Book review: A new approach to leadership

  • Sujoy Gupta, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Aug 29, 2015 14:09 IST
The elephant in the room: All about leadership (Gettyimages)

If truth be told, this reviewer let loose a groan when he first held this book. Why? It would be his third review in six months of a book on Indian management with the elephant theme! His advice today is: 'Don't judge a book by its cover; start reading it first.' He's glad he followed his own advice.

Right away, Jayaram explains that his father was a forest ranger. Jayaram's memories include keeping five elephants, including a baby, as pets at the ranger's bungalow that was home. One of the early lessons he learnt was to not panic if an elephant charged at him. Humans can't run faster than a charging elephant but can outwit the latter by running in sharp semi-circles comprising u-turns. Their bulk being an impediment in changing direction, elephants won't be able to reach the human who has made three or four fast u-turns and is now sprinting for his life as fast as he can beyond the elephant's range of vision leaving the behemoth flummoxed.

How To Help An Elephant Make A U-Turn by GK Jayaram; Rupa (Rs 500; PP263)

For this reviewer, the probability of being charged at by an elephant is somewhat remote but for Jayaram it was reality. He writes about elephants from firsthand knowledge. Here lies the rub. Without this knowledge Jayaram would be utterly unfit to write a book about Leadership and Transformational Change. To clarify the title all we have to do is alter the metaphor. Replace 'an elephant' with 'political leaders, corporate magnates, religious gurus, film stars'… Jayaram cuts these worthies down to size. "They do put on their pants one leg at a time," he reminds readers wryly.

An amiable author, he predicts readers will 'chuckle' a few times and also gain some 'insights'. He warns readers in a friendly way: "I am fond of words so this book has a lot of them." Well, enough to fill 263 pages. We have bid farewell to Jayaram's metaphorical elephant and understood the raison d'etre of the book - namely to get the powerful, influential persons cited above to smoothly change their ways.

This review now boils down to comprehending the 'meat' of this treatise. From intense personal experience, exchanging thoughts with 50 industry leaders and from personal conviction, Jayaram sees a leadership crisis both globally as well as in India because "we have been promised equality and that has created a need for leaders and institutions to deliver on this promise. But leaders have promised us great things before, and it would be easy to be cynical about this one. What makes our age different is the degree to which this promise has been met through two developments: democracy and globalization." The author plunges into the 'hard' part where he discusses the concepts of transformational and transcendental leadership. It gets pretty technical when newfound acronyms are introduced.

Representative examples are RORE for 'Revolution of Rising Expectations', PROBE for 'Promise of and Belief in Equality' or TCL for 'Transcendental Leadership'. Up to a point these sound simplistic but be assured they are tough to absorb. Jayaram's humour adds value to a work on a generally serious management subject published in a country, where blithe humour on a public platform is rare.

One hopes Jayaram will be seriously read by Indian corporate leaders. Industry fora ought to discuss the new approach to leadership and transformational change espoused in this volume with author Jayaram present as guest keynote speaker.

Sujoy Gupta is a business historian and corporate biographer.

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