Where does the buck stop?

A few months after I had joined a marketing company, the Export Director informed me that the company had decided to participate in a month-long trade show in a foreign country. It was proposed that our stall, in which we would display 2 machines, would be manned by a Senior Service Engineer and me. The Senior Service Engineer would look after the installation and operation of the displayed machines, while I would handle all business enquiries.

When I pointed out that I had absolutely no exposure to International Trade, he assured me that our company’s Agent in that country, who was extremely well-versed in International Trade, would guide me in all commercial/legal matters.

The trade show went off very well. Many visitors showed interest in our machines. One customer decided to buy both the displayed machines. Our Agent prepared the contract documents, which were signed on the last day of the trade show by the customer and by me on behalf of my company. The documents contained some clauses that I thought should not be there. When I asked our Agent about these clauses, he confirmed that these were standard clauses in any such contract. Considering the Export Director’s assurance, I signed the documents. The machines were handed over to the customer.

A few days after we returned to India, it turned out that our company could not claim the payment for the two machines because the contract documents were not suitable for machines that had been displayed in a trade show. (The contract documents would have been perfect if the machines had been shipped directly to the customer.) Our Managing Director was totally upset, but he said our first priority should be to recover the payment, adding ominously that a ‘post-mortem’ on the matter could be carried out after we recovered the payment.

We engaged the services of an Export Consultant, who managed to resolve the matter. Our company received the payment three months later. As expected, our MD summoned the Export Director and me to his room the moment he was informed that the payment had been received.

As soon as we were seated, our MD glared at me and asked, “How could you have signed a contract that contained such glaringly wrong clauses?” Before I could say anything, the Export Director said, “Sir, it was not his mistake. He only followed my instructions. Before taking up this assignment, he had reminded me that he had absolutely no exposure to International Trade. I had instructed him to follow our Agent’s guidance in all commercial/legal matters. When I told you this, you had expressed your reservations, but I had assured you that I have complete confidence in our Agent. It is my mistake.”

Our MD was absorbed in silent thought for about 30 seconds, during which I fervently hoped he wouldn’t take any drastic action against the Export Director. I was stunned when he looked at the Export Director and said, “It’s not your mistake. I am to blame. It was wrong on my part to have accepted your assurance.” He turned to me and said, “I am sorry that we sent you on this assignment without training you properly.”

It would have been very easy for the Export Director to blame me for the mishap, but he chose to accept responsibility.

It would have been even easier for our MD to blame the Export Director and/or me for the mishap, but he chose to accept responsibility.

Both the Export Director and our MD had displayed the essential leadership quality of readily accepting the ultimate responsibility for a decision that has gone wrong. In other words, “The buck stops here!”

How many leaders (in business, politics or any other activity) readily accept the ultimate responsibility for decisions that have gone wrong?

How many leaders ‘pass the buck’?

What do we do when our decisions go wrong? Do we readily accept responsibility, or do we ‘pass the buck’?

Train journey with Narendra Modi

A Facebook friend shared “A train journey and two names to remember“, which had appeared in The Hindu on June 1, 2014.

The writer, Ms. Leena Sarma, General Manager of the Centre for Railway Information System, Indian Railways, New Delhi, has written about a train journey in 1990 from Delhi to Ahmedabad, in which she and another female colleague were co-passengers with Shankersinh Vaghela and Narendra Modi, both BJP members at that time.

I strongly suggest you read the entire article, but for those who are short of time, here’s the summary:
Ms. Sarma and her female colleague, then Indian Railway (Traffic) Service probationers, had wait-listed First Class tickets to travel from Delhi to Ahmedabad. The train was heavily booked. The TTE (Travel Ticket Examiner) asked them to sit in a particular coupe, and assured them that he would try to get their tickets confirmed. The two persons who had confirmed tickets for that coupe were both politicians, as could be discerned from their white khadi attire. The TTE assured the two women that, “They’re decent people, regular travellers on this route, nothing to worry.” The politicians readily made space for their co-passengers by almost squeezing themselves to one corner.

After initial introductions, the 4 co-passengers started discussing various topics, particularly in the areas of History and the Polity. Eventually, the discussion veered around to the formation of the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League.

After the food, four vegetarian meals, arrived, the four ate in silence. When the pantry-car manager came to take the payment, the younger man (Narendra Modi) paid for all four meals.

Soon, the TTE came and informed the two women that the train was packed and he couldn’t arrange berths for them. Both men immediately stood up and said: “It’s okay, we’ll manage.” They swiftly spread a cloth on the floor and went to sleep, while the two women with wait-listed tickets occupied the berths.

As the train was nearing Ahmedabad, the politicians asked the two women about their lodging arrangements in the city. Vaghela told them that in case of any problem, the doors of his house were open for them. There was some kind of genuine concern in the voice or the facial contours of the otherwise apparently inscrutable younger one (Narendra Modi), and he told them: “I’m like a nomad, I don’t have a proper home to invite you but you can accept his offer of safe shelter in this new place.” The women thanked the politicians for that invitation and assured them that accommodation was not going to be a problem for them.

I leave it to readers to draw their own conclusions about the politicians involved in this episode.

My observations:

1.The entire episode took place far away from media scrutiny. The manner in which Shankersinh Vaghela and Narendra Modi conducted themselves speaks volumes about their character.

2.Since Ms. Sarma first wrote about this train journey in an Assamese newspaper in 1995, when neither Shankersinh Vaghela nor Narendra Modi was a minister or a famous person, it can be safely assumed that she had nothing to gain by writing an article praising them. As Ms. Sarma herself says, “It was a tribute to two unknown politicians from Gujarat for giving up their comfort ungrudgingly for the sake of two bens (sisters) from Assam.”

Please share your observations on this episode.

