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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2396

Lalins Column: Political managers v Natural Leaders

By Major General (Retd.) Lalin Fernando

In the second week of June on a very popular morning TV show, Minister Eran Wickramaratne confided with passing wisdom why SL has continuously missed the development bus. He believed the main problem was that people with expert skills in a particular field think that they are suited to hold any position in that business.

The Minister may give a short time to also reflect why the 2015 government that people believed would be honest and voted to victory, so very quickly became riddled with cancerous dishonesty. So much so that the people now believe that it came into power with a pre hatched plan to outdo their predecessors in making themselves and not the nation rich.

He pointedly cited the worn out case of a pilot, skilled in operating the most advanced commercial planes, managing an air line. The airline, he said, would not be a success as the pilot did not have ‘management skills’ which he thought are essential to deliver. These skills were presumably like those the Minister and his ilk have in abundance. He had ignored, maybe for good reason, leadership skills. They are found in abundance in the military that appears to be anathema to government politicians.

Minister Wickramaratne may recall that late President JRJ in the late 1970s requested Lee Kwan Yew to release one Wickramanayake who was a pilot in Singapore Airlines to be the CEO of the newly formed Air Lanka (AL)? The foundation for the ruin of AL and its successor SLA lay in that ill considered request.

On the other hand the minister should ask the SLAF why no one other than a pilot can ever command that organization. What do military commanders have and politicians never have to be successful?

Wickramaratne also tossed in for good measure an equally worn out sermon on the lack of wisdom in constructing an airport at Mattala and a harbour at Hambantota. The harbor, situated 12 miles from international sea routes, was first mooted about 3 decades ago and not by MR. It stalled only for the lack of funding. The Finance Minister in 2017 however declared that the harbour would become a ‘world class port’. While there were only 34 ships in 2012, there will be nearly 350 calling by year end.

Who was it in 2003 who wanted an international airport built at Wellawaya and also to relocate the Ratmalana airport to Aluthgama? Is it the same PM RW who now condemns Mattala? He wanted the Ratmalana land for a housing/building project. Thankfully for the country and its armed forces these nightmares did not haunt SL during the conflict years. The PM gaily offered chewing gum, gold chains and Volkswagens at 2 million bucks at diverse elections for a people struggling to make ends meet.

What was the worse choice? Wellawaya as a diversionary sop to collect votes but no money to build or Mattala with adequate Chinese funds, a huge harbour next door, plus attractive business and tourist potential though it was considered a white elephant until a pragmatic Finance Minister in 2017 vowed it would come through hale and hearty.

SL has had a bellyful of ‘management’ skills by its politicians for 70 years of ‘freedom’. The people decided so in the LG elections in 2017. In 1979 they ‘managed’ under the UNP to convince themselves that they could solve by year end what was essentially a political problem by military force. It silenced habeas corpus too. It then declared mission accomplished. Instead it all blew up in 1983 .The conflict that followed for another 26 years saw about 100,000 killed. While the country grieved, the same and other politicians sought personal comfort by attempting to placate the fascist LTTE for decades until they were destroyed in 2009. In 2015 at Geneva the same lot then agreed to exhume the dead to please the west. Eerily no enemy dead have since been found.

It had not struck the present ruling politicians in 1977 that the Clausewitz quotation that ‘war was a continuation of politics by other means’ was not a license to go to war without first using pressure, then negotiations and finally diplomacy. They declared war first and then abjectly instead chose appeasement for ever after. The rest is history.

The PM appointed his ‘regal’ school mate, no longer a citizen, as Governor Central Bank. This resulted in the biggest Government ‘managed’ financial swindle since independence. The latter is now absconding with an Interpol Red notice issued for his arrest or so we are told. The PM now shows no interest in ‘managing’ him any further. None of those the PM manages stood tall in this stink. Did they then not acquiesce?

This Minster and his Regal Eagle group should know that while management has its benefits especially to make profits, it compares ill to what is needed by the people. Management at its best, but surely beyond most politicians, is of the mind, more a matter of accurate calculation of statistics, of methods, time tables and routine; its practice is a science. The trade mark of SL political mangers is however is financial sharpness, deceit, arrogance, selfishness, and bombast but little of the above qualities. One third is also ignorant. They are unmanageable.

It may be futile but the following notes from Fortune 500 on some of the exemplary qualities of a selection of the world’s greatest CEOs, more leaders than common managers, may help him and the lesser affected of his political clique to understand and reform but never emulate:

The greatest CEOs “build enduring organizations. They make an impact, are resilient and can lead through a major transformation or crisis. Their financial performance is peerless. They connect to the organizations they run. They do not see themselves as elite measuring their pay and privileges against other CEOs. They reject the CEO club. They belong to their company club. They have a true corporate ethos which in the original and not business sense means united or combined into one. They know that the company depends more on the CEO than any one individual and only he can make really big decisions yet he knows that his role still represents only 10% of the total puzzle. Much depends on them but it was not about them. They don’t talk too much. They let others talk. They build the stage on which they all played on. They put profit second and think big. They leave a legacy. They have the personality of a promoter but the soul of an operator. They know the cult of personality seldom lasts. They act before a crisis hits. They have a disciplined creativity. They take a burning house, save it and build a cathedral”.

They ‘’have a humble and dedicated culture. They believe those who create wealth have a moral right to share in that wealth. They share equity and profits with all employees. They are not afraid of fear. They believe courage is not the absence of fear but the ability to act in its presence. They don’t flinch. They believe that assured survival by selling one’s soul is worse than surviving. They hire smart, depend on data, and blunt the Boss, bet on technology and think long term”. They combine management and leadership.

A note on leadership exclusively a military trait for ages may also help. Leadership represents one of the oldest, most natural and most effective of all human relationships. No amount of study or learning or expensive certificates from the USA will make a man a leader unless he has the natural qualities of one. It is inspiration rather than rules that produce the highest levels of leadership.

A natural leader will still inspire confidence and respect based on his personality and motivation. In times of crisis followers will rally to the leader in whom they confidently believe.

Military leadership and general management have much in common but in the last resort there is a subtle difference. Military leadership and its successful Commander must have genuine interest in and a real knowledge of humanity, the raw material of his trade. The military leader has the responsibility for good management and economy in matters more important than money- men's lives.

When will the pensioners at Geneva, sorry Diyawanna, ever understand?

- Asian Tribune -

  Lalins Column:   Political managers v Natural Leaders
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