What leaders can learn from Rahul Gandhi’s mistakes?

Picture from Internet

Last week I wrote about leading from the front Narendra Modi style. Now that the Assembly Election results are out, let us examine if there are some lessons we can glean from the campaign trail of Modi’s principal opponents, Rahul Gandhi in particular.

This is the second time Rahul Gandhi pitted himself frontally against Narendra Modi — the first round being the Lok Sabha elections of 2014. Other polls in between, including Bihar, were not exactly F2F (Face to Face) encounters.

In 2014, when Rahul Gandhi led the charge, the Congress ended up with an all time low of just 44 seats. One would have thought that, in the intervening three years both Rahul Gandhi would have matured and the party had sufficient time to get back to the drawing board for redesigning its electoral strategy.

From a few fleeting exposures, some felt Rahul Gandhi had come a long way and become a formidable force to reckon within Indian politics. There were also indications that Rahul Gandhi was working with a small group of associates and advisors to chart out the strategy for the future of the Congress.

Finally, after a lot of noise and dust, the Congress ended up with just 11 seats out of the 105 it contested in alliance with the Samajwadi Party. Significantly, the Congress could win only 2 out of 10 seats in the Gandhi family’s pocket borough of Amethi and Rae Bareli.

This however is not a political analysis of the Election Results but just an attempt to cull out a few leadership insights to mull over the weekend.

  1. Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses: Operate from your strengths and work around weaknesses; To do that, of course, you need a) self-awareness and b) feedback; It is doubtful if Rahul Gandhi had the benefit of either — as he continued to repeat mistakes of the past;
  2. Be careful about selecting advisors: In a leadership position it is easy to attract sycophants and get trapped in the echo chambers of cronies and yes-men; The quality of counsel available to Rahul Gandhi is questionable;
  3. Be clear about your Brand: People want to know what does the leader stand for; what are his beliefs; how will it impact their lives; Only if the Brand resonates will they follow;
  4. Be sure of your USP: A leader has to have her/his unique personality. One cannot build an identity either by aping another individual or simply by running down another person. People would wish to know — what s/he can bring to the table;
  5. Leadership is a prize that has to be won, it is not an entitlement: No amount of formal authority, position or pedigree can confer leadership rights on any individual; Power has to be earned and not inherited;
  6. Communication is key: A leader’s job is to communicate ideas. For that s/he has to establish a connect and rapport with the target; Speak in a language and metaphor that they can understand and relate to. Power of communication does not always mean mesmerising oratory. While that can certainly be of help, not all super orators were great leaders. Mayawati reads many of her speeches in a bland monotone. Jyoti Basu was never a great speaker. The key is clarity and authenticity;
  7. Never underestimate the intelligence of the people or the capacity of your opposition: Over-confidence and hubris has been the nemesis of the greatest leaders. It is a professional hazard that all leaders have to guard against at all times;
  8. Never lose touch with the people: There is no substitute for dirtying ones hand and wetting the feet. View from 36k feet may offer perspective but being with the rank and file aids judgment and intuition.
  9. Can outsource Strategy but not execution: Consultants can advise you on strategy — but seeing through its implementation has to be the leaders responsibility. A leader need not always be in the front, he/she can run operations from a war room too, but cannot abdicate charge. Leadership is a full-time 24/7 job can’t be done through guest-appearances or item-numbers;
  10. Finally, know when to call it quits: It is wiser to live and fight another day than get killed in the battle; Being dead is bad for business;

The list above is both random and illustrative. But, if a few strike a chord, they may be worth some reflection time.

But, the last piece of advise is only for us ordinary mortals. Rahul should not take it as a hint and take off for another R&R break. The troops require the general around more after a defeat than a victory.

This is, perhaps, the most important leadership tip for Rahul Gandhi to remember at this hour of introspection.

Read previous Blog: MODIVATION — Leadership Lessons from Narendra Modi’s last ditch campaign

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