Rajesh K. Jha
It is a powerful scene from the Clint Eastwood directed Invitcus (2009). The biographical sports drama film on the life of Nelson Mandela depicts his efforts to realise the dream of a nation which has just emerged from the traumatic experience of apartheid. In the film, Mandela has taken over as the President of South Africa after spending 27 long years in jail. The topmost sports body of South Africa has just decided to disband the rugby team Springboks. For the majority of the black South Africans the Springboks represented white supremacy and colour segregation, though the team boasted of some great rugby players who could win the world cup for the country. Mandela is greatly disturbed to hear the news about it. He wants the decision to be revoked risking his political credibility. He is fully aware that the memory of apartheid is fresh in people’s mind and people see the Springboks rugby team as a symbol of those times. Mandela ignores the advice of his close aide who warns him of its political dangers. He rushes to the venue of the meeting and delivers a powerful speech seeking forgiveness and compassion for the whites for the new rainbow nation that he has set out to build. Members of the committee are shocked, surprised. Some are even disgusted. However, the motion manages to scrape through by one vote. Springboks team is restored with its anthem and the flag. On his way back to office in the car, Mandela explains to his secretary that it was a human calculation and not political consideration that drove his decision. Madiba had made a significant point about leadership and definition of success.
India- 1922. The non-cooperation movement had reached its peak. It seemed that the end of the British government in India was round the corner. Atmosphere in the country was charged. Just one push was needed to achieve the cherished goal of independence. The British were extremely worried. And then happens Chauri Chaura. A police station is set on fire killing 23 police men. Gandhi announces the withdrawal of the movement. His comrades in the freedom movement are appalled. They entreat Gandhi to reconsider his decision. How can someone withdraw such a successful movement because of a stray incident by the mob? Gandhi was unmoved. He was deeply hurt. He says that the people of India were not yet ready to shoulder the responsibility of freedom. For Gandhi success means nothing if not achieved with right means.
What conclusion can be drawn about leadership from the two examples quoted above? A common thread in both these cases is the willingness to risk failure than to compromise on the core values of their lives. Mandela would rather lose the support of his fellow black Africans than to allow them practicing reverse apartheid. Gandhi would forego the possibility of driving away the British from India if the people have deviated from the path of non-violence. Both these responses could be categorised as irrational and sub-optimal from the perspective of the modern, especially management theories of leadership. According to these theories the quality of leadership can be measured in terms of their effectiveness to achieve a stated goal. However, history abounds with examples of leaders who defy this understanding. Indeed, one can say that a truly transformational leadership is willing to sacrifice success in the short run if it runs in conflict with attainment of deeper values. Courage of their convictions distinguishes such inspirational and radical leaderships. This is the hallmark of a truly transformational, liberating leadership.
One could possibly argue that it is an idealised version of leadership. In the real world, leadership quality is reflected in simply setting a goal and achieving it within the given parameters of an organisation. While this may be true in a facile sense, if we care to delve deeper into the idea of leadership a number of important questions emerge. Can we truly think of a leadership quality whether it be in a business firm or in case of a societal movement bereft of the core values that lie behind it? Take for example Hitler. He was able to galvanize the people of Germany behind the idea of the third Reich to be attained by uniting the superior and pure Aryan race. He could successfully mobilise Germany behind his ideas, howsoever obnoxious and inhuman they may be. Starting with his emergence as the unchallenged leader, the Fuhrer of the National Socialist Party (NSDAP) between 1921-23 till his death in 1945, he was a successful leader. In a sense, it could be said, using the modern management catch phrase, that he achieved a high degree of ‘self-actualisation’. Clearly, looking at Hitler as a successful leader is degrading despite his apparent success in achieving his leadership goal. Similarly, the brutal and inhuman ideology of ISIS has been successful in attracting a large following of people across the world. Thousands of people influenced by this ideology and its leader are willing to die in carrying out terrorist activities. One would need to be incredibly stupid or deprave to accept these as examples of successful leadership.
