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Leadership Training, and the Donkey…

Source |  | K V Rao,  Resident Director – ASEAN, Tata Sons Ltd.


“My dear boy, the company is like a Noah’s ark – it has assembled all sorts of animals, and God knows where it is going. You young Management Trainees, are like juvenile monkeys, jumping from one tree to the other and making holes in the old boat….. while all this drama is on, like Nero, .. when Rome was burning the King was playing the fiddle, that’s what the leader is doing” … These were the words of a wise old boss of mine, who was near retirement, when I was a young lad of 19 full of stars in my eyes, and wet behind the ears, learning the ropes of the corporate world. These words of wisdom were etched in my mind, forever.

Now cut back to today, reflecting after working for 3 ½ decades, I do concede – behaviorally organizations resemble animal farms ! You have them all, race horses, elephants, donkeys, old chimps, young monkeys, hyenas, cattle, slithering snakes and vultures too…..

Leadership Training, Leadership Development… anything Leadership sends people into a tizzy, you have to be something Leadership… either a trainer, trainee, organizer or whatever. If you don’t connect yourself to being or becoming a leader, perhaps you are a ‘nobody’. You might cease the right to exist in the organization. Maybe you are like a worthless wildebeest roaming in the millions in the vast Savannas of East Africa. Hardly a day passes without the bombardment of a transformative leadership program or other in my inbox.

In a moment of realisation, it dawned on me, we all need Leaders. Agreed, but do we all need to be leaders? We seem to have unwittingly got into placing so premium on leadership training, that we nominate all our young and old managers of all colors and shapes to attend these ?. Often, it is a reward for good work done, loyalty, or a redeemer for bonus or promotion denied or deprived … Yes, a few real racehorses too make it. How can we make leadership training more purposive? And, meaningful?

1.    Organizations, suffer sometimes not for the lack of smart people, but also because an overwhelming need to be “smart”, you end up with too many “race-horses” – fast, furious, agile and willing to take on the world, blindly. Some are real, and others do fake it as well to appear as racehorses, till they actually crash out on the course.

2.    Donkeys, Mules, and Horses. Race ones or otherwise, all have 4 legs and broadly seem similar in construct. How about packing them all into a leadership course, and expecting them to perform as racehorses? There is an old Hindi saying ‘ here a horse and donkey, are all the same !‘, to take a dig, where there is no distinction made for merit.

3.    Identifying the right people, who are able, willing, and have the receptivity to shape and reshape their behaviors, and where all doors and windows of their minds are still open. Of course not an easy task to ferret out the right nominees. It would do you loads of good, to pinch yourself and ask yourself before the next one that you nominate for a leadership program is not a reward and it is indeed a learning opportunity, for a potential racehorse. Since you cannot always be right, a few errors are inevitable.


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