Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Underground Man

"Notes from Underground" by F. Dostoevsky... I started reading this book because it intrigued me... okay, the person who gave me the book piqued my curiosity too…(just a little bit, though).. Well now I could go on and write about me...but I guess I shall desist from narcissistic contemplations and write about the Underground Man (UM) who harangues about his condition and position in his society. I'm not sure if I can call it his society, because it doesn't exist anywhere else but in his head. He berates this society, he hates it, he believes that he is despised because he is vile and asocial. Yet all along his display of detached anger, he stops now and then, turns volte face on that particular point of his argument. He deliberately tries to take the reader elsewhere. He wants to show the reader that he is an equal turncoat as the UM himself. That is why he pauses with the 180 degree turn only to hear the reader go ‘yeah’ in his mind. Then, the UM wants the reader to also realize that he agrees with the opposite. Quite the opposite! What the UM needs is love, unconditional and accepting all his flaws. All he attempted to do was have relationships with people without having a relationship actually. Maybe he was scared of any little loss that may accrue because there could be always an end to any relationship. Towards the last 30 odd pages of the book, his real self comes to light. He has met the whore but he shames her with his cruel words.

I finished reading the book in the morning today and I am very sad. I didn’t want to let go of the UM. Perhaps because of the compassion in me, but then the book could have been written so that the reader may feel compassion… (You see, I don’t trust the UM or Dostoevsky anymore!) if the latter is the case then I have once again been taken for a ride… slimy bugger…that coot Dosto! Anyway, the UM fell in love with the whore Liza, and he realized it after he was cruel to her. For four days, he remained suspended in love for her. It bordered on the brink of madness. He desperately wanted for he to love him. She does and she comes over to his place to let him know. She is not entirely without shame. Aware, actually of her own status and life so far, she ventures to speak with enormous trepidation. However her hesitant attempts are met with violence on his part. At first he lets her see through to his loneliness, she does and soothes him as he cries upon her breast, bawling like a child. As things lead from one to the other, and time goes on, the UM wants to test her again. After she is dressed, just before she leaves, he presses five rubles in her palm. What he tried was not a test of whether she loves him or not, but whether he could be loved at all. She did not understand him, how could she, when he (who had read so much) could not even do so himself. His act, yes, undoubtedly cruel, seemed vicious to her. Needlessly vicious!! She leaves the house and he turns to see the crumpled note lying next to the couch.

Of course he realizes! Of course he is crushed! Of course he never sees her again! Of course he goes underground to write his harangue! Of course he is lonely! Of course she could never come back or understand him!

He wanted her to save him from him.
She wanted him to save her from her.

None understood the other. None helped the other. None loved the other. None saw beyond his or her self. They both lost, not just the other, but the opportunity to know themselves. The only one chance at passion available for the two of them, yet they squandered it away in an idiotic move at maintaining their egos in the face of social mores and their own unique though commonplace adjustments to them.
ENDNOTE: Dostoevsky should have carried on writing in this style...simple, incisive and provocative. This book was not a success, and so he meandered into the other style of writing evident in the "Brothers... or "Crime...


Thursday, January 11, 2007

on leadership...

“I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?” ~ Benjamin Disraeli

To lead or to follow…both these propositions connote and denote significance and importance in a very wide spectrum of responsibilities, both on the part of the leader and that of the follower. Each must choose carefully. The avenues / problems / matters that call for leaders and followers must also be carefully deliberated upon. However, the follower has to be more conscientiousness than the leader. This is true especially in the twenty-first century where causes and leaders abound. It is just as easy to follow an ineffective leader in a just cause, as it is to follow a great leader for an evil cause. On the other hand the leader must be self-sacrificing because he has to set an example for every one. In the twenty-first century, the major feature of the changing nature of leadership relates to the changing issues of concern, the transformational style of leaders and the scope, extent and manner of follower participation.

Before expositing on the changing nature of leadership in the twenty-first century, it must be clarified that leadership, its nature, its purpose, its success or lack thereof is dependent upon certain variables and the complex interdependent relationship between these variables. The entire gamut of these variables is prohibitively exhaustive but if an attempt to enumerate them was made then it would include the following, though not in any order of importance or superiority. The aforesaid variables are: personality of leader, personalities of the followers, faith or lack thereof in the leader of the followers, numbers of the followers, nature and significance of the cause, number of beneficiaries or victims to the cause, reason for choice of the specific concern, nature of potential risks, type of solution that the leader aspires to, kind of solution that the followers expect, the needs of the society at large, political constraints if any, the amount of economic resources available, kind of military strategy if need be, courage of conviction on the part of both the leader and the followers, counter strategies of rival concerns, adjustability and flexibility of followers especially as the leader attempts to change strategy if the big picture so demands, the means to be used to achieve ends and the extent of direct or indirect contact between the leader and the followers.

