Blog: Damned if he speaks, damned if he doesn't


Damned if he speaks, damned if he doesn't

Rahul Gandhi's recent statements offer invaluable lessons in communications - what not to speak and when not to speak
Damned if he speaks, damned if he doesn't

Damned if he speaks, damned if he doesn’t! For Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, the gift of the gab is something I’m sure that he wished he had. Earlier, political commentators used to bash him for not saying much; and now he can’t seem to get anything right at all.

Sample the latest statements: “Dalits need Jupiter’s escape velocity on Earth”; “Poverty is a state of mind”; “My opinion about the ordinance is that it is complete nonsense. It should be torn up and thrown away”, “India is a beehive”, “My mother came to my room and cried... because she understands that power is poison”, or for that matter “If India is computer, Congress is its default programme” and you know exactly why the Opposition, media and political pundits are emboldened to say that he is a huge disappointment, a clueless kid and at best a diffident politician. The recent actions of the Gandhi scion offer insights into how a leader shouldn’t communicate.

Taking the right decisions: Though the Gandhi scion has been in active politics for almost a decade now, he has shown no inclination to express his views on key policy issues, which might have helped him gain a strong foothold in the government. But, he was happy just stating age-old problems with no solutions. Likewise, if a leader does not take the right decisions at the right time, it can backfire on him when least expected.

Wrong timing: Timing is critical to taking any decision -- be it when to expand operations, reduce headcount or take on the competition. But, if decisions are timed badly then it can not only impact the person, but also the business. Like for example, Rahul Gandhi chose to speak on the convicted MPs’ ordinance by addressing a press conference towards the fag end of September 2013 and not when the Congress party itself was discussing the merits and demerits of the case; but the timing was so bad that it ended up showing a glaring communication as well as generational gap within the party. He might have not intended to undercut and insult the prime minister, but that is exactly the message that went out to the electorate. He didn’t stop there, a few days later he followed this with his masterstroke political-physics (escape velocity) metaphor; in short he became a subject of much mockery.

Don’t wash dirty linen in public: A leader needs to understand that many times decisions start and stop with you. However frustrated one might be, one must be able to raise issues with the Board and discuss with other senior managers. While Rahul is Vice President of the Congress party, he has rather donned the hat of a party outsider. Instead of raising policy issues at various levels within the party and the government, he takes out his frustration during rallies and press conferences.

As the de facto leader of the party, Rahul Gandhi is expected to be its face and articulate its position on several matters. Of late, he’s been addressing a number of rallies. Leave aside the content, which is the point of discussion in newsrooms, he’s gradually becoming combative. Here is a lesson for him and future leaders (political as well as corporate) – the product offering / promises need to be fresh with added advantages. It’s good to criticise the opposition’s policies, but the criticisms should be complemented with concrete arguments and must also tell the masses what better you have to offer. A clear-cut argument would imply that you have given the entire matter much thought and importance; else it will be seen as mere tantrums and you run the risk of losing all credibility.

Political as well as corporate leaders need to a take a note: Tokenism will no longer work; actions need to match the words.

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Topics: Leadership, #Communication

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