Monday, 26 March 2012

Living the crucibles of life

I wrote a  post on 28th January , 2012  entitled"Multiply Growth through developing Leaders" and ended  it by saying "We should all be looking for ways in which we can develop leadership in our society and organisations .Do you have any ideas on this ?"  Since then ,  I have been in search for  finding  answers to the questions like:How can we  learn to lead?How we sustain our  passion for leading so as to lead for a life time?The book ''Geeks and Geezers" that I read recently has partly attempted to supply some of the  answers, and I intend to share these in this post .
                                                    All of us experience the periods of testing, turning points, defining events or intense experiences which force us to ask ourselves who we are and what we are capable of .Warren Bennis and Robert J. Thomas  call these experiences "crucibles of leadership" in chapter 4 of their  book "Geeks and Geezers - How Era, Values and defining Moments Shape Leaders". Some examples of crucibles are failures , imprisonment , death, humiliation. Crucible is a metaphor  for the circumstances  that cause an individual  to be utterly transformed.Crucibles provide us with the frameworks for self introspection and force us to answer the questions:Who am I?Who could I be?Who should I be?How should I relate to the world outside myself?
But crucibles exist in real time, everywhere and all the time-"Boring meetings , Unspoken grievances.Closed doors.Unexplained actions.Unemployed talents.Subtle rejections.The "little murders" that deplete energy and lower self esteem.Belief systems that require questioning, dozing like sacred cows."These unnoticed  crucibles are the most potent and useful opportunities for learning to lead.Do you recollect your own crucible moments, how they changed you , how they helped you to find your voice and create your own story?
Warren Bennis is Professor and Founding Chairman of The Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California.Robert J. Thomas is Associate Partner  and Senior Fellow with the Accenture Institute for Strategy Change.The two authors have written this interesting and revealing book of 215 pages, after interviewing  a group of 43 leaders from 21 years to 93 years old.
I must confess that reading about crucibles , I remembered Viktor E. Frankl's book"Man's Search for Meaning".How Frankl escaped the death narrowly in concentration camps of Auschwitz, and emerged out stronger as a world renowned author and leader."According to a survey conducted by the Book of the Month Club and the Library of Congress, Man's Search For Meaning belongs to a list of "the ten most influential books in the United States." (New York Times, November 20, 1991). At the time of the author's death in 1997, the book had sold 10 million copies in twenty-four languages"(Wikipedia).The question is how , when faced with extreme challenges and crucibles , some people become leaders while others give way and pass into nothingness ?

Leaders have four essential  skills , competencies or qualities .
1.Adaptive capacity.We must develop the capacity to adapt to change .We must not be inflexible in our conventions and habits"Beware of the prisons you build to protect yourself". John Gardner.Adaptive capacity has five parts:Hardiness,First-class noticer,Learning learning,proactively seizing opportunities, creativity.
2.The ability to engage others  in shared meaning.This has three parts:Encourage dissent , Empathy , Obsessive communication.
3.A distinctive and compelling voice.It has four parts:Purpose,self awareness,self confidence,Emotional quotient.
4.Integrity. Integrity is composed of three elements
Ambition ( desire to achieve something, whether for personal gain or the good of the community or both),Competence,Moral Compass.The authors call these three elements "The Integrity Tripod".
It is intriguing why authors introduced the concept of crucible and essential leadership qualities  only for leaders below35 years(Geeks) and above 70 years(Geezers) .I think , it is equally applicable to leaders in the age group between 35 years to 70 years .The authors say:"We believe that we have identified the process that allows an  individual to undergo testing and to emerge, not just stronger, but better equipped with the tools he or she needs both to lead and to learn.It is a model that explains how individuals make meaning out of  difficult events- we call them crucibles- and show that process of 'meaning making' both galvanises individuals and gives them their distinctive  voice."
The process of becoming leaders involves learning  to identify such crucibles and to leap in.It also involves developing the four essential qualities of leadership  .
 If we want to continue leading , learning and feeling well ,we need to develop the quality of neoteny. "The dictionary defines neoteny, a zoological term, as "the retention of youthful qualities by adults." Neoteny is more than retaining a youthful appearance, although that is often part of it. Neoteny is the retention of all those wonderful qualities that we associate with youth: curiosity, playfulness, eagerness, fearlessness, warmth, energy. Unlike those defeated by time and age, our geezers have remained much like our geeks—open, willing to take risks, hungry for knowledge and experience, courageous, eager to see what the new day brings. Time and loss steal the zest from the unlucky, and leave them looking longingly at the past. Neoteny is a metaphor for the quality—the gift—that keeps the fortunate of whatever age focused on all the marvelous undiscovered things to come."Further, the ability to continue learning and learning how to learn is an essential skill of leadership for life.Lastly ,  we need to provide potential leaders with opportunities to learn and practice their craft.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption(ICAC)

