Leadership of Dead Bodies, Stones and Flowers

leadership imprint1

In April, two Air India pilots handed over the controls in auto-pilot mode to two female cabin attendants to take a short nap. They decided that their sleep was more important at 33,000 feet while flying the 160-passenger flight from Bangkok to Delhi. They returned to the cockpit after 40 minutes when one of the cabin attendants accidently knocked off the auto-pilot mode.

The angry Twitterate asked for pilot’s license suspension, removal from job and legal charges for culpable homicide. Everyone questioned their work ethics and shock at their irresponsible behavior. Air India investigated the incident, suspended the pilots and sated that passengers’ safety was never compromised. Unbelievable, how can passengers be safe without any pilots at the helm?

1.     Double Standards in Evaluating Corporate Leaders

 The pilots were crucified for risking the lives of passengers. However, surprisingly the pilots of the corporate world do not suffer the same fate. The wizards and titans of the banking industry crash landed the world economy, but they didn’t lose their CXO seats.

Look from another lens. Did any senior in Supplier Company or the multinationals lose their job in the Bangladesh factory fire? In Foxconn, the Apple contractor, 11 employees committed suicide, four died in an accident and one collapsed after continuously working for 36 hours. However, Steve Jobs was rated as the second most popular leader by the CEOs in a survey conducted by Price Waterhouse Coopers. The first and third were Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi respectively.

Now this is going to rattle my readers but let me say it. Steve Jobs was a great inventor, designer, strategist and marketer. However, when it came to people, his employees considered him rude and manipulative, and his competitors found him uncivil. Though Apple achieved great heights, he paid low salaries to the employees in the Apple stores, paid no dividends to the shareholders, pushed down suppliers to manufacture at lowest possible rate and didn’t believe in charity or corporate social responsibility. His behavior and actions weren’t people centric or humanity oriented. So my question is – do we consider him a great leader because he managed to put Apple on top? That makes him a great CEO, not necessarily a great leader.

2.     Misconceptions of Leadership

 The problem arises due to the definition of leadership. Read the dictionary meaning:

Leadership is “organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal”.

– We don’t focus on how the group of people were gathered; by inspiring them or arm-twisting them.

–  We don’t focus on the nobility of the goal; was it to exploit others or liberate them.

–  We don’t focus on the method adopted to achieve the goal; was it by breaking the rules or a journey of virtue.

In the present world we see leaders leaving dead bodies in their path, walking over people as if they were stones and sucking the life out of them. Great leaders create leaders not followers, they make others blossom like flowers.

Be it a corporate leader or political leader, we don’t wish to question the leadership methods. Our thinking is, how it matters to us, we have nothing to lose. We have everything to lose, and Martin-Niemöller-Foundation words at Hitler’s time still resonate:  

“First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Our own silence will kill us and the society we live in. When humanity is at stake, can we close our eyes and say nothing is at stake.

3.     Leadership Training

The Institute of Strategic Change reported that – “the stock price of ‘well-led‘ companies grew by over 900% over 10 years, compared with 74% for poorly led companies”. Warren Bennis in 1998 said – “The Truth is that no one factor makes a company admirable. But if you were forced to pick the one that makes the most difference, you’d pick leadership.” However, how many companies train on leadership or do a performance evaluation on leadership qualities?

Quite a few would be saying we do it. So let me clarify. In organizations bosses tell the juniors what to do and how to do it. They give rave reviews to the employee who completes the task as they had stated. They promote that employee and now he becomes a boss. At best, he will be a good manager, not a leader.

Corporate world determines success rate by title and salary.  Neither guarantees leadership skills. Employees aim to become a boss, not a leader. The terms are not synonyms.

According to Malcolm Gladwell,  all outliers practiced their talent for over 10,000 hours to achieve greatness.  In the corporate world, how many hours are dedicated by each employee to learn leadership? Learning leadership is a by-product of the main job, till CEO level. Then isn’t it surprising that we do not have many great leaders in the corporate world.

 Closing Thoughts

Maximum damage in the world was caused by people who got powerful positions without good leadership qualities, be it Hitler, Jeff Skilling, Bernie Madoff or Lance Armstrong. The biggest risks in the corporate world are leadership risks. It is the leaders who make the decisions, so unless we have a system of putting the right people in leadership positions we will continue to have these disasters. Hence, our job is to develop good leaders, select good leaders and continuously monitor the leaders.

 Wishing my readers a Happy Mother’s Day. Being parents is the toughest job in the world,. They are responsible for raising the next generation of leaders.


  1. Air India Pilots Story  
  2. Deaths in Foxconn
  3. Price Waterhouse Coopers report on best leaders


10 comments on “Leadership of Dead Bodies, Stones and Flowers

  1. Great post Sonia. Bad leaders forget that leadership is about people too rather than actions and results only. They are only focused on outcomes, how they are achieved and by what means they don’t care. They try to change the way people act, and not the way people think. Great leaders know that it is all about people. They have mastered the principle that experiences fosters beliefs about how things should be done, these beliefs will in turn drive actions and positive actions produce positive results. In the end great leaders get commitment vs compliance, investment vs involvement and lasting performance as opposed to progress.

  2. Dear Sonia ji. I appreciate the blog on leadership that you have captured so brilliantly. However the corporate world is a reflection of the changes in society as well. For e.g.we all give so much importance to ‘marks’ that we have left ‘knowledge’ as a goal of education far behind. Today its all about what profile & the highest salaries one gets with a combination of certification behind him/ her. So similarly the ‘ benchmarks’ of the corporate world is result focused only, nobody bothers about the ‘means’ / manner in which to reach that goal. Mans MIND/Science is progressing at a good pace and has / can create the best HEART SURGEON but he will state give me ‘ Rs.X Lacs or i do not care whether you live or die. You have in your blog subtly touched about a very delicate but very relevant aspect prevailing all across and around us. Hope some day things will change with the ‘awakening’ of people and society by ‘asking the right questions’. You have made a beginning so to state in asking this question. May your tribe increase !

