Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Leadership and use of best talent

This was posted on Ambie's Blog on Friday 8 January 2010

There is a notion in the management fraternity nowadays, that the best talent shall be given the responsibility of managing the rest. This is fundamentally wrong. A talent in doing a job or mastery of a specialized skill does not mean that the possessor of the skill or talent would be good in managing people. Management involves a lot of tasks in administrative nature, that consumes a lot of time. There are people who would be good at handling people, but with limited expertise in specific skills.

We have excellent example to support this argument in Mahabharatha. In the war between Pandavas and Kauravas, Pandavas had chosen Dhrishtadhyumna to lead their troops, a person with a lower profile but with a clear motto of defeating the Kauravas, who was born to kill one of the strongmen of Kauravas Dhronacharya. He was a warrior of an impeccable courage and skill, but not as comparable to Bheeshma or any of the other Kaurava front-line generals. He was given charge of administrative duties of the Commander-in-Chief to device strategies and conduct the war, while the likes of Arjuna and Bheema were left free of other tasks and to concentrate on fighting the enemy.

Whereas in the Kaurava army, the task of commanding the forces was given to Bheeshma who was also the one to tackle Arjuna, Abhimanyu and the likes. He was over burdened. His fall on the war field had a morale damaging impact on the troops. Next came Dhronacharya, who was capable of defeating all the Pandava warriors, but was over burdened with the duties of Commander-in-Chief and the daily chores took it's toll on his performance in the war field. But Arjuna or Bheema or any other of the Pandava brothers were fighting wars and Bheema as sworn was on a killing spree of the Kaurava brothers. No front-line warriors of the Pandava forces were given any additional administrative task of anything.

Their supreme leader Yudhishtra was a good listener of his people, who listened to his adviser Krishna and they often brainstormed before devising strategies and were at unison at mind of the way they were going to conduct the war. After the decision was made the C-in-C was given the powers to carry them out. Whereas in the Kaurava camp the supreme leader Dhuryodhana never listened to his advisers. He made them do what he thought was right and the freedom of operation for the leaders were absent. Any step taken inching away from the idea of the supreme leader would result in the head honcho yelling at other leaders in front of others, which resulted in the loss of morale of the troops and also made the leaders perform what was told, but not what was right.

Let us relate this to the latest of the wars. US has waged war on Iraq. Let us not get into the merits of the reasons given by US. The conduct of war was given to professional generals and they have chosen people to do the jobs and they have served the purpose of the war. Saddam was defeated, dethroned and now he is dead. Whereas the other side had advantages of home ground, patriotic people, courageous generals and staff, but yet the leadership was not listening to them or given freedom to them to do what is right. The generals had to follow what the leader had told them. Unlike the allied forces, where the political leadership had given due support to the military leaders had them conduct the business of war. They had finally defeated the enemy.

The same applies to business also. Where the top management conducts the day to day affairs of the business, it ruins the operations finally. They should get the correct people to manage the talent, nurture the talent and make the talented feel good. The conduct of the business operations is the job of the person who manages the operations. The middle management should be given direction to tread and they have to choose the path to tread. The conduct of the march through the path should be left to the junior management. The junior management had to decide at what pace to march, where to slow down and where to speed up.

The people who are chosen to manage things have to possess some talent in the core business to understand it, and the knack of managing people and motivate them to do the right thing. The middle management has to have an understanding of the business and they have to ensure a different and right way of doing the right thing is devised or found in testing times and lead the people in the chosen path. The top management had to be there to look around and find out how to achieve the broad objective and all involved are rewarded and left happy at the end of the day.

We have examples for this too. Lee Iaccoca was not an extremely talented automotive engineer, but he was instrumental in bringing Ford to forefront. Jack Welch was not an extremely talented chemical engineer, but he turned GE around and is still known for his managerial acumen. We have examples in every industry.

Bottom line is skill has to be taught and nurtured and updated. Talent has to be developed and nourished. People management is taking care of the talent and skill, by not ruining it with more additional responsibilities.

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