Whenever two or more Indians meet there will inevitably be an argument, or several. Perhaps, democracy has made us argumentative. We can go on arguing whether we should/shouldn’t have jettisoned Nehruvian socialism thirty years ago, or will we/won’t ever catch up with China. Challenge us to decide on an act based on our opinion and we will intelligently figure out a middle path without taking the risks despite being strongly opinionated – making us the quintessential Indian.
After he approved the Bay of Pigs invasion, John F Kennedy asked himself, “how could I have been so stupid?” Most of our managers in India, whether in private sector or government, seem to have learnt from this. They like sitting on a rocking chair – it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere. Herodotus wrote in 450 BC, “If an important decision is to be made ( the Persians) discuss the question when they are drunk and the following day the master of the house submits their decision for reconsideration when they are sober. If they still approve it, it is adopted; if not, it is abandoned. Conversely, any decision they make when they are sober is reconsidered afterwards when they are drunk.”
The fear of making serious decisions is a new kind of fear, called decidophobia (proclaimed by Walter Kaufman at Princeton University in 1973). The high intensity of decidophobia makes our managers extremely successful. The Latin word ‘ Decido’ has two meanings. It can mean to decide and also to fall off. Making a wrong decision provokes the fear of falling. Most of our managers are over-curious long enough to delay the decision. If you are too careful, you are so occupied in being careful that you are sure to stumble over what you are going to decide. Indecision is debilitating; it feeds upon itself; it is, one might say, habit- forming. Not only that, but it is contagious; it transmits itself to others who depend on you.
In bureaucracy, one form of managerial practise is ‘setting up a committee’. Put a face to a faceless group; call it ‘the committee’. A committee is an animal with four back legs. Most often it is a cul-de-sac down which ideas are lured and then quietly strangled. The other form is delegating accountability to a new ‘Director of …’ for every new decision making without delegating the authority. Another model is that of ‘Rationalisation’ followed in private sector by stacking the cards to make one alternative clearly right and remove all risk. The most common followed is ‘stagnate or do nothing.’ The right strategic solution will eventually become obvious is what they believe in. Sometimes procrastinate and give false signals, leaving subordinates to charge off in different directions. To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing. The choice of not to choose is the choice sometimes.
Being argumentative makes us good managers but not good leaders. While management works in the system, leadership works on the system. We keep on the argument of progressing India and shout out of tune in a voice which has recently undergone tonsillectomy without anaesthesia. Opinionated and good managers smitten by decidophobia trying to make the system work.