Recently, Narendra Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat state, made a statement about the Indian Prime Ministers absence from office. Modi had called Manmohan Singh a weak man and had criticised the Prime Minister for being away from office for several weeks despite knowing that the PM was undergoing surgery.

For those of you who aren’t in the know, the PM had gone through a rather serious heart bypass surgery and was out of office for around two months.

In a recent NDTV interview with Narendra Modi, reporter Suhasini Haidar confronted him saying his comment on the PM was a hit below the belt.

Now I am not affiliated to the BJP or Congress, nor am I judging Modi’s comments, but Modi’s response gave me an insight that I thought was very deep and is actually true, regardless of whether it is about political leadership or leadership in our cubicles.

“I didn’t not say something wrong”, Modi had said, explaining himself. ” What I had said was that Manmohan Singh was away from office for two whole months and the nation went about its business not even realizing he wasn’t even there!”

I tried to translate the inteview in English above – you can get the original interview in Hindi here (reference to the PM at 5.00 minutes). But if you cut the rhetoric and filter the politics, you will be left with a remarkable insight into leadership.

If your team doesn’t feel your absence when you are away, then what your leadership amounts to can be one of two things.

  • You have created a team of highly motivated, self driven and independent leaders who don’t depend on your participation in every activity or decision that needs to be taken when you aren’t around
  • You have been so hands off and uninvolved, your team does not need you and wont even notice it if you aren’t around.

Typically when we talk about leadership, we tend to think of people who occupy the chair of the highest office in the leadership hierarchy. We tend to think of powerful CEOs and leaders like Jack Welch, Indra Nooyi, Anil Ambani and so on. Truth is that those bullet points above are valid for people in leadership positions all the way down from that CEO chair till you actually run out of people who don’t have anyone reporting to them.

Truth is that Leadership is about what we do. Yes, you and me. Not always about what the CEO does.

Leadership is about dealing with people reporting to you in a way that they are motivated, challenged, inspired, productive and happy. It is all about tapping that motivation and happiness and aligning it with the objectives of your organization. Even if those objectives are your own KRAs.

Leadership is about investing in people who report to you. It’s about coaching and teaching them the ropes. Giving them all the tools to perform. About getting them to think. Training them, giving them direction.  Getting them committed. It’s about getting people empowered.

Leadership is less about you. More about those looking up to you.

Leadership is a job much like that of a make-up man at the sets. You have to do things to make other people look good – and success can only be convincing if the work you have done is not apparent – the less apparent, the better your job.

Leadership, in the end, is about mentoring, understanding strengths, about unlocking capability, about tapping latent potential, about making achievers. It is about creating more leaders, making more people who can be as effective, if not more, than you.

It is all about making your role redundant.

When you do that, when you step aside and create people worthy of the glory of achievement that you deflect to them, then you become a great leader.

That’s your reward.


PS: What do you think leadership is? Do you agree with this post? What are your experiences with good leadership and bad leadership? Who was a good boss you had? Why was he good? Why was your bad boss bad? What are moments that you cherish as a leader yourself? Do leave a comment and lets discuss this.


  1. Santhosh Rodrigo May 4, 2009 at 5:00 am

    Hi Jai,

    Pretty true. Just a thought to add – to some extent deviation from the current topic. According to me its also the attitude of assuming that the position the person holds is key to the organisation and routing everyother detail through the position, where by things get complicated.

    I can relate this to my first job (@ MAARS) where things were literally revolving around me. When i had to take off, things used to come to a grinding halt( At least in my case, i assume you know the case. For sure not trying to justify the reasons). When i had a functional boss during the end of my stint with the company, he told me how important it is to build systems and process independent of people who own it. I think its very true in any set up.

    I have seen and worked with people holding on to processes and informations, and making things revolve around them, assuming that by doing so, they are indespenable to the organisation.

  2. Prakash May 4, 2009 at 5:18 am


    Kalakitte machi…Very clear thought…

    Keep blogging and enlightening with your enlightment…


  3. meena May 4, 2009 at 6:18 am

    Yes, i entirely agree and like your analogy too. these qulaities are at the execution level. I think a good leader is one with a good vision at the outset and how much he can inspire other people with this vision

  4. rummuser May 4, 2009 at 7:08 am

    Absolutely correct. When I was a boss to bosses who in turn were bosses, this was the mantra that I used to impress on. It is all about delegation and monitoring, rather than hands on micro management.

    The story used to be, that after I took on an international role and had to travel overseas for long stretches of time, business used to better than whenever I was home!

    Coming to Man Mohan Singh though, he has always been a rubber stamp for SG and his absence was indeed never felt. On the other hand, the guys who impressed me in his absence, considering the context of the time that we were going through, Pranab Mukerji, JM Antony and PC Chidambaram made excellent use of the opportunity presented to them by fate. None of them, is likely to be as amenable to SG as MMS was and is and that is why MM S, who cannot get elected by the people of this country continues to be projected by the Congress Party as the Prime Minister designate.

    If I understand the word that Prakash uses, Machi, it is short for Machhan. Now where did this Atthhaan come from? Quite true though, that your post deserves the comment “kalakkittey”.

  5. Jaisundar May 4, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    @Santosh: OH yes! I remember – you were all over the place managing about 700 people. No boss to complain to nor subordinate to delegate to.. You held fort though.. you were good! Its a very apt example you brought up…
    @Prakash: TY…!
    @Meena: Yes. To inspire and be inspired!
    @Rummuser: Yes. I agree with you on MMS, Chidambaram and Pranab. I think Chidambaram has a quiet dignity about him that works to his advantage. Arent you familiar with madrasbashai? Machi is used freely among the chennai slangsters to refer to just about anyone! theres no Athhan here yet.. only lot of vendaikathaan. :p

  6. rummuser May 7, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    No, I am not familiar with Chennaibashai. I am one of the veliyerina paappaans of the sixties. You were not even a thought those days and perhaps do not understand what that means. Ask your Mom!

  7. Jaisundar May 8, 2009 at 2:12 am

    @rummuser: 🙂

  8. parita May 13, 2009 at 12:06 pm

    You have introduced this thought in a great way. Totally agree to it. We need more of these leaders to make a big change in our country. The young like minded like you and me and all those who replied must be the change we want to see. As far as MMS, I would like to believe the first point is true about his leadership abilities.

    Looking at both sides of the coin, ‘its always about whats in it for me’.. and so with leadership-
    What the leader gets is – Work is distributed and He /She spends minimum energy in achieving the target. He gets a reliable second level. He gets time to pursue additional goals and grow.
    What the team gets is – More responsibility and ownership, confidence and growth.

    At the end of the day, both are happy and go home on time 🙂 with full pockets and a lighter head.

  9. Jaisundar May 13, 2009 at 4:41 pm

    @Parita: Thanks for visiting and even more for leaving a comment!! I Couldnt agree more about the ‘whats in it for me’ part. I think thats really where 90% of all problems lie. I originally started typing a reply to your comment – but soon realized the thoughts you have kindled are inspiring me to write a Part II of this post!! In other words I am dedicating a complete post in reply to your comment!

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