Let’s take another example from the field of business. In a recent article in the Web magazine Scroll (http://scroll.in/article/806772/changing-the-name-of-gurgaon-will-do-nothing-for-its-eklavyas) , Supriya Sharma writes about an alarming situation in the industrial hub of Manesar in the state of Haryana. It is reported that each year thousands of workers in these plants suffer serious injury to their hands while working on power press machines. Many of these are serious cases leading to amputation of hands or fingers. The owners of these plants are unwilling to install even a simple security device which costs less than Rs 25. Why is it so? On deeper probe it was revealed that the owners are unwilling to install the device as these devices slow down the production process. In the highly competitive and cut throat atmosphere of these small ancillary units it is simply not profitable for them to have a security system installed. Drawing from the management theories what would a good CEO of any such firm do? If he cares for the human tragedy he might have to lose out and eventually shut down his factory. However, the CEO who decides to install the safety device might be seen as having real leadership quality from a human point of view even though it is a financially unwise decision. On the other hand a purely profit maximizing behaviour driven CEO would rather decide to ignore such incidents more so in a situation where regulatory mechanism is weak and cost of compliance low. Clearly, the leadership theory provides us no guide to action in the absence of the context and underlying values on which the behaviour is to be based.
The upshot of my argument is that it is vacuous, in fact, dangerous to talk about the leadership quality in a context free, value free absolute sense. Unfortunately, this is precisely the trend when it comes to leadership theories taught in management schools or self-help kind of books one finds so tempting to pick up at airports. There are now precise techniques, supposedly accurate and reliable, to measure the leadership qualities of an individual through psychometric tests for Emotional Quotient (EQ). The EQ score serves as a proxy for leadership qualities of an individual. These psychometric tests come with detailed questionnaires with objective type answers in a multiple choice format. A score of 100 or above is considered a good score marking a potentially high leadership quality of the individual. A lower score would indicate that the persons should work on scales and sub-scales of the EQ like self-actualisation, empathy, decision making, assertiveness, independence, stress management etc. These tests are quite expensive and only very few of the organisations can afford to take it for their employees. Once taken, it is claimed, the tests provide quite accurate guide to the organisations to pick up people for leadership roles at various levels and put others with low scores on specific training programmes or nudge them to go for overcoming the shortcomings as reflected in the detailed EQ score card.
In the world of psychometric testing, Emotional Quotient (EQ) is the new star on the firmament . It is seen as a compass to navigate the rough sea of personal and professional life. It can fill a professional’s sails with powerful wind to attain the shore of success. The confused and the ignorant of the lot can draw the light of the truth from it to improve themselves. It arms the professional with requisite emotional ‘skills’ to conquer the world of business, bureaucracy even personal life. It serves both as a diagnostic kit for personality improvement as well as a powerful radar for the companies, business organisations and governments to sift the grain from the chaff, best from the ordinary, leaders from the hoi-polloi. In Singapore, EQ testing is mandatory for all bureaucrats. The government gets a useful insight into ‘personality weaknesses’ and ‘leadership deficiency’ of its bureaucrats which helps it to pick up the right person for leadership roles. Focus on EQ, take it above 130 and success is guaranteed. It is the mantra, the panacea, the Ramban for all the leadership related issues of individuals and organisations!
However, reducing leadership qualities to EQ scores measured through psychometric tests is deeply problematic. One need not go too far in history to see that IQ scores were once seen to be the ultimate to measure the intelligence of a person. Over a period of time though, these scores are now seen to be almost worthless, if not harmful for the self-esteem of the person whose intelligence level these tests sought to measure. The IQ scores have now been discarded and don’t enjoy any degree of respectability.
The methodology for the measurement of EQ is based on self-report which may give a wrong score since the questions may be interpreted differently by the assesse than it was intended by the assessor behind the EQ instrument. It is often found that self-reports provide wrong answers for the simple reason that when these tests are conducted in the work place, the individual want to ‘appear as capable as possible’. It is not a question of lying but simply the reflection of the fact that many people tend to believe themselves to be capable in ways that are not real and accurate. Moreover, the tests are designed for a global audience without taking into account the cultural specificities. The social skills are assumed to have universal validity but there may be significant differences in relative positioning or acceptance of these on a regional basis. For example take the case of emotional self-expression. Some cultures may believe that emotional self-expression is a positive attribute while in many others restraint in expressing one’s emotions is considered socially correct and hence desirable. There is a certain bias in designing these instruments for measuring the suitability or competence of a person in a business environment. EQ is also criticised for being a measure for conformity than the actual ability of an individual. For example it would be very difficult to find an instrument of EQ which measures the willingness of the person to stand up against the ill practices of the management or go against its core objectives like boosting the bottom line or efficiency of resources purely in money terms.