Achche Din Aane Wale Hain? (Good days are coming?)

The NDA has won 336 seats out of 543 in the Lok Sabha election. Of these, the BJP has won 282 seats, thus getting a majority on its own.

Irrespective of which candidate or which party you, I or any other individual voted for, we, the people of India have voted decisively for the BJP-led NDA.

Many of us now believe that, since Narendra Modi will head a government with a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha, Achche Din Aane Wale Hain! (Good days are coming!)

I reiterate what I had stated in my post Can we eradicate corruption? Yes We Can!:
“Many people believe that the nation will undergo a transformation the moment Narendra Modi becomes Prime Minister in 2014. … Frankly, all are living in fools’ paradise. The government and the PM do have an important role to play, but any transformation in our nation is possible only if we, the people of India, change for the better.”

Let us see what Narendra Modi himself has said.

On April 23, 2014, Firstpost reported: “So far as I believe after 16 May we won’t need to take support from other parties to form the government. But to run the country we will need cooperation from everyone beyond party politics. Suppose if Rahul wins in Amethi and becomes the Leader of Opposition, of which the chances are slim, then his support will be needed to run the country,” Modi told ABP News during an interview called GhoshanaPatra.

Hindustan Times reported that, addressing rallies in Vadodara and Ahmedabad on May 16, 2014 after the results were announced, Mr. Modi said, “Desh chalane ke liye sabko sath rakhna chahte hai (we want to work with everybody in order to run the country),” and that he will take everyone, all parties and political opponents along, as “There is no enmity in democracy, but there is competition and that is the beauty of democracy.” He also said, “There are parties which have not won even a single seat in the polls, but they are also important and they will also be taken with us.”

The Hindu reported that, at Varanasi on May 18, 2014, raising the issue of cleanliness of Varanasi, Mr. Modi urged the people to collectively ensure that the streets of the temple city remain clean. “I have a dream for Kashi, which only the people of Kashi can fulfil. Small things lead to great things. We are all servants of Kashi,” Mr. Modi said.

The message is clear. Mr. Modi and his government will work hard to ensure that Achche Din Aane Wale Hain! (Good days are coming!) in India, but they can achieve this only with the active cooperation of all citizens of India.

Sob, sob! Poor me! Everyone else is to blame!

On April 25, 2014, DNA reported that “The Lok Sabha elections in Mumbai were marred by deletion of names from the voters’ list. Names of at least 2 lakh people were missing. Similar things had also happened in Pune.”

According to another DNA report on May 6, 2014, “Yesteryear actor and movie producer Amol Palekar and his wife Sandhya Gokhale have moved the Bombay High Court over their names being deleted from the electoral rolls in Pune, because of which they could not cast their votes.”

On May 7, 2014, The Indian Express reported that, “Hearing a bunch of petitions in connection with the deletion of names from the final voter lists of Mumbai and Pune, the Bombay High Court … said, ‘There was a remedy available to raise an objection. Let us assume there was a mistake, but the final voters’ list was published on January 31. …… Can you find fault with the Election Commission (EC) when citizens do not even read the final voters’ list?’”

Times of India had reported on March 6, 2014 that “Chief Election Commissioner V S Sampath … clarified that though the electoral rolls … had been updated and published by all the states, the missing voters can still hope to make it to the rolls.

“The commission has directed that special camps be organized in all polling stations (on March 9)…in over 9 lakh premises, where booth level officer (BLO) will be available with a copy of the electoral roll displayed on the notice board and requisite number of Form 6 (for voter registration),” said Sampath.

The special camps were conducted on Sunday, March 9. All eligible voters whose names were missing from the voters’ list could apply for enrolment. My name, my family members’ names and the names of some of my neighbours were missing from the list. We attended the very well-organised special camp in our polling station and submitted the Form 6 with supporting documents. Each person had to spend only around 30 minutes.

One week before polling, our Voter ID details were put up on the Election Commission website. We voted using the Form 6 counterfoil, the Voter ID details and an Identity Proof.

If we could do this, why couldn’t Mr. Amol Palekar, Ms. Sandhya Gokhale and others do the same? Instead of crying over spilt milk, they could have easily ensured that the milk did not spill.

But, then, to quote former Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha, “It is perhaps our national character to blame everyone else except ourselves.”

All citizens are equal!

In my post Speech Disorder or Spinal Problem?, I had said, “All of us grumble in private. Many of us speak strongly to persons who are not in a position to hit back. Very few of us speak up to persons in positions of authority. Why? Do we need speech therapy or spine strengthening exercises?”

Hence, I was naturally delighted to read a report in The Hindu that, when Union Minister K. Chiranjeevi and his family tried to jump the queue at a polling booth at Jubilee Hill Club, a voter, Raja Karthik Ganta, objected. Mr. Chiranjeevi apologised with folded hands. He and his daughter stood in the queue for about 25 minutes before casting their vote. During the melee, however, Mr. Chiranjeevi’s wife and son exercised their franchise. IBN-LIVE reported that Raja Karthik Ganta, a Cambridge-based IT professional who had come all the way from London to cast his vote, later said, “I respect Chiranjeevi. But he is not 65 years of age and he’s not disabled, then why should he be given special treatment?”

I am not sure whether Mr. Chiranjeevi would have apologised and stood in the queue had it not been for the Model Code of Conduct. Politicians in India are notorious for displaying extreme humility during elections and complete arrogance between elections. However, if more “common persons” speak up whenever the occasion arises, politicians will be forced to display humility, if not actually become humble, even between elections.

I must mention that there are quite a few Indian politicians who are genuinely down to earth. A prominent example is Goa Chief Minister, Manohar Parrikar. Please do read this report in The Hindu and this blog on IBN-LIVE about his austere ways.