Leadership Lessons from Israel
The Indian Army officers and soldiers drawn from across the nation and culturally diverse background are moulded to be a singular, cohesive, motivated and skilled combat force. The National Defence Academy and the Military Academy responsible for grooming the cadets calls it the office like quality. How critical are the social skills, emotional intelligence or orientation to values like Duty, Honour and courage? How much important is it for someone to know his Nation’s history and its people? How critical is it to understand and appreciate our country’s past achievement and contribution of our ancestors? Is taking part in sporting activates key to our overall development? Do sports give us the ability to endure and work in team? Research in the field of behavioural science has time and again pointed out that more we get exposed to our History, Sports and get the opportunity to interact with experienced people, the more we develop as a human.
Many experts argue in favour of a change in the way we educate our youth. We need to move away from a bookish and mugging-up model to more experiential and creativity driven model. Change has to introduced from a mode of testing what a young mind does not know- to bringing innovative ways of teaching-to ensure our kids are given time to explore and experience. One of the things absent in many children today is awareness and understanding of nature and animals and sense of caring. This disconnect between nature translates into a disconnect with our physical self. To be a good father one needs to be a good son. To be a good Business leader, entrepreneur or manager one needs first to be a better human - a man of quality and knowledge.
In Israel, the academic record is somehow less important than military record. One of the questions asked in every job interview is where did you serve in the army. While students in other countries are preoccupied with deciding which collage to attend, Israelis are weighing the merits of different military units. Just as students elsewhere are thinking about what they need to do to get into the best schools, many Israelis are positioning themselves to be recruited by IDF’s (Israeli Defence Force), Elite units. In Israel, about one year before the draft stage, all 17-year-old boys and girls are called to report at recruitment centre for an initial one-day screening that include aptitude test, psychological exams, interviews and medical evaluation. Candidates who meet the requirement are offered an opportunity to take additional qualifying test for service in one of the highly regarded IDF’s elite intelligence unit such as 8200 or Talpiolot, a unit that combines technological training with exposure to all the top commando unit operations.
After fulfilling the conscription service, the alumni association becomes the networking ground for potential entrepreneurs. The idea is to give recruits an overview of all the major IDF branches so that they understand both technology and military needs - specially the connection between technology and the military and provide the students with a broad range of knowledge that gives them critical ability to solve problems. This is achieved by handing them mission after mission with minimal guidance thus enhancing their ability to think and act. Some assignments are as mundane as organizing a conference whereas others are as complicated as penetrating a telecommunication network of a live terrorist cell. Thus, this ability to work on cross disciplinary solution to military problems play a vital role in their development.
The Talpiot program as a whole is under Mataft, the IDF’s international research and development arm, which is parallel to America’s DARPA ( The Defence Advanced Research Project Agency). Matfat has the coveted and sensitive job of assigning each Talpion to a specific unit in the IDF for their next six years of regular service.
However, though Talpiot training is optimized to maintain the IDF’s technological edge, the same combination of leadership experience and technical knowledge is ideal for creating new enterprise. The defence alumni has produced about 650 companies over last two and half decades. Not only this, the ex-IDF pool has given some of Israel’s top academics and the country’s most successful corporate executives. NICE System, the global corporation behind call-monitoring systems used by eightyfive of the Forbes 100 companies, was founded by a team of Talpions. So was Compugen, a leader in human genome research. Many of the Israeli technology companies traded on the NASDAQ were either founded by a Talpion or have some alumni functioning in key roles.
So the architects of Talpiot, Dothan and Ytaziv, vigorously reject the criticisms against the programme of grooming of young people in defence services. Most importantly, the two third of Talpiot graduates who end up either in academia or in technology companies continue to make a tremendous contribution to the economy and society, thereby strengthening Israel in different ways. One of most crucial impact is absence of corporate hierarchy. Every one contributes ideas and opinions and even argues without fear of being reprimanded. In Israel they call it chutzpah - a Yiddish word for guts. Anyone travelling to Israel see chutzpah everywhere; students speaking to professors, employees discussing matters with managers or government officials interacting with Ministers.
While Israeli business still looks for private-sector experience, military service provides the critical standardized metric for employers - all of whom know what it means to be an officer or to have served in any military unit. India’s Human Resource Development needs the right change. It needs more trained academicians - and most importantly, a focus on sporting activity and basic military training. NCC (National Cadet Cops) should be made mandatory at school level followed by an inter-state student exchange programme. The successful students should undergo a basic military programme. Such exposure irrespective of social, economic and regional background will create a pool of young talent to fuel national growth. Thus, for India to reach the next level, it must enable its youth to get the right exposure.