What are the indicators of good governance?Most of us will agree that  the first indicator  is the elimination of corruption in all wings of  government.The UN Economic and Social  Commission  for Asia  and the Pacific(UNESCAP) has observed  that good governance has eight major characteristics as follows.
2.Rule of law.
5.Consensus Orientation .
6.Equity and Inclusiveness.
7.Effectiveness and Efficiency .
The Lord Nolan Committee on Standards  in Public life in the United Kingdom  made its recommendations in 1995 and  these were commended by the Supreme Court of India in the judgement in  the case  Vineet Narain v. Union of India .The Committee enunciated  the following seven principles of public life :
Every holder of public office is expected to have theses qualities.But despite commendation from the Supreme Court of India , corruption seems to be on increase in India.It has been pointed out that low risk  of detection and punishment of acts of corruption  in Asia is one of the major causes for rampant corruption ."A civil servant committing corrupt offence  in Hong Kong was 35 times more likely to be detected and punished than his counterpart in the Phillipines." writes S T Quah in "Curbing Asian Corruption:An Impossible Dream".
Transparency international's 2010 report  ranks Hong Kong at 13, with a score of 8.4 out of 10, above all other Asian Countries  but Singapore.
The book "Corruption and Human Rights in India . . Comparative Perspectives on Transparency and Good Governance" by C.Raj Kumar , published by Oxford University Press , in 2011 highlights , among other things , the case of  Hong Kong in achieving ultimate success against corruption.While one may  not agree with the legal approach , suggested by the author , to fight corruption, I am impressed by his very thorough and useful  comparative references  and analysis  of   the steps taken by other countries to win the war against corruption .
The Independent Commission Against Corruption(ICAC) of the Hong Kong(website  was set up in 1974.It is now 37 years old and has turned Hong Kong from a highly corrupt city to one of the cleanest cities in the world.How was this miracle achieved? Are there lessons to be learned  for India?
Ever since its inception ,the ICAC has adopted three pronged approach  in fighting corruption, namely operations,Corruption Prevention and Community Relations .Accordingly , it has three  departments , Operations Department, Corruption Prevention Department and Community Relations Department.
Operations Department:
It is the investigative arm of the ICAC and is the largest department within the Commission.The elements of its  strategy include proactive investigation ,effective use of advanced technology including IT, mutual assistance and international liaison.For proactive investigation , following means are deployed:
1.Maintaining extensive contacts  in the public and private sectors.
2.Using  information technology to obtain and analyse criminal intelligence.
3.Deploying informants and undercover agents .
Mutual assistance is achieved through constitution of  operational liaison  groups  of the ICAC with police force , customs and excise, immigration services  and other departments.
International liaison is achieved through exchange of information , visits and training with foreign countries.
For advanced technology and specialisation , suspects'interviews are tape recorded and video recorded..Electronic data is collected , analysed and presented as admissible evidence in the courts.Specialised financial skills are imparted  to trail corrupt payments.
Every complaint is  treated in the strictest confidence.It is an offence to warn a suspect directly or indirectly that he or she has come under investigation.
Operations Review Committee is the sole authority to terminate an investigation , in case there is insufficient evidence for prosecution .The authority to prosecute rests with the Secretary for Justice.
Corruption Prevention Department:
The department has three types of  groups:
1.Assignment  groups  for government departments and public bodies.
2.Advisory services group for private sector and public bodies .
3.Management group for administrative support for Advisory Committee, strategy setting, knowledge management and trend analysis.

