Notably, it should be added that a leader is also a person who holds the power to modify the course of events.
According to theorists Hermann and Preston (1994), leaders who assume their responsibilities and know what would be the eventual consequences, are ‘skilful both directly and indirectly in getting what they want.’
For a politician who wishes to manoeuvre and control situations, getting the collaboration of key stakeholders and achieving conciliation are essential expertise that he needs. The leader should be able to challenge constraints and even come up with strategies to manipulate his audience by positioning himself behind-the-scenes in order to attain the desired goal.
After winning the 2005 general elections in Mauritius, Navin Ramgoolam managed, without fail; to politically develop his realm of influence, to a great extent that, whatever happened in the country, generally with an active role in policy-making. He proved to be exceptional and patronising by maintaining control over eventual decision-making and execution of modus operandi to ensure that things happened the way he wanted them to, without going awry. Every time I’ve met ministers within his political party, they always walk on their toes for the simple and straight reason: moves are controlled solely by NR.
During a press conference to present the Labour Party-MMM alliance in September 2014, NR went on to say that:
Pa blier, le chef du gouvernement c’est moi. Ocun ministre pa pren decision san ki mo accepter. C’est moi ki propulser bann decisions.
TR. Don’t forget that I am the head of the Government. There’s no minister who can take a decision without my approval. It’s me who advances decisions.
Indeed NR was somehow less likely to entrust power and authority for strategic management to his ministers; he was more likely, however, to commence activities and policies more willingly than wait for others to make propositions. He was the one who took charge of the turn of events within the political arena. He projected himself as being as unpredictable as the sphinx. As a result, there was a fear factor that dwelling among fellow politicians, when they thought about NR. Should we then assume that NR acts as the boss of his team, or should we presume that he is an authoritative leader?
In some sense NR’s strong expertise at controlling critical events demonstrates a facet of a self-fulfilling prophecy. NR’s favourite hobby is playing chess, and people in his close circle confirm his mastery at this strategic board game. Chess and politics have had a bilateral bond since chess was invented. Politics is a main part of the composition of the game, and NR’s skill at playing this game has spilled over the arena that he controls; notably, politics.
NR ruled Mauritius consecutively for a decade, having made a thorough impact. Since he believed in his own ability to control events, showed self-confidence and meted out an inflexible stance when it came to compromising or working out deals with others. Once his mind was made up, he emanated assertion in his decision – he knew what should be done. Although NR had firm belief that he could manage what happened, there were numerous occasions in his political career where he had to be strategically patient and wait to see how a particular situation would play out before he decided on the course to follow; for example, let’s take the case of controversial participation of Mauritius in the 60th Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka. When the disagreement of opposition Mouvement Militant Mauricien (MMM) and Mouvement Socialiste Mauricien (MSM) and the Tamil Union of Mauritius was revealed, NR went on to say that his choice was ‘not yet fixed and that a final decision would be taken in relation to the evolution of human rights in Sri Lanka’.
In the end, he announced that he would stay away from the Commonwealth summit because of the host’s poor human rights record. It might be that prior to his statement on the participation of Mauritius in the summit, his foreign affairs consultants wrongly advised him, but at no time did he shift the blame publicly to anyone when things went off beam. He shouldered the responsibility and moved on. A political leader, who believes in his ability to control what happens, does not have any fear to fail. This, in a way, reminds me strongly of a story I read many years ago, related by India’s ex-president and renowned scientist APJ Abdul Kalam.
In 1973 Abdul Kalam became the project director of India’s satellite launch vehicle programme, commonly called the SLV-3. The goal was to put India’s Rohini satellite into orbit by 1980. Kalam was given funds and human resources — but was told clearly that by 1980 they had to launch the satellite into space. Thousands of people worked together in scientific and technical teams towards that goal.
By 1979 they thought they were ready. As the project director, Kalam went to the control centre for the launch. Four minutes before the satellite launch, the computer began to go through the checklist of items that needed to be checked. One minute later, the computer programme put the launch on hold; the display showed that some control components were not in order. His experts — Kalam had maybe four or five of them with him — told him not to worry; they had done their calculations and there was enough reserve fuel.
So, Kalam bypassed the computer, switched to manual mode, and launched the rocket. In the first stage, everything worked fine. In the second stage, a problem developed. Instead of the satellite going into orbit, the whole rocket system plunged into the Bay of Bengal. It was a catastrophic failure.
That day, the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organisation, Professor Satish Dhawan, called a press conference. The launch was at 7:00 am, and the press conference — where journalists from around the world were present — was at 7:45 am at ISRO’s satellite launch range in Sriharikota [in Andhra Pradesh in southern India]. Professor Dhawan, the leader of the organisation, conducted the press conference himself. He took responsibility for the failure — he said that the team had worked very hard, but that it needed more technological support. He assured the media that in another year, the team would definitely succeed. Kalam was the project director, and it was his failure, but instead, Professor Dhawan took responsibility for the failure as chairman of the organisation.
The following year, in July 1980, they tried again to launch the satellite — and this time they met with resounding success. The whole nation was jubilant. Once again, there was a press conference. Professor Dhawan called Kalam aside and told him, ‘You conduct the press conference today.’
Kalam learned a very important lesson that day. When failure occurred, the leader of the organisation owned up to that failure. When success was achieved, he gave credit of it to his team. The best management lesson Kalam had learned did not come to him from reading a book; it came from that experience.