Beirut to Mumbai- There is no algorithm for leadership

Both Beirut and Mumbai went through similar situations in August 2020

BEIRUT:  The recent blast in Beirut brings to the fore some major issues how leadership really  matters.  

Having worked with many Lebanese managers during my stay in UAE/Dubai, I have  great respect for the people of this tiny country, specially for their talent at work,  their drive in achieving things, their ability to convince people as great salesmen and marketers with their exposure to Arabic, English and French languages, their place in the entertainment business in the Arabic world,  their style and fashion, their food, and  their  overall zest for life -…… All despite the troubled past of 50 years, which started  with a long ranging civil war in the 70s.  Lebanon has an ancient civilisation that is a mix of Christian, Muslim, a Jewish population and has  a very cosmopolitan approach and a western orientation, being at the cross roads of Europe and West Asia. Over a period of several decades , no doubt Islamic terrorist organisations slowly captured Lebanon. Christians were fast eliminated from running the country. 

Its financial power and stability through the 1950s and 1960s earned Lebanon the moniker of “Switzerland of the East”, while its capital, Beirut, attracted so many tourists that it was known as “the Paris of the Middle East”. However, the most competent Lebanese are not in Lebanon and  are well settled and great business people outside their country, spread across the world.  In fact most of the companies / investments in the Middle East are owned by Lebanese businessmen and businesswomen, who are extremely talented, charming, educated, knowledgeable and specialists in different trades though as an expatriate population they are a small minority in the Gulf compared to Indians, Pakistanis, Egyptians and Filipinos.

So what happened with this country in the last 6 to 7 decades? – this country is on the brink of a financial disaster, bankruptcy and political turmoil and  economic desperation.

Many people claim it was the take over of the country by Islamist fundamentalists backed by regional terror groups and funding. Whatever that is and whoever was in power,  it’s all about leadership which failed over a LONG period of time. That  is also  true of many other countries of the Middle East and the Levant. You may be a great specialist, but if you do not have the ability to lead or you do not have a leader in place to take you through many issues and circumstances carefully, your skills   may not matter to the extent they should , to you and to your country.

For the Lebanese, leaving their own motherland,  culture, and family to go to other locations must have been a very difficult thing. A whole bunch of talented people left the country over the last 50 years and will still do,  making it lose  invaluable GDP that they would have created within . The countries of Middle East, and West Asia had leaders who were not really leaders but destabilisers,  fighters and trouble mongers. Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Palestine, Algeria, Morocco, you name it.

What really matters for all forms of organisation is Leadership, not exactly subject knowledge. The crucial aspect of leadership is evident at all levels, and overall  success is largely a factor of leadership and not expertise  or specialisation, always.  People that are not team players and team leaders can be extremely troublesome. Lebanon and a few other countries of West Asia had leaders ( read rulers )  who were not leaders.

After a particular time of evolving of anything, leadership skills matter the most. Finance, Administration, Marketing, Engineering, IT skills or whatever skills can be bought, traded, exchanged and purchased – online or off line ! Governance however has to come from within and cannot be bought. Desire to succeed as a team matters more than anything. The team then could be a Country, a Company or a Club.

The blast in Beirut occurred  due to thousands of tonnes of Ammonium Nitrate stored in one location over many years, right within the port of Beirut which is in the heart of the city. Such an absurdity. It had engineers who designed the silos, chemists who did the tests, safety experts who filed multiple reports whichever way, it had all senior government officials over the years knowing the issue, the port authority well aware of the tremendous hazard that they were carrying, but for many years no one took the initiative to remove it to another location, export it if it was not required, investigate why such a large quantum was brought in. And know what ?….it was bang next to the entire grain storage of Lebanon. No one had the drive to solve the problem and find a workable solution. Lebanon for sure had experts within and outside the country who  could have sorted the problem. 

A large part of the blast is linked to an inefficient and irresponsible government that was run by autocratic rulers and their relatives and friends.  A proactive top in multiple departments of Government and the ministers would have ensured such an absurd storage was never done and if done, still moved it out to a desert area which is so much available. No one took the lead. I am sure all would have been knowing the facts – it’s such a small country and everything happens in the small city of Beirut. Yet.

