Leadership in Crisis Situations

The leader is especially needed by the organisation in times of crisis, when the laid down, time tested drills fail to deliver or become irrelevant. The organisation is groping in the dark for alternative solutions and strategies. All eyes are on the leader. What is it that an organisation wants from its leader in such times of crisis?

Responsibility: the leader has to step-in and own up to complete responsibility . Responsibility for the current problem as well as the potential problems posed by the uncertain future. In times of crisis, decision making becomes a problem.Somebody has to take the call, to decide upon a strategy and own up to the possibility of failure. The leader has to inspire the feel good sentiment, ‘ab yeh aa gaya hai, sabh sambhaal lega’. You have to just do what he says!

Confidence: crisis situations require optimism. Stop the panic. Just about everything, the worst of disasters have a precedent. It has happened before to somebody, and it shall surely happen again. Most often the aftermath is anyway not as bad as one initially fears.

No fault finding, save it for another day if at all. The subordinate who has caused the crisis is often only too painfully aware of his culpability, and shall never forget the boss who gets him out of it
without rubbing it in. A positive solution oriented approach lifts up the morale immediately.

Ask for solutions. You ll be surprised as to how often the crisis ridden subordinates already have the solution but are too afraid to propose the same for fear of failure. They just need someone to cover their risk for them.

Be true to your word, if your attempt at crisis resolution flops don’t back track. Own up to the failure as you had promised. You may have failed today but you will live to fight another day.

Goodbye to Formula based Policing

When I joined the police service I was required to call-on the police top brass and introduce myself to the organisation that was to be my bread and butter in the decades to follow. The ceremonial call-on included a five-minute chit chat over the ritualistic cup of tea. The senior colleagues would invariably give some words of advice as to how one could become a successful police officer. Each officer, especially the stalwarts, had his own ‘pet formula’ for tackling policing issues and problems. The formula was supposed to see you through most if not all ticklish issues and keep you out of harms’ way.

‘Crack-down on petty crimes to scare away the bigger criminals’, was one such formula. Thus one was advised to crack the whip on bootlegers, gamblers and pimps so as to create a general scare in the ranks of criminals who were then expected to flee the area of the ‘tough police chief’.
‘Kick Ass – the district can afford only one badmash, and I am it. ‘ Let all and sundry live in your terror- kuchh galat kiya nahin aur yeh humein kha jayega. People are so afraid of being chewed up by the goonda-in-uniform that they forget all notions of committing crime. Thrashing of the goons in public view, use of maximum force at the time of arrest including shootouts, occasional lathi charge are all included in the formula. Rules and procedures are for the babus and the timid and have no use in this man’s job.
‘Manage the Media’ and everything shall be fine. Nobody shall read your crime reports or your crime statistics. The police top brass anyway administers through media reports. The media should portray you as the saviour of peace and the founder of ‘Ram-Rajya’. Have frequent press conferences followed by high tea. Give stories with colourful pictures to media like chit-chat sessions with Resident Welfare Associations, launch functions of ‘Senior Citizen Schemes’, ‘Neighbourhood Watch Schemes’ and what have you, flagging off ceremony of ‘Run against Drugs’ etc etc.
‘Manage your Boss’. In police only your boss matters. Do as he says and you shall be fine. Others would advise- Manage your Super Boss. The political masters should be pleased and nothing else matters.
‘Follow-the-Law by the Letter if not the Spirit’. Don’t take unnecessary risks under mistaken notions of being a dispenser of justice. Follow the rules. If it leads to increased crime rate, don’t bother. Let the law makers change the law and empower you further if they are bothered about curbing crime. If you exceed your laid down powers in combatting crime and there is trouble, nobody shall bail you out. So remember that you are a simple cog-in-the-wheel cop and no super cop, whatever that may be.
Unfortunately, the increasing complexity of the society and the resultant challenges for policing no longer afford one the luxury of sticking to any one formula/ secret-of-success. Thus, the cop creating terror in the badmash element is caught publicly thrashing goondas on tape in a so-called sting-operation. He spends the rest of his career filing replies to the myriad commissions and the Courts. The Stickler for rules is transferred out for non-performance and is ridiculed for being a sissy. The media manager’s peace is suddenly rocked by some hard-core sensational crime and he gets his goose-cooked by the top brass and his media friends alike. One blindly follows one’s boss only to realize that when trouble starts he is going to be the first one to pull you up for not showing sufficient initiative. Thus, no formula works across situations. Today, one has to be a little of everything, as per situation. Sometimes tough, taking risks. Sometimes cautious and even downright timid in tricky situations. Following orders but always covering your back. Media friendly, to a point. In fact, most hapless field officers seeking directions in crisis situations are routinely instructed by their seniors to take action ‘as per situation’!!

