I recall vividly that it was 03 Oct 2000 and I had just seen off ‹outgoing› Commanding Officer (CO) of my unit before entering CO›s office as the new incumbent. Moment I sat on CO›s chair, the first thing I did was to make a call to my father, my role model, to seek his blessings for a smooth command of the unit. As expected, my ‹old man› was very happy, showered all ‹the blessings’ and wished me luck. Just before we finished our conversation, he suddenly asked me, in a real ‹ father-like tone’– will you do one thing for me? My obvious answer was ‹yes dad if it is within my ability›; He then referred to a known boy of our locality and asked me to confirm if I could get him recruited in Indian Army. A little surprised, I told him that there is a procedure in place and a candidate is supposed to go through that and if found fit, he will be recruited. My father then told me that the boy concerned is eligible for recruitment, fully qualified and physically and medically fit. I still tried to convey that no ‹short circuiting› is possible and the boy would be recruited in the Army only if found fit by the recruiting agency / centre concerned. It was at this stage that my father›s tone became a little terse and he asked me to confirm or otherwise, I could assure him the recruitment of this boy.
Pushed to the wall, I had to regret to my father my inability to do so. All of a sudden, my father’s tone mellowed down and he cautioned me with these ‘GoldenWords’— ‘ Today as a CO, you get the power and authority to send a jawan home by dismissing or cashiering him from service for supposedly a grave misdeed committed by him, through the powers vested with you by the organisation. Remember son, he continued, that you could not guarantee a job for a fully qualified person even at the insistence of your own father, whom I presume you literally worship. I understand fully that getting a job is so difficult these days. However, he said further, please always keep this conversation of ours in mind & be doubly sure before you take the drastic step of ’taking some one’s livelihood’. You will possibly be putting one entire family into distress and unimaginable hardships! Later, while reflecting upon this conversation, I realised as to how right my father was.
In order to wield our authority and prove our style of command, we often tend to ignore this important humane consideration. My ’old man’ did his bit through this innocuous looking but relevant advice and I always tried to follow it but I am not too sure if my father, from up above, feels satisfied if I stood well up to his expectations. However this little anecdote does prove a point that effective leadership lessons need not always be imparted through structured, formal leadership instructions. In fact the informal mode used for this purpose, could well prove to be more effective at times!!
Lt Gen Ashwani Kumar (retd) is a retired Adjutant General of Indian Army.