This department examines , and secure revision of the practices and procedures of government departments and public bodies if these are found conducive to corruption .Advises free of cost ,  on request private organisations and individuals on how to prevent corruption .The department reports to the Corruption Prevention Advisory Committee that monitors its work .The department also provides advice on  formulation of policies, drafting of legislative proposals, and awarding of major tenders.It also holds workshops and conferences  for the staff of public sector organisations for prevention of corruption .
The department , through various Assignment Groups, conducts studies  of major  public functions in Government departments and public bodies such as :
1.Law enforcement.
2.Licensing and regulatory system.
4.Contract administration.
5.Staff management.
6.Public works .
7.Civil service integrity.
8.Disciplined services.
9.Education , health and welfare.
11.Municipal services.
12.Purchasing and tendering .
13.Construction and capital works.
14.Planning , environment and lands.
15.Service contracts.
16.Public private partnerships.
Advisory services group of the Department , for private sector and public bodies covers:
1.Banking and securities.
2.Building management.
3.Insurance and mandatory provident fund .
4.Real estate agents .

Community Relation Department:
This department educates the public and enlists its support in the fight against corruption.It is done through mass media programmes , talks , seminars, integrity promotion projects within public bodies.It also maintains liaison with business organisations and professional bodies to promote business ethics and corruption prevention .
There are a few lessons to be learnt by us in India ,  from the ICAC model of Hong Kong .
1.The ICAC is a single agency responsible in Hong Kong for eliminating corruption in government departments and public bodies .In India , we have too many agencies , with a diffused sense of responsibility .At the state level , we have anti-corruption wing under the home department .We have vigilance organisation under Vigilance department .We have State Vigilance Commission , which is nearly defunct .We have Lokayukta under a separate Act .Similarly, at the Union level , we have CVC and  CBI .It seems that a single agency/Commission against corruption , totally independent from the executive branch of the Government , is a better and more effective organisation  for India and its States.
2.The department of operations under ICAC in Hong Kong , meant to investigate  allegations or complaints of corruption , is separate from police and law enforcement agencies."In India,the pool of officers who are drawn for anti corruption work are people who, either before or after their tenure in this work, will be engaged in policing .It is important to develop a dedicated civil service mechanism with officers who will be  trained and vested  with the responsibility of  fighting corruption.This is critical for the success of the institution ."
3.The Right to Information Act , 2005 enhances transparency and accountability in the government departments and public bodies in India , but it can , at times obstruct investigation into serious cases of corruption .In Hong Kong , the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance makes it an offence for anyone  to warn a suspect directly and indirectly that he has come under investigation .In fact, section 30 of the Ordinance  prohibits  unauthorised disclosure of  investigation details.Any premature disclosure of information  jeopardises the investigation and affects the reputation of the person who is the subject of complaint.India needs to make similar statutory provisions.
4.To reduce the opportunities for corruption in Government departments and public bodies and to advise private sector organisations on corruption prevention , the independent Commission against corruption must have a Corruption Prevention Department, like in Hong Kong.
5.Community education and community relations department has an essential role in the independent Commission against corruption in Hong Kong .We need to have similar department in India.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Loyalty and its impact on organizations and individuals