    • Hi Ramnath,

      Thanks for the encouraging words. You are so right, some organizations and their leaders have become so twisted. For example, one CEO said to me ” I have purchased everyone, everybody is my slave.” Obviously money had gone to his head. He further stated, he was doing crimes and abusing people for Entertainment. Now with that thinking, what kind of leadership can we expect. Obviously everything is about money to him. We may not be able to explain the nobler aspects of life to such an individual.

      However, we are being pessimist if we think we cannot change the society. We see a huge population and raise our hands in defeat. Let us say, just 10% of the population is ethical and honest. that means we have a ratio of 1:9 on ethical: corrupt. All it will take is for each ethical person to educate 9 corrupt people and change them. Influencing 9 people in ones life is not a big deal. So yes, we have a clear path and we can succeed.

      All we have to do is not let the corrupt peoples cynicism get to us.


  3. Dear Ms. Sonia,

    This is a well written and pretty accurate piece on the state of affairs today – in India definitely and to a large extent globally. The motive for profit drives everybody, whether it is in Government or in Business. In a country where schools teach you how to cram and not how to ‘live’, passing an examination has more value than living life with your head held high. This same culture extends to your job, where the result matters more than the means – the emotional intelligence never comes into play, it is only now that corporate HR’s are taking this too as a criteria while hiring people.
    When we face profit maximisation motive as the ultimate business goal then how the profit comes always will be a non-issue. People are treated as just tools – I know the CFO of a company who would fire people earning peanuts for slight mistakes while his own mistakes even though costing the company a huge cost did not affect him or his lifestyle. So morality and human values are all steeped in humanity – are we good human beings? Leaders should be able to take criticism in their stride with a smile, positively and work on the positive suggestions for a sea change to come in the approach while treating employees.
    I have always maintained that if the brain (read the Board of Directors) has cancer the body (read the employees) will never be able to or allowed to function. Well here’s praying that good sense prevails and companies globally see the sense in treating employees in a humane manner to maximise employee output so as to raise the global economy as a partnership rather than using outdated autocratic leadership techniques – this applies to Government too…..they should learn to govern themselves before dealing with the nation. Cheers.

    • Girish,

      Thanks for the compliment and I like your analogy of brain having cancer then body doesn’t have much of a chance. The problem is that top management makes big promises but fails to walk the talk.


  4. Sonia,

    This is a beautifully written article. There is definitely a misconception that financial success equates to great leadership. I am very glad you used Apple as an example of this. I often wondered how Jobs would feel if people treated him the way he treated others. I do believe in the traditional definition of leadership that you mentioned above. And the points you make about the traditional definition are very valid. I believe many bad leaders focus so much on the goal, they forget about the journey. The experience during the journey is a good measure of success. For example, if the journey is unnecessarily difficult (i.e. full of unethical behavoir, unnecessary processes, etc) personnel are not motivated or inspired.

    • Robert,

      Thanks for the compliment. I think being an auditor and consultant, one gets skeptical about leadership. The first meeting with a CEO of a client is at the age of 21-22 yrs, and in 10 years one meets too many to accept that the title guarantees leadership skills.

      Also, as CEOs chose Steve Jobs, it shows that they value a person showing similar traits, rather than objectively select a leader. Jobs even denied existence of his own child , broke up with his partner and charged the highest rates to the customers for Apple products. He was the undisputed technology czar but hardly a peoples prince.

      Leadership is about people. Human psychology is made such a way, that a kind act will inspire hundreds and an unethical act will depress hundreds. Moreover, studies show that when we are kind and generous, we are happier people. Our good actions benefit us the most. So choice is ours which journey we want to choose.


  5. Sonia, Happy belated Mother’s day! Today’s children are tomorrow’s leaders and the task of raising ethical, intelligent and conscious children in a society that is not yet conducive to this ideology, may seem onerous, but can be achieved with every parent and child taking personal responsibility for their own thoughts, words and actions. It is like training to run a marathon, and not a sprint! Change is not easy and it has to come from within for each individual – however as a society we can definitely influence the playground or sandbox in which the children play. With the right kind of physical, mental and spiritual training, the present and future generations can be developed into ethical, intelligent, modest, humane and socially responsible individuals. The shift has already begun… it will take the adult population (whether or not they have the designation of a “leader”) to consciously role model the same attributes discussed above, in transactions done on a daily basis. Then maybe we can all truly celebrate Mother’s and Father’s Day everyday,as a job well done 🙂

    • Anita,

      Very well said. Presently some parents view that giving birth and sending a child to school is all the parenting that is required. Bullying the kid to get good marks at the expense of physical and spiritual growth of the child is justified in most parents mind. Isn’t it surprising that by the time a child reaches the age of 21 yrs, to start his or her life, s/he is already damaged.

      As you said we need more ethical, intelligent, modest, humane and socially responsible individuals in the society. I believe that social media is going to be a double edged sword for parents (as it has proven out for leaders) in the long run. When the parents were autocratic or destructive, a child’s world view was limited and options were restricted. Now children will have different views from their parents because they have easy access to them – the good and bad stuff. So while the society can lament that children will watch porn, they will also read philosophy and politics.

      Same thing applies for leaders, previously divergent views could be curbed. Now everybody reads it across the world. How can one control people’s minds? One can cage a person but one cannot cage the mind of a person. So autocracy as we see it, is in the last stages of its usefulness.


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