What Rahul Gandhi's CII address teaches: Three leadership mistakes
For an economy that is in need of objective intent and hard measures from the political leaders, Gandhi's speech demonstrated lack of actual intent
Rahul Gandhi recently addressed business leaders in the annual general meeting of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), his first interaction with the industry since becoming vice president of the Congress party. Rife with incomprehensible innuendos and arguably-naive observations, many expressed concerns that Gandhi’s address reflects a disengaged citizen whose views border around the ignorant and the indifferent. Social media was abuzz with pun-filled comments and jokes that revealed that Gandhi came to the meeting unprepared, and was clearly detached from the real issues that the Indian industry faces.
In the organisation, a leader is seen as an individual who has superior expertise, more experience, and greater skills that make him credible and follower-worthy. Most agree that the biggest continuing challenge for any leader is to maintain credit-worthiness among followers and direct reports. Gandhi’s address, many say, did little to promote his credibility as a leader.
A March 2013 global survey by Gallup reveals that the international perception of American leadership has fallen to the lowest point of President Obama’s tenure in the White House. The findings reveal that the fall in confidence is driven primarily by the lack of engagement that the American leadership demonstrates for global issues in recent times. Owing announcements, such as cut downs on granting visas to international professionals, lack of commitment to improve financial situation in Europe, and an antagonising approach toward some Asian nations such as Pakistan and Iran, the global citizenship views American leadership’s focus self-centric and myopic. Political experts as well as satirists comment that Gandhi‘s speech hinted the lack of empathy and engagement toward the industry and economy’s woes.
Political analysts argue that Gandhi picked the wrong battle— as a young inexperienced politician addressing a gathering of the most experienced industry professionals— and it did little to restore investor confidence in the economy’s political leadership. In leadership theory, a leader has to come across as an individual who has deep understanding of ground-level issues and convey intent and capability to address them constructively.
Gandhi’s CII address teaches three mistakes that any leader should avoid.
Don’t let passion rule over substance
Gandhi took the stage as a representative of the nation’s political ecosystem and hence, it was his supreme responsibility to demonstrate an objective approach to the nation’s economic challenges. A Business Today article highlights that Gandhi, on the other hand, came across as a leader who let passion rule over substance, relying on anecdotal artefacts rather than actual economic indicators. For an economy that is in need of objective intent and hard measures from the political leadership, Gandhi’s speech demonstrated lack of actual intent for positive reforms.
Understand what resonates with the followers
A leader who does not convey commitment to understand challenges at the grassroots comes across to his/her team and followers as one who lacks empathy toward the real issues on the ground. Gandhi approximated the energy of young economic entities in the present-day economy through the lens of a daily worker, “Girish the Carpenter.” The moment he made the statement, Twitter was abuzz with views, ranging from the mundane to the hilariously-imaginative, stating that Gandhi was taking the smart and politically aware electorate for a ride. An article published by the leadership services firm, Mind Tools, says that understanding actual motivations of the team and followers is extremely important for a leader to maintain credibility and a devoted follower base.
Avoid criticising your own predecessors
Gandhi ironically stated in his address, “When I went to university in ’91, nobody knew India.” Simply put, Gandhi was pointing to the drawbacks of the previous generations of political leadership in India. Leadership experts unanimously agree that it is a fatal mistake to criticise approaches and competencies of previous leaders, as followers will automatically tend to start drawing comparisons of each and every aspect of the leader with his predecessors.
Perhaps one of the greatest testaments of Gandhi’s blunder through this statement can be summed up in the following tweet that made headlines in the next day’s newspapers, “When I went to university in 91, nobody knew India~#RG. Brother, till 90s it was your dad, grand mom and great grandfather who were in power.”
Gandhi’s speech reveals it is important for a leader to project positive intent and empathy to come across as a true and credible leader failing which, s/he can easily become the subject of ridicule.