How Good A leader Is Manmohan ?

In around a month, Manmohan Singh will reach the midpoint of his tenure as the Prime Minister. There will be assessments followed by bouquets and brickbats in equal measure. He has been successful in bringing down the communal temperature, sustaining the economic growth, forging a brave new foreign policy path, initiating some landmark acts like RTI, launching programmes like Bharat Nirman and the rural employment guarantee. He has alienated the urban educated sections because of the reservation policy, failed in convincing the left on several reform initiatives and not managed to make any headway on preventing terror.

But how good a leader is he? By common thinking and opinion polls, he is not a good leader. But going by research on leadership he is probably the best we ever had. The most influential theories on the personal characteristics of a leader have been by Plato, Warren Bennis and Jim Collins.

Plato propounded the concept of the ' philosopher king ‘. According to him the king should either be a wise man or a lover of wisdom. On this yardstick, India today has probably no politician better than Manmohan. And no past PM, barring Nehru comes close to him in knowledge and wisdom.

Warren Bennis emphasised the importance of self-knowledge and inner voice in becoming a leader. He also spoke about having vision, a broad education, curiosity, virtue and risk-taking as essential ingredients of a leader. It is difficult to assess any past PM on self-awareness and inner voice but amongst the other parameters aggregated, Manmohan scores more than any PM except Nehru. He however fails badly on risk-taking.

Jim Collins studied more than 1400 organisations over a thirty year period and arrived at the concept of 'level five' leadership. Level 5 leaders exhibit a paradoxical combination of personal humility and ferocious resolve. They are mostly shy but competent. Abraham Lincoln, possibly the greatest leader America has produced, was a typical level 5 leader. He was described as quiet, peaceful and shy by author Henry Adams. Level 5 leaders have always achieved more than the level 4 leader who is the charismatic and visionary type. Here again, Manmohan could do better on resolve but on the overall attribute he would rank higher than the earlier Indian PMs.

Many great leaders also develop an elaborate inner life due to hardships and traumas in their early years. Manmohan Singh grew up in poverty, battled against odds to do well in academics and then excelled as an economist. This broad experience of life in different facets makes him more complete as a human being than any of his predecessors.

The only dimensions where he falls short are risk-taking ability and resolve - definitely an outcome of his days as a bureaucrat. As a leader, he also has to operate more on instinct than on caution. Whenever he has risen beyond these limitations as in the nuclear pact with the US or the reforms as the finance minister, he has stood tall.


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