What can corporate leaders learn from Sardar Patel?
‘When the going gets tough, the tough gets going.’
If there is one Indian leader who stands out as the toughest of the lot and embodies the aforesaid thought, it is none other than the very own Iron Man of India - Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Patel is credited and remembered as the man who united India post-independence. Through his drive, his persistence, his negotiation skills, he lobbied with princes of more than 562 princely states which led to the creation of today’s Indian republic. Like a true leader, Patel used all the forces in his armour-from negotiation to engagement to invoking patriotism to unite these fragmented states into a single country.
Decades later, these very skills remain as relevant for today’s leaders, who are facing a dynamically changing work order, a fragmented workforce, and the impact of technology which is both easing out work as well as posing new challenges. What qualities can the leaders of today learn from the Sardar in their quest to build a cohesive organization?
The Unifying Force
Sardar Patel, was not just a freedom fighter and a political and social leader, but also the architect and unifier of modern India. He was the main force that led India’s integration into a united, independent nation. Patel orchestrated the country’s political integration and ensured the merger of more than 562 princely States with the Union of India at a critical period in the history of India with the swiftness of a military commander and deftness of a visionary leader. What makes this integration even more remarkable is that it was achieved without any bloodshed. It was his insight, wisdom and diplomacy that drove sense into the minds of the monarchs who agreed accession to the Indian republic.
A corporate leader today needs to be the unifying force of the organization. With diverse operations spread across locations and diverse people working towards a common goal, it is absolutely crucial that a leader has the vision, wisdom and pragmatic approach to ensure unity. Unifying is a tough task and unless the right approach is used, it will not succeed. A corporate leader, just like Patel, needs to learn the art of unifying with insight, wisdom, tact and diplomacy. A leader that can be the unifying force and bring together all the different stakeholders of an organization, is a true leader.
A Vision for Tomorrow, Today
Sardar Patel was a true visionary who saw ahead of his times and could inspire the masses to share that vision as well. That is a quality that any leader today would benefit by greatly - to not only be able to see into the future and assess the path ahead but also to be able to share that foresight. At the workplace too, employees quickly realise whether their leader focuses on the immediate or on the eternal - the next step or the big leap - today's agenda or the bigger picture. This might often entail losing sight of the smaller details but a leader with a vision needs to be able to dream big and then lead the way through and beyond the details. That is the essence of true leadership - being able to focus beyond immediate obstacles, preparing for what is to come and never losing sight of the ultimate goal that you want to achieve together.
Drive to Learn
Born in a farmer family, Sardar Patel worked on the land with his father. However, his dreams were to go beyond the borders to study in England and become a lawyer. Money was short but his determination to learn was strong. Due to lack of funds he was unable to travel and complete his education in the promising land of England. His learning spirit did not dampen. Patel borrowed books from friends and worked hard to become a lawyer, which he did!
Sheer determination and commitment to goals is a quality that leaders would benefit imbibing irrespective of the organization they work in. A motivated learner can inspire the entire team (in Patel’s case, the entire nation) to commit to continuous learning and upskilling themselves.
The Power of Negotiation
Among the many achievements that India’s first Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minster is credited with is the capacity to effectively negotiate. Sardar Patel led the mission to unify India from the front. Apart from the British colonial provinces that had been allocated to India, Patel is credited with negotiating with 562 princely states to join the Indian Union. Patel achieved this feat in an incredible three-week period leading up to August 15th deadline with the support of the master-bureaucrat V.P. Menon. Engineering the accession of these states to form a ‘patchwork quilt’ called India was met with resistance at some states – but Patel went to great lengths to ensure that a deal was reached.
Patel’s negotiation skills hold key lessons for corporate leaders worldwide – working tirelessly, exploring all possible options and ensuring win-win scenarios.
Donning Many Hats
Sardar Patel donned several roles as a leader during pre and after independence period. He was the first Home Minister and Deputy Prime Minister of India who played a major role in the freedom struggle of India and helped its integration into a united nation. Patel also acted as Supreme Commander-in-chief of the Indian Army during political integration of Indian and Indo-Pakistan War of 1947. Patel was also the chairman of the committees responsible for minorities, tribal community, and fundamental rights. As a robust statesman, Sardar Patel had the vision to create a vibrant administrative system. He was also the man who conceptualized some of the great policies to keep our country secured from border attacks.
In the context of a business enterprise, a leader has to play multiple roles. First, a leader has to ensure a collaborative environment just like Patel did to create a unified India. Advising, inspiring, and spearheading are some of the few examples of the long list of leadership tasks and Patel had all these traits as he played a spearheading role for independent India. Irrespective of the size of the business, the services it provides, or the growth it aims to achieve, the drive behind it comes from leadership. So, if leaders need to influence and make an impact, much can be learned from Patel’s approach as they try to make a difference in their organization.
As the Statue of Unity honoring the Iron Man of India is unveiled in Gujarat today, it is just the right time for today’s leaders to take a moment to reflect, learn, and imbibe all these qualities from one of India’s most visionary leaders. While the Statue of Unity is now the world’s tallest statute, it can still never surpass the great heights Sardar Patel achieved in his lifetime!
Image source: Livemint