All of the factors involved in the aforementioned variables are experiencing a sea-change in the twenty-first century dominated by the globalizing influences of instant coffee, McDonald’s, Internet blogging and networking, because of which leadership itself is undergoing a metamorphosis. Gone are the days of yore when only great men and women were leaders. Today practically anyone can be stage-managed to become one, or assume the role of one. This is not to say that there aren’t good leaders like Gandhi, Martin Luther King or for that matter Joan of Arc, but membership to causes and the number of causes as such has grown to such gargantuan proportions that every RWA in Delhi has a leader, some of who definitely are effective and necessary, but for the most of who the less said the better.

At this juncture, the typical classification of leadership styles has to be mentioned because they further elucidate the changing nature and necessity of leadership depending of the temporal and spatial exigencies in the twenty-first century. First, there is the Laissez Faire Leadership Style, which is a “hands off” approach primarily for highly motivated and skilled followers, for example in a specialized business corporation like an architectural firm. The second style which still has a few takers even though it is largely falling out of favor is Autocratic Leadership Style, evocative of the feudal lords in Medieval Europe that led armies to the Crusades. A twenty-first century example would be leaders of fanatical terrorist groups like the Al Qaeda. Third is the Participative Leadership Style which emphasizes that innovation is the only way to success. Panel consortiums like Board of Directors of large multinational corporations exemplify this style. Another leadership style was objectified by Ohio State University and the University of Michigan when they coined the term Situational Leadership, which mainly focuses on the need to change according to the alterations in the situation, as the name suggests, and according to the requirements of the people being led, for example the shifting of the goal posts that occurred in the Oval Office during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The fifth is the Transactional Leadership Style adhered to mostly in large, stationary, almost stagnant institutions like the bureaucracy where status quo is always sought and maintained. Transformational Leadership is the sixth style where the primary focus lies on effecting positive change in themselves, others and the entire organization in exactly the same order with an aim towards progress. Commonly associated with Transformational Leadership are Charismatic Leaders like J.F. Kennedy and Nelson Mandela and Visionary Leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King who attempted to inculcate ethical values in the followers that would last beyond the duration of the need for a leader or the cause for that matter. Then there is Strategic Leadership which is constituted specifically to outwit competition, for example, Army Generals during war. Team Leadership is yet another style which believes in the old adage “two heads are better than one” and adds “the more the merrier”; and the ninth style, coined by Jim Collins, is called Level 5 leadership wherein the leader embody a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional resolve. The tenth style of leadership, which is fast gaining importance in the twenty-first century, is brand leaders like Angelina Jolie who is the UN Goodwill Ambassador or late Princess Diana who worked tirelessly against the use of landmines.

The list of leadership styles mentioned above is in no way exhaustive. It is open-ended and subject to change whether in the nature of additions, subtractions, or modifications ad nauseum. There is however, one key ingredient that goes into the making of the leadership style that would be followed by a particular organization, movement or concern. It is power in all its manifestations, utility and repercussions. If power of the leader is coercive then the leadership style would be Authoritarian, if it is referent then it would be an Influential Leadership style, if it were distributive then Participative Leadership style would be the result, if power is based on hierarchy then it would imply a Transactional leadership style and if power was essentially the force of the personality of the leader then it would be Charismatic Leadership style. Hair splitting can be furthered in this classification of leadership, for example if personalities of leaders were taken into account then a domineering man or woman would make for an Authoritarian leader. And if the nature of the followers was taken into account then, huge numbers would qualify the leader as a mass or popular leader; submissive and meek followers would denote Authoritarian Leadership. In this way, many more variables can be entangled in numerous combinations and permutations to create an unending figure of leadership styles, more so in the twenty-first century where the situations that demand leaders are growing at a staggering rate.

It is not as if all types of leadership have undergone a tremendous change. There are quite a few similarities left over, perhaps because the human experience is such that knowledge is always cumulative and incremental, whether it accrues as what ought to be carried forth by the new generation or as what ought to be discarded as detrimental. There are avenues where leaders do not have to meet their followers which existed even in the ancient times like that of scientific, industrial and technological movements where leaders like Galileo, Copernicus, or Einstein, Stephen Hawking never have to meet their protégés. An illustration in the field of economics is the 1950s seminal work on economic dependency theory separately arrived at by Hans Singer in Germany and Raul Prebisch in Argentina based on Keynesian economics. Of course this probably wouldn’t happen today because of the information and communication technology revolution. Most String Theorists perhaps know what the other is up to! On the other end of the spectrum are the military generals be it Alexander, Napoleon, Churchill, General Patton or General J.S. Arora who have to be in constant touch with their soldiers. Exceptions do and did exist like the British army, in the days when the sun never set on their empire, who never had to meet their sepoys directly or today’s deconstructed military command structure where orders maybe radioed in to far flung border posts in lieu of messengers on horses that Aurangzeb sent during his campaigns.

