Even as reams are written about and spoken on what makes a great leader, the question still does not get answered convincingly. There are myriad of views which have confounded it further rather than clearing the haze that surrounds the idea of leadership. It is against this backdrop that the story paraphrased below makes a lot of sense. Though there may be many variations of the story, but the underlying lesson is driven home rather succinctly. The story is that a young man finds his primary school teacher at a wedding party. He goes to the teacher to pay his respects and show his admiration. His first question is whether the teacher was able to remember him. But the teacher is not able to do so as decades have elapsed since the young man had left the school. The teacher however asks the student to introduce himself.
The student narrates the story that he was studying in standard IV when an incident took place while the teacher was taking the class. A boy of the same class had come with a beautiful new watch. The student, tempted as he was, stole the watch which the boy had kept in his bag during the lunch period. On finding the watch missing after the lunch, that boy started crying and went to the teacher stating that his watch had been stolen. The teacher had then asked all the students to close their eyes and face the wall while he would search every student’s pocket.
This boy who had stolen the watch was now worried that he would be found out and be exposed in front of the class and his character would be shattered. As the teacher went on searching the pockets of the students of the class, he found it in the pocket of the boy. Still he continued with the search till the last boy. After this, the teacher had asked the students to open their eyes and take their seats. The teacher showed the watch to the class and gave it back to the boy it belonged to. But he never said who was found in possession of the watch.
All through his life in the school, none of the teachers or students ever came to know who had stolen the watch. It was this teacher who had saved his dignity. The reply that the teacher gave was more remarkable. The teacher said that he himself did not know who stole the watch that day because while he searched the pockets of all the students, he himself had his eyes closed. Protecting and reforming is much more important than exposing and expelling. The punishments are envy and ego driven while forgiving is compassion driven. Even classical psychology recommends that praise in public but reprimand in private. It is this that works. Abraham Lincoln’s words quoted here make a lot of sense. He said: “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice”. Well, many may disagree but I too have had a similar experience.
As myths about efficacy of strong leadership are blown out of proposition, we need to understand that it is important to influence a behaviour by love and compassion rather than power and punishment. Punishments may work in the short run but their deterrence value has been found to be rather transient. Punishment may deter but it is love that transforms. Compassionate leadership works better.
Pathak is a professor of management, writer, and an acclaimed public speaker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sunday, 24 November 2019 | Pramod Pathak
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