There is no score for conscientious rebelliousness within an organisations that could get captured on these scores. Where would a whistle blower like Edward Snowden who released classified documents of the US intelligence agencies exposing its secret surveillance programme, stand on the scale of EQ? What would be the advice of the EQ test for the former Vice President of Pfizer Peter Rost who exposed the wrong doings at the giant pharmaceutical company in 2004 for which he paid the price by being sacked. Engineer Manjunath was killed in 2005 by infuriated petrol pump owners for exposing the rampant adulteration of petrol. (See an interesting list of whistle-blowers on internet beginning from the year 1560- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_whistleblowers ) I don’t know if his courage in standing for his values would find a place on the EQ score. Could such people be thought of as having leadership qualities or will they be considered as misfits from the organisational point of view with low inter personal or other skills rated highly for leadership qualities?
True, the instruments designed for measuring EQ and leadership qualities do have parameters like independence, social responsibility and empathy which they seek to measure. But these parameters are restricted to the boundaries of the existing organisational set up and ethos. They are not able to accommodate truly transformational interventions and initiatives which are paradigm changing. Within the context of these tests independence would mean suggesting a new method for earning profit than what has been the usual method so far. It can’t dare to suggest that the very model of the industry is harmful and needs to shut down for the public good. Its measure of empathy would be even more instrumental in nature. From being a noble emotion, empathy is turned into a ‘skill’. The able leader with high empathic score would be capable of using his ‘empathic skills’ only in the limited sense of being able to get people to work for the organisation without creating much friction in the implementation of policies etc. The social responsibility would be confined to providing hospital facilities for lung cancer patients even while the company may work hard to improve its balance sheet in the cigarette industry.
The fallacy of this approach to leadership through the measurement of EQ becomes apparent once we start questioning its assumptions which are of course never stated in such exercises at management schools. At a more fundamental level we need to ask if some of the deeper questions of life, qualities and values are quantifiable. Is it even desirable to quantify them? The assumptions and values that have guided the world and continue to inspire humanity are unmeasurable. Truth, honesty, courage of conviction, freedom, justice, love, and humanism – none of these can be measured and yet they are precious. These are the qualities that define human race. They can’t be fixed within the parameter of goal setting and achieving them in a well defined time frame. There is no data to support these as ‘beneficial’ attributes either but they exist and give meaning to human life.
Going beyond the discussion of the organisational concerns, one can imagine two approaches to life- the success approach to life and the meaningful approach to life. In the words of the renowned social thinker Eric Fromm, one could call them ‘the have approach’ and the ‘be approach’ ( Watch Video- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzpT1mZf718) (See a brief intro of the book- http://freudquotes.blogspot.in/2014/02/erich-fromm-to-have-or-to-be.html) The success approach to life visualises the world in terms of goals and objectives to be achieved through human endeavour. This is amenable to measurement and quantification which business schools love, corporations demand and managers look for. We must recognise though that an exclusive focus on the outcome induces a kind of distortion in our approach to life.
The other approach views life and its myriad activities as a process. Each step is seen as a goal to be taken with deep commitment and a sense of piousness. Journey itself becomes the destination and there is no dichotomy between the means and the end. Within this approach it is quite possible that a person could be unsuccessful and yet feel fulfilled and happy if he had led a meaningful life. Very often our lives are more fulfilling in the way we lead it than the goal we wish to achieve. Viktor Frankl who was put into the gas chamber waiting to be executed in the Nazi concentration camp makes a moving statement in his book ‘Man’s search for meaning’ about the idea of success. He writes ‘the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself…….Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long run — in the long run, I say — success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think of it.’
Mandela believed in it and so decided to risk his political career to reinstate Springboks rugby team. Gandhi believed in it to have the courage to call off Non-cooperation movementat at its peak when Chauri Chara happened. We too can decide what path to take, irrespective of what is taught at management schools and recommendations for our EQ score. Only then can we speak like the invictus–
‘It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul’.