MUMBAI :  One big learning of the SSR / CBI /Maharashtra Police case is that in any operation or organisation, leadership is the key to everything. On the job skills are very important, but if there is a twisted leadership at the top which does not allow the work to be done in an efficient and honest manner, all the talent down the line could go waste.

The talent down the line need not be the best available, but the best can be exploited from an average talent if the leadership is excellent. That’s what a leader is. He or she guides average people to deliver results if it is a huge work, beyond the purview of a few people to accomplish. Team work and leadership make a big difference to delivery. Specific skills which are people oriented can never be replaced, but an entire working system can be enhanced by a good leader. An experienced person, knowledgeable and with an ability to drive things matters. He need not be, and cannot be an expert in multiple functions.

Mumbai police down the line is/ was the same all over the years. The beat cop never changed or can change on his own.  Ditto for CBI and the government at the centre.  However why a huge force like the Mumbai police  failed  to do its job despite having a good past record? After all a lot of forensic investigation etc. was to be delegated to experts. It failed as the directions from top were convoluted, distorted and corrupted. The same Mumbai police which was a respected force till some time back cannot suddenly deteriorate. A huge police organization at  the ground level which worked 16 to 18 hours a day during Covid times, could not be a bad force.

CBI on the other hand came with clear directions to solve a case. Leadership and directions was different. There was some different kind of leader behind the organisation.

If India keeps relying on a talent that gets short listed due to a written exam and interview conducted when you are 24 years old and then you give full powers all the time to people for the next 35 years till they retire at 58, you have trouble at hand. Holding decorated positions and tags and fancy titles is one thing and continued delivery of results is another. More secure you are, less efficient is your work. More secure you are from outside competition, more passive will be your approach to work. It’s like absolute power which corrupts absolutely.

We have number of senior bureaucrats and police officers who collude with a dishonest system as they have nothing to lose, due to a very safe job or employment security. In fact they become more secure when they collaborate with politicians, otherwise they will keep getting transferred ( at the most). This nexus between administration and politicians is what is bringing the country down slowly. Are there not several top bureaucrats who can jointly stand and object to wrong doings?  It is only the private parties like Republic TV and Times Now and a few others which can keep a control on a non performing bureaucracy. Because, if you do not regularly deliver in a private enterprise, you need to give  up  on your assignments/ work or employment. 

Our perception of looking at excellence through examinations and academics is slowly taking a toll on us. 75 years of independence and we have many states still struggling to create jobs for its people. They still have the same methods of governance and selection of top officers as followed by other states. Perhaps they never had proper leaders to drive things. Just what is slowly happening in many states of India is what happened to Lebanon. That country had immense talent down the line which left the country. India has 1000 times more, so we have to be more careful to harness. Ability to extract the best from a work force matters than what is your specific ability. That is real leadership. We are really lacking enough leaders for a country of our size.

Unless we change leadership parameters and job security issues of government functionaries, after 75 years as a country, we can expect thousands of small, medium and large scams and huge lapses in governance for years to come and corruption at all levels in almost the entire government machinery- all which go unnoticed though they are very rampant. They get ignored as they were not murder cases worth discussing. No TV channel or the fourth estate can tackle the magnitude of the problem we have. 

The issue for the state and country is now really only of governance and not exactly about law,  finding loopholes and nailing the truth. It’s how really you manage from top that really matters. The  others follow a great leader. This applies to everything – your extended family, your society where you live, your sports club, your political party, your company or business and yes, your country too. The least you could do is not let corrupt, inefficient, incompetent, extremely secure ( or even insecure) and inexperienced people lead you. It is a slow time bomb. 50 years were too long for a small country like Lebanon to get into deep trouble. 75 years have been too slow a learning for India-  but the bomb is tacking. Good governance is crucial, every speciality  automatically does its job after that.

Written by: Dinesh Bandiwadekar dinesh.bandiwadekar@gmail.com Mob: 9619545460

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