Rationale for Direct Recruitment

In the Indian Police setup there are a whole set of expectations regarding professional conduct and capabilities from officers joining the Indian Police Service through direct recruitment. Thus the direct recruits are subjected to much more exacting standards while being judged by their senior colleagues and by society in general. The direct recruits enter the police organization at a relatively higher level in the hierarchy with little professional knowledge or experience as compared to their counterparts who have risen from the ranks. Yet, a directly recruited officer is expected to offset this lack of experience by 4 other key attributes:
1) An unfailing commitment to truth. An unassailable reputation for professional honesty.
2) Greater enthusiasm and drive to achieve organizational goals. A young direct recruit is typically expected to be ‘all fired-up’ for action.
3) The direct recruit is expected to take the organisation away from the beaten path by introducing new systems and technologies. He is expected to be open to change and fresh ideas that hold the promise of imparting a quantum jump to the level of performance of the organization.
4) A greater commitment to national goals and freedom from the prejudices of caste, community and region.

The Devta Theory

As a kid I used to love reading ‘Commando’ Comics that had World War II stories about brave men and cowards. About soldiers and Generals. I remember a quote in one of the stories on fighter pilots. It went something like this,“ There are good fighter pilots and old fighter pilots. There are no good old fighter pilots.” Today, as the working environment within the police department grows grim and chances of a smooth (read, non-catastrophic) career graph grow bleak, I’m often reminded of this million dollar quote. The police officer’s job is today one of the most complex and stressful ones imaginable, where the best of intentions and back breaking labour may not be sufficient for keep oneself out of trouble. Often serious trouble.
The modern day Indian citizens, at least those belonging to its burgeoning middle-class, are extremely conscious of their rights. They seem to have taken the ‘The Great Indian Success Story,’ sold to it so successfully by the media, for real. They feel that we Indians have achieved the standards of the western world as we carry the same mobile phones or drive the same cars or watch the same soap opera. The blinkered vision does not see the dirty underbelly with which the police has to cope to keep the social order from collapsing. A country on the boil, torn by caste and religion like never before. The millions of unemployed, restive youth. The ugly slums depicted in the film, ‘The Slumdog Millionaire’, sans the happy endings. The highway robbers, the merciless kidnappers, the petty thieves, the thugs, the murderers and all the other brands of law breakers who lurk around every corner. All the elements that periodically rock the peace and quiet of our civic society.
The vociferous citizen today demands quick and complete solution to all his problems, completely unmindful of the ground realities. The better educated and well aware amongst them even seek to educate you on the contemporary policing practices of the developed world! The self-respecting police officers struggle to deliver in the face of constraints imposed by the system. The inertia of a poorly educated and poorly recruited force . The constraints imposed by adoption of liberal detention practices aping the developments in the West. The constant glare of media that seeks to sensationalize each minor development. Often, reputations carefully nurtured and cherished by honest, hardworking men are mindlessly destroyed at the hands of teenaged reporters in a hurry to make the ‘Burkha Dutt Grade’. The Courts and the myriad commissions and self-proclaimed social activists are there to conduct the postmortem of each professional decision and investigation, often drawing wisdom imparted by hindsight. The police officer unfortunately, does not usually have the luxury of time. Decisions have to be taken even when complete information is not available as even a bad decision is better than no decision.
The new entrants to the department, the young blood, are today, facing a crisis of confidence. The confidence to take a call whenever a situation demands to the best of one’s intentions and abilities. The apprehension of problems that can possibly arise from each course of action is causing a paralysis in decision making. Nobody seems to want to command anymore, lest he be blamed for the problems that may arise from the decisions that he took. And what are the kind of decisions that a police officer has to take? The decision to open fire on a violent mob. The decision to aggressively stop a suspicious vehicle and risk an accident. The decision to withstand adverse media publicity and take a principled stand to reject trial by media and to be ruled by evidence. The decision to tread into the dangerous gray areas of law and procedures in the interest of justice.
So what does one do? Quit? As a plain speaking boss put it somewhat crudely, ‘You are not obliged to continue in this job if its so tough!’ But I subscribe to a happier view. One need not quit or be fearful. One should enjoy every moment of this wonderful and God sent opportunity to do good and dispense justice. One should take each decision inspired by the confidence of bona fide intentions. Its not that things won’t go wrong. For a while, at least. Or may be for a wee bit longer than that. But things will be okay in the end. For somewhere in this big bad world is a man who is watching you and your work. He may have made different choices in his own life and career but he still respects those made by a clear and honest heart. He may be a senior colleague, a judge, a politician, a media man or an activist. But when you have your back to the wall he will appear as sure as the Devtas of Hindu mythology and bail you out. Sometimes quite literally! Believe it or not, this is a well established and widely endorsed belief in the department and has been aptly christened as the ‘Devta Theory’.

