“Here you go, a 500 rupee bill (Indian currency) to tip your driver, I have an extra one from my previous trip to India. That way, we don’t have to spend time at the currency exchange, we can go directly to the hotel”. I told Susan, my boss! We both just landed at Bangalore airport (India) after our trip to the Philippines! It’s a 3 day stopover before we head back to San Francisco. Little did I know that this was going to be one of the most eventful weeks for India. That too, connected to the 500 rupee bill that I just gave Susan!
For those who don’t follow Indian news, Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi made a revolutionary and a bold move to demonetize 2 of the highest value currency denominations (500 rupee and 1000 rupee bill) with just 5 hours notice. Remember, India is a country of 1.3 billion people and the world’s largest democracy and has been significantly affected with terrorism, corruption and red tape, post independence. Political parties have refrained from taking bold measures to avoid losing vote banks. Narendra Modi’s bold move is a check mate to the millions of politicians and businessmen with large amount of unpaid taxes in cash as well as the counterfeit bills that are utilized by terrorist groups to fund terrorist activities in India. Post the announcement of demonetization, a structured plan was also announced for citizens who posses 500 and 1000 rupee bills and steps on how to monetize them through government organizations.
This move has been welcomed and appreciated by all the Indian citizens, in spite of the short term inconvenience & chaos to exchange the 500 and 1000 bills. The general feel in social media is that, the citizens of the country accept and acknowledge that though there may be short term chaos and interruptions to the common man, this is the right and bold step to improve the country long term. When you sit back and observe the whole deal, It provides a fantastic reinforcement of the greatest leadership qualities that successful leaders around the world have demonstrated. Nothing new here, but this is a great use case of leadership for future generations!
- Be Bold: Leadership is not about being called the “nice guy”, its about being effective and gaining respect. Modi knew that he is going to be end up becoming a foe to the thousands (or millions?) of business tycoons and politicians who posses these currencies (without paying taxes). But, its about doing the right thing for the organization as a leader & thats what he did!
- Long term focus: Effective leaders think long term. They know that in order to gain long benefit to the organization, there will be short term tradeoffs and impact. They clearly set expectations to their customers and employees on the short term impact but also articulate the long term benefits. Modi clearly demonstrated a long term thinking, willingness and courage to deal with the short term chaos. We often get worried about short term impact in our organizations with just a few thousand employees. You can imagine the type of leadership required to mitigate and deal with the short term impact caused to 1.3 billion people!
- Be Decisive: Know when to involve everyone in the decision making & when to make an independent executive decision that are tough but are required for the betterment of the employees and the organization. If Modi had decided to consult all his party leaders and had taken the consensus route, this change might never have occurred. Strong leaders know when to make independent executive decisions Vs. when to involve the larger organization in decision making!
- Take smart risks: A change at this level is of significant risk. A lot can go wrong, including a potential short term economic impact to the entire country as well as citizens protesting against the move. Successful leaders take risks, they know the potential failure points and are ready to tackle it to enable organizational success for the long term. This move was a big risk but Modi went for it. He knows that this is the only path to the transformation of world’s largest democracy.
- Hire & nurture top talent: Of course, its so evident that prime minister Modi had a small but a trustworthy team who planned the whole execution and was kept confidential until the prime minister himself announced on like TV to the nation. As they say, successful leaders are surrounded by successful people.
- Speed over perfection: Too many organizations have gone out of business by prioritizing perfection over speed. Great leaders clearly understand when the process / product is ready for the market and believe in launching and iterating. They build exciting products / processes, launch it in the market with initial features, build momentum, continuously collect feedback and improve the process / product on an ongoing basis.
I don’t follow Indian politics nor have a specific interest or preference. But, I believe in appreciating and adopting great leadership, where ever it is. Personally for me, this move of prime minister Modi will go down as one of the most inspiring leadership lessons to embrace. Especially, for driving transformations at scale.
About the Author: For more information, contact Balakarthik Venkataramanan at firstname.lastname@example.org. LinkedIn Profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/balakarthikv