B S Raghavan

Making a case study of PM's leadership style

B.S.RAGHAVAN | Updated on November 15, 2017 Published on January 31, 2012

All the existing corpus of literature on leadership makes a big mistake. It assumes that leadership can be fitted into a neatly standardised typology. For instance, there is one school of thought that divides leaders into three categories: Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen and those who don't even know what things happen!

Another school lays down four varieties of leadership: Active-positive, that is, being clear in one's mind of the things to do, encouraging new ideas, tireless in mobilising manpower and resources to achieve the objectives and leading from up front; passive-positive, that is, not interfering with other doers, but not taking initiative in setting the course oneself; active-negative, that is, being obstructive and getting into the hairs of those who are performing; and passive-negative, that is, neither exerting oneself nor letting others exert themselves.

Such categorisations, no doubt, provide intellectual satisfaction, but do not reflect real-life situations. In real life, leaders come in all shapes and sizes.

Their ways of getting things done also widely differ. They are successful because their styles suit their individual personalities and they have been able to make distinctive brands of themselves. In fact, in the case of many of them, their traits and temperaments fly in the face of academic prescriptions.

One is even tempted to attribute their success to the very fact that others are totally nonplussed by their not falling into any given category!

Take our Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh. Within Parliament and outside, in the media, in blogs, wherever his name comes up for discussion and sometimes openly and to his face, he is subjected to slights, taunts and abuses. He is no great communicator. In his public appearances and during debates in Parliament, he comes through as a waxen figure with no trace of emotion or movement.


He has been called the weakest PM, the one who is presiding over the most corrupt government, the mouni baba and what have you. We even find that nowadays at the start of meetings and seminars all over India, the comperes have taken to asking the members of the audience to put their mobiles on the MMS mode!

And yet, Dr Singh has lasted eight years in his post, and looks very much like completing his full term. Some of the storms he has weathered have been more unnerving than those his predecessors had gone through. There has been not one whiff of a disparaging remark or sentiment from his Ministerial colleagues, the entire Congress Party and its allies even in their unguarded moments. They are all pulling together, and willingly and loyally.


Amazing, when you remember that there are many among them who are not famous for holding their tongue and who are prone to shoot their mouths off. Also, mark you, most of those under his baton used to be his bosses at one time and at different stages of his long career as a civil servant. It will be utterly naïve to believe that this is all because he is Sonia Gandhi's choice or he enjoys her unstinted support, or he is subservient to her.

There are some who think that there is some underhand deal between the two in sharing the spoils and so on, but I dismiss it as outrageous. It is not also that the TINA (There Is No Alternative) factor at work. If Ms Sonia's choice is of such clinching finality, she could always have picked any other person in the certainty that her flock will equally unquestioningly genuflect to him.

No, Dr Singh must have been doing many things right to have lasted this long. I have not a scintilla of doubt that, no matter who chose him, he has been his own person. Behind the scenes, his sense of direction and judgment must have been found to be so compelling as to make others fall in line. He seems to me to be the quintessential strong and silent man, who without any fuss and flamboyance, leaves no one in any doubt as to what he wants done and how.

His leadership style is well worth being studied in management schools.

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Published on January 31, 2012
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