The Bureaucratic Stereotypes

                I have completed over a decade of working in the Government. Over this period I have had the opportunity of closely observing the personalities and working styles of my colleagues and my seniors. I could not help noticing some basic stereotypes that characterize the overall approach to work of most bureaucrats. I hope this tongue-in-cheek exposition does not find its way to the men who inspired it!

The Jolly Good Fellow: I am in this job to lead a good life. I take great care of my comfort and that of my family and friends and indeed anybody who can exchange favours with me. Everybody loves me for my wit and my disarming smile. I am the life of all official meetings and parties as I make all ‘serious’ professional issues look so hilarious. The key to my success is my own little network. You must know a man in every key location. I don’t get bogged down by formal hierarchy. I speak directly to the man-on-the-spot. I am highly focused. The job has to be done at all costs as it is not mere work, it is personal. And don’t be fooled by the general good humour. I can get very vicious if you try to get in my way as I go about making life easy for myself and my gang. But I am sure we can all get along as ‘brother officers’ maximizing our clout by working together.

The Angry Crusader: When I joined the service I embarked on a lonely crusade. I am dead honest and I hate to compromise with my iron clad values. There is no middle path or gray area for me. It’s always an either or situation. Either you are honest or you are dishonest. Nobody can match my standards. I can’t stand most of my hypocritical colleagues. And I don’t shirk from telling them so to their face. I lock horns with my superiors, my colleagues and my subordinates, for all of them are just as corrupt. I am very competent, only the corrupt did not let me have an opportunity to prove the same. Nobody notices my steadfast honesty or the great contribution I have made to the system. So I don’t waste any opportunity to tell the world about it. It’s a rotten system but I will go down fighting.

The King: I am not a lowly cog-in-the-wheel. I am a lord and this appointment is my fiefdom. I am here to rule. I am not bound by petty procedures as I go about demanding and dispensing favours. I am sure everybody loves to listen to my exploits. My wonderful ideas. My grand plans.  But don’t be taken in by the style and flair. I can be caught prostrating in front of the powers that be. But then that is the name of the game! L*** above and kick below!!

The Don: We are all born to live a good life. It’s a mean world where dog eats dog and man eats man. But I write my own destiny. I have figured out all the rules of the game and I wield tremendous power through my own little caucus. I can’t stand the so-called honest people who are either hypocrites or are cowards or just plain dumb. I have powerful friends who know that they can count upon me. I can take you under my wing if you promise me your unquestioned allegiance. I don’t bother myself with harming anyone unless he comes in the way of my plans.

The Viper: I am the mean guy. I cheat, loot and lie all the time. I am a hypocrite and can give lengthy expositions on honesty, socialism and development. Everybody seems to have figured me out but I don’t care. Nobody messes with me as I am cold blooded and dangerous.

The Sahib Log: I am an officer and a gentleman. I have excellent taste and impeccable manners. I dress up perfectly and my diction is perfect. I am witty in a restrained manner. My office ends at 4.30 pm after which I must have my session of golf and refined socialising. I try very hard not to be patronising and generally maintain a polite distance from the world that has not had the benefit of a cultured and polished existence. It’s not important as to what you do in life, so long as it is done with style and finesse.

The Escapist: I am a cog-in-the-wheel. The system is too big for an individual to make a difference. I would be honest and productive if the system were to allow me to be so. See how good the systems in the West are? What can anybody do but be a part of this rotten system and make the most of it.

