Prime Minister Narendra Modi has set a goal of $5 trillion GDP for India by 2024 and Rs 100 lakh crore investments for infrastructure development. This challenging goal is worthy of achievement and has not come a day too soon. But this is not happenstance. Capital follows authentic leadership and ensures its efficiency and effectiveness. It is Authentic Leadership, above everything else, which can make highly desirable goals possible.
Authentic leadership may be defined as Ambition + Competence + Integrity (both intellectual and personal) and all three in equal measure. It is not difficult to discern the huge leadership deficit in vital areas like business, bureaucracy, regulation, science, education and not the least, political establishment. They need to shed their decades-old accumulated baggage.
Business Leadership: Many business leaders have not acquitted themselves well, as the events unfolding in the economy, governance, risk management, sub-optimal performance and bad debts show. The growth is anything but sustainable.
Trade disputes notwithstanding, most of the businesses are global in nature and/or for capital and trade and hence a global mindset is imperative. The market cap of the top five tech companies either in the US or China is almost equal to our GDP. One cannot build a sustainable and inclusive business on crony largesse, monetising licences/relationships or by short-changing investors and lenders. Business models need to be built on abundance mindset rather than scarcity mindset.
Except one, we do not have any company in global scale in their core business. Many are running highly fragmented businesses, which are essentially licensing opportunistic. Even look at the airports, in less than 10 years, they are facing the problem of scale.
Bureaucracy Leadership: By design, this is highly hierarchical and directive. Risk taking and innovation are rare commodities. Much needed leadership traits like empathy, empowerment, enablement and collaboration are not easy to find. This is not to deny well-meaning officers playing a proactive role. This is almost a no-go area for specialists. This is the antithesis of authentic leadership and needs to be corrected.
In this day and age, the relationship of bureaucracy with the markets and its participants must be on the basis of collaboration and reason and not just authority and all-knowing wisdom. Revolving door policy must be encouraged. This is imperative in a market-driven economy. This should not be a problem as senior bureaucrats, on superannuation, lend a helping hand to the private sector by joining their boards, including as independent director/non-executive Chairman/Advisers.
Bureaucrats may be promoted to higher echelons only after they work in the private sector business for at least three to five years. Specialists in large numbers must be recruited laterally at various positions, including Secretary/Minster level on sufficiently long-term contracts.
Regulatory Leadership: This must stress on enhancing the resilience of the financial system and adopt tools like artificial intelligence to sharpen early identification of problems and help fix them before they spin out of control. The gap between fintech and regulation tech needs to be reduced. Revolving door policies here as well will help balance regulation and development and enhance comfort for innovation.
Education Leadership: Must deliver better on learning outcomes, creativity and problem-solving skills leading to high employability, vocational skills and better research outcomes quantitatively as well as qualitatively. Chinese kids are taught AI courses from elementary schools. The education revolution in China is driven by the top three tech companies BAT — Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent. It is time the top four-five IT companies here drove education revolution in our country.
Scientific Leadership: Our highly committed scientists have done us proud in the area of space science and this is one area where we rub shoulders with the developed world. But we need to take a leaf or two from the scale and scope of ambition and innovation of Silicon Valley. The valley is deploying multibillion-dollar investments in projects for multi-planetary habitation, asteroid mining, etc. Let us not be content with sending cost-effective satellites, which we mastered. It is said that the first Trillionaire will be the winner of space technology/explorer. We need to scale our space programme. China without bragging has sent more than five times (260) the number of satellites than we did. They also transferred a number of space applications to industry.
Technology Leadership: Needs to prioritise Purpose over Potential and help achieve inclusive growth.
Political Leadership: Is driven by the five-year electoral cycle though business and economy look for long-term policy stability besides political stability. Political interoperability is also imperative for policy stability when the governments/parties change particularly at the States. Freebies and crony largesse are now the leitmotif of electoral politics, both at the Centre and the States. These freebies provide the much-needed relief to those hanging by the thread but do not ensure sustainable and dignified livelihood.
The political establishment needs to practice authentic political leadership to promote sustainable economic growth and progress, which create jobs and not band-aids.
China has unveiled its 2030 plan to transform itself as world’s primary innovation centre for AI. It envisions AI as a pathway to achieve global dominance in economics, geopolitics and military and works closely with the top tech companies (BAT). Why cannot the Indian government do something similar by actively collaborating with the top tech companies — Wipro, Infosys, TCS, and HCL (WITH). The world’s largest Identity and Authentication management system was designed, developed and operationalised by our own Tech Czar Nandan Nilekani and let us think beyond India Stack.
Our IIT/IIMs have produced outstanding managers/professionals in the area of technology and management. It may be useful to establish Indian Institute of Leadership (IIL) in collaboration with outstanding leaders in various areas.
We need to decide on our economic model – Market-driven? State capitalism? Social markets? Or our own model? This is a long journey but the path needs to be laid. There is no silver bullet and we urgently need well-orchestrated leadership development in all domains that impact inclusive and sustainable growth.
We need to invest in leadership development before investing Rs 100 lakh crore in infrastructure. Human capital and social capital precede financial capital. All the three help achieve global scale. This deserves attention from no less than the Prime Minister himself.
(The author is Independent Director. www.bsambamurthy.com)