Not all leaders are effective all the time. Some are effective only some of the time and in some situations. The test of a good leader is the knowledge when and when not to enforce regulations on the followers. Take the case of Akbar, while he was a great military leader, a just ruler and a devoted architect, he did not in any form pressure his people to follow the tenets of the new religion that he had propounded. In fact tauhid-i-illahi did not last beyond Akbar’s own lifetime, while he did rigorously enforce taxes. Akbar also delegated authority, like land reform measures to Todar Mal, which goes to show that a great leader demonstrates faith in his team and followers. In the twenty first century, delegation of authority is imperative due to the complexities and details involved in every task of every magnitude. This delegation of authority also prepares the ground for future leaders. A case in point could be made about all the political parties (whether in India or abroad) which prepare young leaders very obviously whether to take upon their youthful shoulders the burden of development of the nation, winning elections or nefarious nexus networking, as the recent sting operations have made it apparent.

Thus, there are leadership traits that carry forth beyond time, space and generations. Based on the leadership variables mentioned at the outset, the nature of leadership in the earlier times was that of kings like Ashoka or Marcus Aurelius, military generals like Alexander, warlords like Chenghiz Khan, religious leaders like Jesus or Mohammed, or counter offer leaders like Chanakya. However, today this scenario has changed because the world has transitioned from autocratic rule to democracy with the advent of West Phalian state system. This shift has increased the numbers of concerns of both the governed and that of the government. This alteration in the international state system has brought with it a myriad of issues to the forefront in all the three levels: systemic, nation-state and individual. Democratic theories of governance have undergone adjustments ranging from liberal to elitist to pluralist to sustainable equity to all the sections of society. With this, an advent of a range of socio-political-economic issues has raised their heads, that demands for specific and special leadership. As such there are the likes of Anna Hazare, Verghese Kurien, Narayan Murthy, Arvind Kejariwal, Medha Patkar, C. Bisht replete in the Indian civil society. Also as the means to organize followers have increased manifold, and access for the formation of associations has eased there are movements like Justice for Jessica and Justice for Priyadarshini Mattoo as examples. A simple SMS or a simple Internet broadcast can do wonders in our societies today!

Just like the various independence movements of the twentieth century in the former Asian and African colonies of European powers produced leaders like Suharto, Nehru, Tito and Nasser, in the twenty first century social and economic causes like poverty alleviation produce leaders like Amartya Sen and Aruna Roy. Practically every activity / issue / cause that has the potential to impact and benefit a large number of people creates leaders out of men and women. Even unjust causes create leaders not necessarily in the line of Saddam Hussein or Ayman Al-Zawahari (some do reform like Muammar Quaddaffi, others like Fidel Castro don’t), but its always 20/20 hindsight when the just or unjustness of the cause comes to the fore. As it is said, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter; a notable example is post First World War Germany and Hitler’s stature, power, pelf and position. Even the often maligned political leadership has changed its image from that of an apparently all knowing leader amidst a vast range of sycophants, though this variety of leaders still exists, to effective bosses who get tech savvy things done in their constituencies like Chandrababu Naidu. Often, one single determinate act can transform the society, for example Jayalalitha making rain water harvesting mandatory in every household in Tamil Nadu.

Therefore, in conclusion, the changing nature of leadership in the twenty first century has included mass public participation in numbers seen never before, evident during the protests against invasion of Iraq in the streets of Germany, Australia, New Delhi, and Seattle on one side and local causes like the Narmada Bachao Andolan on the other. However both the worm’s eye view and the bird’s eye view demands that there be a merger of global and local concerns because of the inter-relatedness of the issues that affect humanity as a whole, not nations in particular. Health, education, sanitation, corruption, poverty, epidemics, infrastructure, ecological damage is not limited to geographical boundaries. It is true that they are measured country-wise, one only need take a look at the Human Development Report of the UNDP, but the fact remains that an automobile mechanic in Detroit is connected to a call center employee in Pune, dengue can spread from India to Pakistan, the avian influenza virus can reach the shores of Long Island, Oprah’s Angel Network can benefit the poverty stricken people in African countries, and for energy sufficiency in India, it needs to initiate, sustain and propagate discussion for a gas pipeline project spanning India, Iran and Pakistan. Once the true nature and extent of the needs of the people are assessed in all levels: local, national and international, all avenues: social, political, and economic and there is resolve to fulfill these aspirations, there is no end to what leaders can accomplish. The verity of success in the inter-connected world of the twenty-first century is the hallmark of the changing nature of leadership.

“A leader is a dealer in hope.” ~ Napoleon Bonaparte