Leaders vs managers


Today, I want to take the liberty to talk about an old friend and one-time boss, the great Uday Shankar. He was the India CEO of Star India, which runs the biggest entertainment media conglomerate in the country. He spoke a sentence when he was joining Star India, Rupert Merdock's company, which is still ringing in my ears. I first met him when he was an unknown entity in 1997. He used to work for Times of India but by then he was simply freelancing as a TV professional. I was then in AAJTAK, working as a senior reporter. After few months, one day I saw him in AAJTAK office. AAJTAK was planning to launch a 24 hours news channel. I was told he would be one of the four executive producers. This was the time when AAJTAK was phenomenally popular and we were on cloud nine. We were surprised about his appointment. We were certain he would fail.

But we were wrong. He went on to become the first news director of AAJTAK, 24 Hours news channel. Channel owes a lot to him for the heights it touched under his leadership and later. Around 2004 he quit and joined star news as editor cum CEO. We all were again puzzled. He as a CEO, surely he would fail, we all used to gossip. But he again proved us wrong. He gave tough time to AAJTAK. Suddenly we heard one morning that he was going to head Star India in place of Legendary Peter Mukherji. I called him. He as usually pulled my leg and said you all wanted me to fail. I asked but how could you accept this assignment. You had no experience of entertainment industry. He told me in his own style when i joined news channel you all said I had no experience of news ? I agreed this was the gossip among journalist then. I still insisted. He said, " Look, I have to take decisions, work will be done by those who know their job and are experts. " Till now I have not forgotten those words. "As a leader my job is to take decisions". Now as the saying goes - rest is history. He turned around Star India from choppy waters.

When I joined Aam Aadmi Party and was given the responsibility to lead Delhi unit as the state Convener, his words inspired me no end. Uday always used to say - "All these big CEOs, they are not born on Mars. They are like us." I knew I had a tough job. Whole country and the top leadership is looking at me. So I have to be careful but not nervous. My first job was to identify right kind of individuals and talented leaders who are ready to walk extra mile, know their work and have passion. Sooner I realised there is no dearth of talent and if I put the processes in place, winning Delhi would not be tough under the magnetic leadership of Arvind Kejriwal. But I was the manager and Arvind was the leader.

Related read: Politics is good business

After working with these two great leaders, I could say that leaders are those who lead from the front, never shift responsibilities on others, take the blame for the wrong decisions, admit mistakes and completely trust their team. Leaders will always have a vision and take entire team in that directions and if he/she has to go against the conventional wisdom, they will not hesitate. But same can't be said about managers. In my entire career. I met many excellent managers. They were nice individuals, very good in their job and always ready to put extra hours but they could not graduate to another level or take the Organisation to next level because they did not have the vision and passion to go against the grain. I always give the example of Manmohan Singh. He was a good prime minister, great economist, but he was not a great leader. When things were going well for the government and the party, he sailed smoothly but as corruption charges started flying thick he did not know what to do.

As a prime minister he should have taken tough measures, would have set new benchmarks and could have changed the course of the politics but neither he has the acumen nor the passion and the strength to confront the situation. He failed and let the whole country down. Congress slipped to 44 seats. It's not that leaders don't fail. They do. Indira Gandhi was rejected by the people of India but she bounced back with great tenacity in 1980. AAP under Arvind Kejriwal was routed in 2014 parliamentary elections but party returned with stupendous success in February 2015 Delhi Elections and rewrote history. APPLE was a great company but it needed a vision and accentricity of a genius named Steve Jobs, to create history and open new technological frontiers for the amazing world in communication. Mangers can manage contradictions but it is leaders who conquer contradictions and give birth to new contradictions. So managers can be trained in academies but leaders are born in different Zones, made of different metal.

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