 What is loyalty ?Is it a virtue?What does it mean to be loyal to an organization?Does it mean being loyal to the ideas of the organization's founders?"In trying to think more thoroughly about  loyalty,I turned for inspiration to, the online book seller.I found 250 books on loyalty.More than 200 were about keeping consumers and employees loyal."Brand loyalty" was by far the most frequent use of the term.About 20 books were about "loyalty oaths" during the McCarthy era.Several others were concerned with "my loyalty is my honour",the slogan of Hitler's SS.Only a couple had any relevance to loyalty as a complex moral virtue(Fletcher) ." writes  C. Fred Alford. 
The term loyalty is old fashioned and carries the hint of fascism.The term has been trivialized as brand loyalty .The Nazis committed numerous crimes  under the banner of loyalty .Loyalty  is a virtue but can be misused.Loyalty is strictly an organizational resource.
Albert O Hirschman (born 1915)is a Professor of Social Science , Emeritus at the Institute of Advanced Study  in Princeton.His  book  "Exit , Voice and Loyalty . . Responses to decline in firms, organizations and states" was published in 1970 and  is 162 pages long.It is provocative , perceptive, fascinating ,powerful , original and multidisciplinary.
What do policy makers  do when the organization  they  belong to  declines and becomes slack  due to strife , corruption , boredom or any other factor?It may be  a firm(economic organization) , a non governmental organization , a political party or a government.The  mechanisms of recuperation   or restoration to  health of such organizations use loyalty , exit , voice and strategic and tactical efforts.
Hirschman has given an interesting theory of loyalty. Breeding ground for loyalist behaviour is in general  difficulties in recognising change.There are obstacles to the perception of change.Loyalty is different from faith .Loyalist behaviour retain an enormous dose of reasoned calculations.                  
                       Loyalty raises the  cost of exit.It holds exit at bay and activates voice.As a result of loyalty, members may be locked into  their organizations  a little longer .Exit then becomes equated with disloyalty.But loyalty often represses voice alongside exit.Loyalty breeds self deception and alters beliefs and attitudes  .In this sense , the behaviour of a loyalist goes against the theory of cognitive dissonance.Intolerable deterioration finally does lead to exit of the loyalists.
There are two different varieties of loyalty:
1.Loyalty with no thought of exit .This is unconscious loyalist behaviour(ULB)2.Loyalty when a member thinks about exit and is liable to use the threat of exit for the purpose of changing the practices of the organization.
  Exit option is a characteristic of normal competition .But when loyalty is present ,  it is often seen as disgraceful ,desertion , defection or even treason .Is the option of exit always available?What if the price of exit is high , or deliberately kept high by the organization?The longer one fails to exit , more difficult the decision to exit.Failure to exit becomes spinelessness.Exit is also seen as opportunism."Opportunism is often rationalised as public spirited;even better, it can masquerade as secret martyrdom"(Hirschman).By exiting , one renders  one's  arguments unanswerable.The remarkable influence wielded by  martyr can be understood in these terms.
Upward social mobility is also an exit.Evolutionary individualism and social Darwinism  indicate towards this( flight) pattern of upward mobility.This implies plucking many of the most promising members from the group (like Blacks in the US)while failing to alter the lot of the group.People who oppose evolutionary individualism  argue that without collective thrust or group process , no worthwhile upliftment of the group is possible .Group process castigates a supreme value , ie , success via exit of the promising individual.               
                  "Brain drain" is  also a kind of exit. This also  applies to emigrants who leave their country and migrate to a foreign country for a better job or opportunity .In leaving his country , the emigrant makes a difficult decision and usually pays a high price  in severing many  strong , affective ties.The story about two immigrants from Germany  meeting for the first time  after many years in New York .One asks the other.:"Are you happy here?"Reply:"I am happy , but happy I am not".(Hirschman)

                                                 Voice is to change practices , policies and outcome.Voice can be individual or through collective petition .We find ways to exert influence through voice towards recovery of organization .Voice can be from within as also from without.Voice is in a much more commanding position in less developing countries .In advanced countries, dissatisfaction is more likely to take the form of silent exit.Voice option is  observed more frequently among organizations than among business firms.Voice appeals to higher authorities to replace existing management . Voice against  exploitation and profiteering  had a history in consumer movement .Ralph Nader  was a pioneer of such movements.
                               Voice is an art of constantly evolving  in new directions while exit is clear cut either or decision .There is a scope for development of the art of voice .The presence of the exit alternative can tend to atrophy the development of the art of voice.What should be the effective volume of voice?We need to minimise discontent and hostility.Some organizations resort to expulsion to restrict resort to voice by members.But this is totally unproductive.Some organizations have official or domesticated  dissenters .This also is not very useful.
There is a symbiosis between exit and voice.Both are feedback mechanisms as well as mechanisms for recuperation.Ways of facilitating voice can be to reduce the cost of exit or reduce the opportunities for exit, or increase the rewards  of voice .We should improve the design of institutions that need both exit and voice to be maintained in good health .Ordinarily , when the dominant mode plainly reveals its inadequacy , will the other mode eventually be injected once again .
Loyalty is a virtue , but not an unqualified virtue .If practiced in organizations with fascist elements , it can lead to large scale abuses.In my experience , I have observed that in India , both in private sector as well as public sector, there is widespread practice and expectation of loyalty by organizations from members as well as from employees . In return ,organizations sometimes  treat employees as well as members with filial  attachment and care .As a result , while in the advanced western countries like the U.S. , the relationships between the organizations and members as well as employees is purely contractual , it is not so in India .Indian organizations  have these relationships where expectations of loyalty and loyal behaviour is high , treatment to employees and members has more human touch , more informality, higher motivation   and higher emotional intelligence .But it also has serious downside and vunerability in terms of abuse of human rights and exploitation .While I hesitate to recommend a total elimination of  expectations and practice  of loyalty and loyal behaviour  from the organizations in India( which in any case cannot be done easily  , being a part of Indian culture and tradition ) , there is a need to put institutional checks and limits on such expectations so that large scale organizational loyalty may not result in blind self deception in the name of loyalty , leading to abuses and exploitation .