Subba’s Serendipitous moments

May 9, 2008

A leader should know how to manage failures

shri-kalamjis-interview-with-knowledgewharton_030408Dr. Abdul Kalam was undoubtedly the best President that India had.

He talks about the 6 key qualities of leadership and gives praise to his own boss –for the way he handled failure.

His 6 key lessons of leadership:

  1. When failure occurs, the leader of the organization owns the failure

  2. When success comes the leader gives it to the team

  3. Leaders should have the courage to make decisions

  4. Leaders should have nobility in management

  5. Every action of the leader should be transparent

  6. Leaders should work with integrity and succeed with integrity.

He gives complete credit to Prof Satish Dhawan – the Chairman of ISRO of how he took responsibility for the SLV-3 failure. Typical of Dr. Kalam to be unassuming in how he handled the failure himself. I have it from a very authoritative source of how he himself handled the SLV-3 failure. After the failed launch, many of the scientists (including my mother’s cousin)were shocked, embarrassed and some even traumatized. Few even wept. Dr. Kalam himself was apparently quite shocked initially, but retained his composure. 2 days after the failure, he started meeting the project teams in groups and told them that it was a bad failure, but one could easily learn from it. His only instruction to the project teams for the following month’s review meeting was that everyone should discuss what they learnt from the failure. And that note would not go into the official files. He would cut any discussion short if the discussion moved in the direction of blaming other groups.

He didn’t change the project teams though there were a number of suggestions that the team be reconstituted with some members of the team responsible for the failure be dropped. He said only if he were to be removed from his position as Project Director (a request that he made to Prof Satish Dhawan himself, which was declined) then the teams could be reconstituted.

Despite the failure, he trusted the team. His management style didn’t change. In fact at some point when the scientists felt nervous, he was always there to encourage them and his simple message to them, was to do their best and what they thought was to be right.

Subsequently, some of the scientists got transferred to DRDO and worked under him in the missile program. And that included some of the scientists and engineers who had erred in judgment during the SLV -3 program. He just didn’t hold their failures against them.

His short poem is a remarkable case of simplicity and clarity. He writes:

Learning gives creativity

Creativity leads to thinking

Thinking provides knowledge

Knowledge makes you great.

Another instance of simplicity, clarity and profound wisdom:

“Peace comes from strength, because strength respects strength.

His interview at Knowledge@Wharton is another gem! To read, see the attached pdf file.

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3 Comments »

  1. […] Iyer @ 11:29 pm Dr. Abdul Kalam — Eminent scientist and ex President of India, whose lessons on managing failures, I found valuable visited Singapore recently. I attended his talk on Dynamics of National […]

    Pingback by Dr. Abdul Kalam ignites Singapore « Subba’s Serendipitous moments — August 28, 2008 @ 11:45 pm | Reply

  2. Wow! I liked it so nuch.

    I liked almost all. I don’t like the missile project.

    Comment by J. SALOMÉ — June 28, 2009 @ 8:35 pm | Reply

  3. […] Abdul Kalam — Eminent scientist and ex President of India, whose lessons on managing failures, I found valuable visited Singapore recently. I attended his talk on Dynamics of National […]

    Pingback by Dr. Abdul Kalam ignites Singapore | Expanding Thought — March 10, 2011 @ 5:14 pm | Reply


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