The article originally published in The Huffington Post on Feb 2, 2017
The recent developments in the Samajwadi Party are much like a Bollywood pot-boiler, engaging the audience and also requiring suspension of disbelief! No one ever thought that the strong man of Indian politics and a powerful regional satrap would be challenged by his own son, but there you go. Truth is, anything is possible when power and aspiration are at play. However, if you look beyond all the noise, there are some great lessons in leadership and management hidden in all the melodrama.
People congregate around power
When Akhilesh Yadav took control of the party, it surprised many that those who were believed to be staunch supporters of Mulayam sided with his son and supported him openly. On the stage, during the special national convention, there was Rewati Raman Singh (co-founder of SP), Kiranmoy Nanda (party vice-president) and many ministers and MLAs whom Mulayam Singh had nurtured. There were also many people from the extended Yadav clan.
Don’t be surprised when in a company you see the employees hobnobbing with the person who could be the next CEO.
Like it or not, people hover and congregate around those they perceive to be powerful. Let’s say you founded an organisation, hired and nurtured your employees nothing moved without your consent. You were like the sun in the solar system. You were the power centre. However, if an alternate power-centre emerged, those who looked upon you as their beacon could easily follow him or her instead if their light burned brighter. They would forget your investment in them because they’d know that their future hinges on this new power centre. This is what happened in the Samajwadi Party. So many leaders who had been hand-picked and nurtured by Mulayam Singh Yadav did not hesitate to join the fold of Akhilesh Yadav as he is the future. They all know that Mulayam Singh Yadav is aging and may not be in active politics for long. Why not put bets on Akhilesh Yadav who is already a successful leader, has a strong following and is the heir apparent of the party? So when the party split it was not surprising to see most MLAs with him.
Don’t be surprised when in a company you see the employees hobnobbing with the person who could be the next CEO. Even the people who don’t like him suddenly start singing his praises. We as human are focused on our survival and will do anything to hold on to power.
Know when to pass on the baton
A leader should know when to pass on the baton and take an advisory role. If not done on time it can create a lot of turmoil. Mulayam Singh had a great political run as a three-time Chief minister and one-time Union defence minister, but he is now approaching his 80s and cannot be the force he once was. It would have been great if had passed on the baton and taken up an advisory role. Things might never have come to such a pass and the party he founded would not have fractured.
A leader should know that the organisation that he has created can’t be with him for keeps.
The problem with leaders is that they often find it difficult to call it a day for the organisation that they may have created. A leader should know when it’s time to hand over the reins to the next generation even if the organisation has been created, built and grown by him. If this does not happen, the next generation (that he has created) will rebel against him as they too have leadership aspirations. Don’t we remember what happened to Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus who founded the now famous Gramin Bank and later refused to quit? The Bangladesh government felt he was past retirement age and there was a huge hue and cry. He finally had to quit when the Supreme Court decreed it.
A leader should know that the organisation that he has created can’t be with him for keeps. He has to be relinquished one day for the success of the organisation. If he does not do so, others around him who have aspirations will force him to quit.
When you quit, do it whole-heartedly
What happened in the Samajwadi Party is that Akhilesh was appointed as Chief Minister in 2012. Everyone thought that the discussions around succession would come to an end. However, even sitting in the CM’s chair, Akhilesh did not really get a free hand. There was repeated interference from his father and uncle Shivpal Yadav. Several times, his efforts were undermined.
When a leader hands over the baton and bows out, he should not keep popping back in! He should go the extra mile to ensure that he stays out of the day to day running of the organisation. This must be a conscious effort. Even if his erstwhile team members seek his intervention on issues pertaining to the organisation, he should politely tell them to go to his successor. He should learn the art of quietly fading into the background. That way he will ensure his credibility and respect
Know when to put on the brakes
When a person does not get the required freedom to function and gets pulled from all sides, he will do what he can to unshackle himself. First he will try to do it quietly but when that does not happen he will take drastic steps to get rid of the bondage. I am sure what Akhilesh Yadav did—such as sacking his uncle Shivpal Yadav from the UP cabinet—was probably the last resort.
Never push a loyal person so much that he has to take drastic steps. No one will tolerate unfairness forever.
Then, Akhilesh was sacked from the party for coming up with a parallel list of candidates for the upcoming elections. This was the last straw for him. He called a convention wherein he was elected as party president.
The lesson is to never push a loyal person so much that he has to take drastic steps. No one will tolerate unfairness forever. In a workplace, it should be remembered that as a boss or a leader you can’t push your subordinates so much that one day they retaliate in a manner that hurts you.
Know when to forge alliances, even with opponents
When you know that the going is going to be tough, it makes sense to partner with someone who can help you achieve your objectives. Let’s not forget there are no permanent enemies in politics.
The Congress and Samajwadi Party have never seen eye to eye, but Akhilesh knew that he had to face the wrath of anti-incumbency and the gargantuan political might of the BJP. Also, there was this feeling among OBCs that in a Samajwadi Party regime, it’s the Yadavs who gain the most. Hence the non-Yadav OBCs have been looking to the BJP and the minorities (Muslims) seem to be going towards the Bahujan Samaj Party. With the alliance, the SP hopes to reduce the antipathy that non-Yadav OBCs have towards it; there are even plans to get Nitish Kumar to campaign for them. Also, the alliance will assure the Muslim voters that there’s a credible attempt to defeat the BJP.
The take-away for a business environment is that there are no permanent enemies in the workplace. A business leader has to have the political competence to understand with whom he has to forge alliances to achieve his larger objectives. The alliance could even be with someone with whom he has had a very difficult relationship. A business leader should know how to work with opponents. This was amply evident when Abraham Lincoln as the President had people who were his opponents by his side, such as Attorney GeneralEdward Bates, Secretary of the TreasurySalmon P. Chase and Secretary of StateWilliam H. Seward. Or very recently when President Obama appointed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State even though she ran against him