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Why leadership is key

Wrong choices could stunt the growth of any institution

The Group had diverse interests — in the transport business, hospitals, spices exports and education. And all the ventures were runaway successes — except a business school. The chairman wanted me to find the reason for this as I was closely associated with them as a consultant.

Everything that was required for a B-School was there: a good campus, well-equipped class rooms, central air-conditioning, a fleet of luxury buses, a food court, a top-class library. The best faculty, the best infrastructure, best auditorium, best playgrounds, best cafeteria and coffee shop, designer furntiture... you name it, it was there. And huge sums of money had been invested to set up the B-School. However, the School of Management had no takers anymore.

Students preferred other institutes that had fewer facilities. The Group was unable to figure out where it had failed and why it had lost brand equity. The chairman was visibly upset. In all the other ventures they were successful. Why were they failing here?

I took two days to examine the patient. I did not meet faculty members to find out the causes for the situation. Instead, I met students.

They were very happy about the excellent facilities offered by the institution. But…

Sir, we joined this great institution based on the rich legacy of the business group that is acclaimed for honesty and integrity. But once we joined we realised that we had made a big mistake. We are being treated as prisoners and slaves. If we expressed our views, we were ridiculed. If we asked questions we were shouted down. If a girl exchanged pleasantries with a boy, both of them were insulted in the presence of others, and for this "crime" parents were summoned.

If a boy talks freely to a girl is it violation of rules, sir? If we raise a question in the class when the teacher is teaching, is it indiscipline? If a student speaks good English, our Director, who unfortunately can’t speak a sentence in English without mistakes, will mark him as his rival and he will surely lose Internal-assessment marks. If we want to organise an industrial visit, the Director, who did not seem to have seen anything beyond the precincts of the college where he had worked for 38 years, will shout at us and tell us industrial visits are not in the syllabus. He will shout and scream to cover up his mediocrity. This has affected our self confidence and we tell all our friends not to join this institution as we are destined to suffer under a sadist who finds pleasure in torturing students.

Even faculty members are goaded on by him to behave rudely. If any faculty member tries to correct the Director and points out that his Idi Amin style is hurting students, he will play politics and see that competent teachers who are a threat to his survival are eased out by clever, canny moves, hoodwinking the management.

True, we have the best, air-conditioned classrooms with designer furniture. What we lack is a smiling face, a caring teacher, a teacher who recognises, nurtures and encourages the talent of students. Now, even the best student who joins this institution is made a slave by this Director who does not like anybody better than him. As he knows pretty well that he does not have the credentials to get approval from the student or faculty fraternity, his only option is to play politics, drive out talented teachers so that he would appear indispensable, and so that the management will "tolerate" him. This politics of survival has ruining this institution.

The Director will insult teachers who take the initiative to invite employers for campus interviews. According to him, a B-School should not encourage campus placements: it is the responsibility of the students to find jobs for themselves! All of us who leave this institute will definitely advise our friends to join anywhere but not here.

Many of the episodes that were narrated were simply unbelievable. Can a human being behave in such repulsive manner? Converting the educational institution into a jail with golden chains, golden spoons, golden food?

This campus had a smiling Director earlier – he was eased out by this man through subtle moves. There was love, warmth, care and concern, making this campus agile and lively. Once this man came in as Director, it became a jail. In the place of togetherness and team culture, he spread poison of hatred, fear and suspicion. Back-stabbing was an art he had mastered.

His classes were repulsive, a torture, as he did not know even the rudiments of the subject he handled. There was no institutional set .up through which .students could seek their grievances. This emboldened the director who became dictator overnight as he blocked all communication channels between the students and the management. He ruled the empire with an iron hand.

The management was blissfully ignorant of the murky drama scripted and directed by the person selected by them to "lead" the institute! Any student who attempted to express grievances about the director felt the heat soon. He would get the lowest internal marks. Even if he gets high marks in the university, poor internal pulled down his marks. Students became panicky and lived in a horror atmosphere, waiting to vent out their frustrations and anguish. They did it when they were out of the campus.

It did not take much time to find out where the problem lay. The management had invested heavily in building physical infrastructure but failed to provide the right leadership. Any institution will grow only if it has an inspiring leader. Infrastructure, both physical and intellectual, are of course necessary prerequisites but it will bear no fruits if the leadership is mediocre, characterless and mean, polluting the serene ambience. Consider any institution; all failed institutions have invariably had mean leaders who ruined the institution for their survival.

When the chairman met me after a couple of weeks, he was shocked when I told him point blank that it was the management that was responsible for the decline of the institute. They were callous and did not apply due diligence before selecting a leader. All the efforts of the management to build a world-class institution were shattered in one stroke when the management made a wrong choice of the person responsible for running it.

The takeaway: It is leadership that matters! It can make or mar an institution. Great institutions are built by great leaders. Institutions collapse not owing to market forces but when the person at the helm is mediocre and has no vision, no character, no integrity and with no concern for the people around him, or her.

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 10:00:41 PM |

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