The Realist: I must teach you a golden rule to happiness. Your job is not the most important thing in your life. It only provides the means for your sustenance. Pursue other personal goals and interests in life. Become a health freak. Learn to paint. Take interest in your garden or your children’s education. Make your golf your obsession. Know the stock market. Do an honest day’s job and don’t carry your office to your home. The system shall remain what it always has been and don’t let it bother your health or happiness. 

The Mouse: This is a big bad world and one can’t be too careful. ‘They’ will fix you at the first opportunity. It’s safest to follow all rules and laws to the last letter even if it doesn’t get you or the system anywhere. It doesn’t pay to have too much initiative. One never knows when one’s extra enthusiasm will land him in trouble. Honesty is the best policy because it’s too dangerous to do anything else. But if honesty means getting into a confrontation with the powers that be, I try and pass on the buck to some foolhardy colleague of mine. I never get caught in a difficult situation. At worst, one can always report sick. My colleagues may think I’m yellow, but at the end of the day they will realize the wisdom of my timid ways.

The Survivor: I am a practical man. It’s good to be honest but within acceptable limits. One has to be a part of the system in order to change it for the better. I am competent and hardworking. I know when to take a stand and when to avoid a confrontation. I mean well. I am not a hypocrite and am upfront about my pragmatic approach.

The Mule: I am a loyal follower. I place complete trust in the wisdom and power of my superiors. I do whatever I am asked to do with great diligence. I have no use for attitudes or notions about right or wrong, as they only complicate life. I have always followed the orders of my boss and have steered away from trouble. My boss can always rely on me for my complete knowledge of Government rules, procedures, notifications and circulars.

The Loafer: What’s the big shit all about? Who has the time or energy to bother about this or that? Just remember to collect your pay cheque on time and anything else that this shitty job has to offer. Don’t bother yourself about all this muck about promotions or ACRs and what have you. Once you are in the Government no son-of-a-b**** can do anything to a shit-pot like me. So carry on partner!

The Doctrine of ‘Use of Minimum Force’

When I joined the police service one of the first things that we were taught during classes on crowd control was that we were to use the minimum force that was needed to disperse violent mobs. This essentially meant that we started with verbal warnings followed by tear gassing and if all failed then the crowd was to be lathi (baton) charged. We could resort to firing only if the mob posed a threat to human life. While it cannot be disputed that in a modern civic society the police cannot or should not subscribe to any other view yet practical experience in the field of grappling with violent mobs does force one to question the practicability of this approach. When confronted with a mob that is armed with lathis or iron rods and stones it is difficult to treat them as misdirected citizens who need to be convinced by use of minimum force. To the contrary one sees an irrational and dangerous animal that will not desist from opening up your skull with a well aimed projectile. Verbal warnings over the public address system lead to jeers and further raise tempers. Tear gas does not scare even the mildest mobs. Things invariably boil down to a lathi (baton) charge. A lathi charge by the police involves negotiating a stretch of a few hundred metres while under attack by a mob that hurls sharp edged stones and bricks at the very least. The charge invariably takes the wind out of half the police party with all the obese,the smokers, the unfit and the cowards in the party lagging behind. Some get injured on the way while others panic on seeing their colleagues fall and their numbers dwindle. When the police party establishes contact with the mob it’s charged with anger and fear. Then follows a brief period of man to man fight with each man keeping tabs on the probable outcome of the battle. Nobody wants to be trapped with the losing side. For if the rioter is left behind by fleeing accomplices he is likely to be thrashed and arrested by a victorious police party. And if a cop gets caught by a violent mob while his colleagues desert him and run for safety he is sure to be beaten up and even lynched. The task of the commander of the police party is to size up the potential of the mob before taking the decision to engage them. And once a lathi charge is on he has to lead with exemplary energy and ferocity. The police posse has to, for those brief moments get into the snarl mode to unnerve the mob and put it to run. The prerehearsed formations invariably don’t work or last on the field. And nothing counts more than the confidence and courage of those leading the charge. At that moment if the commander waivers and is bothered by the doctrine of minimum force or by fear of magesterial enquiries a rout is inevitable. You either run for cover or make them run for cover. That’s the way it works in the live situation. A failed half-hearted lathi charge invariably leads to police firing and charges of excesses. For once the mob gets the police on the run it goes berserk with the adrenalin and the euphoria over winning and indulges in arson and looting. It’s fear, raw fear for physical safety that discourages mobs and nothing else.