4 Lessons for Business Leaders From AAP’s Downhill Slide

ADNAN ABIDI/REUTERS

REUTERS/Adnan Abidi 

[ The article first appeared The Huffington Post on May 2nd, 2017]

 

The Aam Aadmi Party was an experiment that promised exceptional results. When they first fought elections in December 2013 and came to power for 48 days before resigning, everyone thought that they had been wronged. The people of Delhi were prepared to give Kejriwal the crusader a second chance—he was a common citizen like them after all, operating from a modest apartment and travelling to work in a small car. Images of him sitting in protest and even sleeping outside on a cold winter’s night were fresh in people’s minds.

So, when the elections were held again in February 2015, the citizens of Delhi gave him a thumping majority and the party won 67 out of 70 seats. However, it was a downhill slide for the AAP after that with countless controversies, infighting, and not enough action on the ground. The people took note of everything and they delivered their verdict in Punjab, Goa and the Delhi MCD elections, leaving AAP high and dry.

Leadership is about achieving a larger purpose, which may mean creating win-win partnerships with your opponents.

According to me, AAPs tryst with power provides important lessons for business leaders. Here’s how.

 

  1. Don’t let your values erode

Somewhere over the last two years, Arvind Kejriwal and his party colleagues seem to have lost the values they stood for—change, progress, simplicity and authenticity. Citizens thought they would build a model corruption-free government, but quite the opposite happened. Indeed, AAP leaders acted in ways that directly contradicted their “official” values.

For example, rather than follow austere principles, they flew business class to exotic locations with taxpayers’ money. They also squandered major funds in hubristic, self-aggrandising advertisements. What people also found weird was that Arvind Kejriwal wanted the Delhi government to pay for his legal battle with Finance Minister Jaitley. On top of this were corruption cases against the Delhi government and a minister who had to reign because of his fake degree. This was from a party that promised candidates with impeccable credentials. Clearly, everything that should have gone right had gone wrong. AAP’s promise of providing good governance was in tatters.

A leader should always remember that if s/he does not live the values that s/he espouses, followers will desert him or her. People get associated with a leader just not for their charisma but the larger values and purpose that they bring to the table.

 

Takeaway: Don’t do things that don’t resonate with your espoused values or you will lose credibility in the eyes of employees and customers.

 

  1. You have to forge partnerships even with your opponents

This is an area in which AAP failed miserably. There are primarily two reasons.

The first is Kejriwal’s leadership style. He does not seem to be someone who is able to tolerate dissension or deal with it constructively. For him it’s “my way or the highway.” Thus anyone who questions him is shown the door fast, as we saw in the cases of Yogendra Yadav, Prashant Bhushan, Mayank Gandhi, Ajit Jha etc.

The biggest impact of MBBO [Management by Blaming Others] is that people don’t feel they are being led. They feel they are being taken for a ride.

The other is Kejriwal’s strategy to get into repeated skirmishes with the government in the centre. (Of course there is still some doubt over whether it is a “strategy” or just a lack of ability in forging partnerships.) Working with opponents is an art form, which is something I mentioned in a previous article about the Samajwadi Party imbroglio.

Leadership is about keeping a larger objective in mind and not getting carried away by one’s emotions. So if that means you have to partner with someone you don’t like, so be it. Go ahead and find a common ground, share the larger purpose and achieve the most important goals.

 

Takeaway: Leadership is about achieving a larger purpose, which may mean creating win-win partnerships with your opponents.

 

  1. If you adopt MBBO, you will perish

What is MBBO? It is Management by Blaming Others. This seems to be a strategy that AAP seems to have adopted. Since they came to power, they have repeatedly pointed fingers everywhere but at themselves. There has been a lack of introspection and accountability. For example, when Delhi was overwhelmed by a toxic smog last winter, the AAP government blamed farmers in Haryana and Punjab instead of taking proactive steps. When they lost elections, they blamed EVMs! There have been many such instances, some of which you can read about here.

This strategy is counter-productive. When leaders don’t accept responsibility, they lose credibility in the eyes of followers. Followers expect their leaders to be problem-solvers and own up when things don’t happen as expected. No one wants a cry-baby and a complainer for a leader. The biggest impact of MBBO is that people don’t feel they are being led. They feel they are being taken for a ride.

 

Takeaway: Always take ownership. If a leader blames others, teams will not feel led.

 

  1. Know when to respect the sanctity of certain things

In a nation like India no one tolerates anyone questioning our democratic process and national security. However big a leader, anyone who questions things is looked at with suspicion. Sadly, the AAP has been questioning the outcomes of the Punjab and Delhi municipal elections by blaming the Election Commission and EVMs. Earlier Arvind Kejriwal made a big mistake by asking for proof for the surgical strike. He did retract it later but came across as someone who questioned steps taken towards India’s security. Remember, every nation, every organisation has a set of things which a leader should never question. These are related to the edifice on which the organization is built. An example could be a new CEO coming and questioning the heritage of an enterprise or poking holes in the strategies taken by founders in the past. Doing this would be at one’s own peril.

 

Takeaway: Never question the unquestionable of an enterprise. These are hardwired to an institutional foundation. Questioning them would be rocking the institutional edifice.

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Endnote: There may yet be hope for AAP—Arvind Kejriwal recently tweeted , “Yes, we made mistakes…” And I’ve always believed that when a leader realises his mistakes, it’s a new beginning.

 

 

 

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