A day with the leader – Captain Vinod Shankar Nair


How many times do we talk about leadership? How many times do we reflect on the ideas that drive us to achieve our goals? The answers are many but which are are the most precise ones? We got an opportunity to talk to a seasoned leadership coach and mentor, an ex-army officer and an amazing person, Captain Vinod Shankar Nair. Read what he had to say,


1] How do you think leadership in Armed Forces is different from the corporate world?

The definition, requirements and realities of both worlds differ greatly from each other.

A leader in the Armed forces is not just a specialist with authority in one subject or the founder’s child who is now the boss. In the Armed forces, every leader has earned their place the hard way, there are no shortcuts to leadership roles. Every leader in the Armed forces is also a role model and a mentor. The leader’s role in the Armed forces extends beyond work, leaders are like elders in a family who are respected and who influence your personal lives as well.

The process one goes through to reach a leadership position in the Armed forces is a gruelling one that takes years and years together. The demands made by the leadership in the Armed forces are far in excess of anything a corporate leader could ever imagine. Similarly, the expectations an Armed forces leader has to live up to and deliver on are beyond the scope of any corporate leadership.

So yes leadership in the corporate world is very very different from the Armed forces.

2] Indian Armed Forces believe in never leaving a brother behind. How easy or difficult do you think it is to inculcate that in the corporate world?

The sooner our corporate world learns to apply this doctrine the better. Some of the most successful business strategies and tactics are originally simple combat policies applied in the civilian world.

Some examples:
A. Key account managers are nothing but Commando operations applied in civilian terms (a small well trained and highly motivated force can deliver better results than a large force with standard training and motivation.)
B. Franchising (like Dominos Pizza and Mc Donald’s) is a successful application of nodal warfare used in deserts where large flat areas are to be covered by a limited force.

Effective applications of military doctrines have often led to great successes in the corporate world. When it comes to leaving no man behind, we must take a look at the definition to apply it successfully.

I would take it to mean that every person in the company owns and represents the company at all times. Which means that everyone should celebrate and share every success and bonus. It would also mean that failures should be owned across the firm instead of with individuals or teams. This would bring in the implementation of better teamwork and ownership, better inter-team cooperation, more knowledge sharing and less selfishness.

There would be less blame game and less inter-departmental feuds.

Every employee would realise that they are only as strong as the weakest member of the team and would compensate for each other.

3] Cultural Diversity is one of the biggest attributes of Indian Army, whereas the industry is still struggling to achieve that? What do you think is the biggest challenge?

Like our Armed forces, our corporate world too also does not have any quota or reservation system. Both function on merit and performance so our corporate world is quite strong in that sense. The one place where the corporate world could learn from the army on diversity in nepotism.

Nepotism in many cases is crippling our corporate world and something should be done about it.

4] Do you think it is OK to have teammates who might be in need of extra motivation to execute the project? If yes, then how can the leader help them?

It takes all kinds to make the world go around and strength lies in diversity. The biggest mistake a boss could ever make would be to hire a team which is full of clones. There would be no widening of horizons and no new insights.

It’s perfectly fine to have a team whose members require different levels, types and frequencies of motivation.

This is also the reason that leaders are still human beings and not automated functions. Every leader must be sharp enough to know and deliver what is required whenever it is required. Every leader must always have the pulse of their team in their hand at all times.

5] How can leaders be supportive towards their teammates in the face of personal loss, keeping in mind the team morale, organizational deliverable and profitability? 

Being a Leader is not easy, leadership demands that we play various roles at the same time while balancing relationships with efficiency and meeting deadlines.

Personal losses, tragedies, life events are an occasional part of everyone’s life. If the leader downplays such situations, he or she will come across as insensitive and uncaring. On the other hand, the leader cannot risk being overly affected by such losses because that would compromise quality and deliverables at work.

It’s a fine line to walk and that’s where leadership qualities are essential. We provide specific training programs for dealing with such issues and every leader must undergo leadership training in order to develop skills to handle such situations.

6] What can corporates learn from performance assessment of Indian Armed Forces which is always credited to be fair and just?

Here’s something that will fascinate you. The Indian Army is personnel intensive. Its successful existence depends upon people and yet it has never had an HR department!

The above fact will give you an insight into how effective our leadership and our appraisal systems are.

The Armed forces appraisal system is a time-tested fantastic one which also evolves based on the realities of times. The sooner corporates adopt our systems the better for them. 

Corporate leaders need to learn that there is no substitute to actually getting out of your comfort zone and truly connecting with your people if you wish to be an effective leader. Statistics, data, facts and figures are no match for real relationships.

  • Team MagMug


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