we must never allow that to creep in among ourselves’.
1. the complete Works of Swami Vivekananda 9 vols (Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama, I-8 1989; 1997)’.