A case study in Leadership

Dear Friends, 
More often than not, we despise politics and do not think much of politicians. But take a step back and just think about the size of the victory that Modi achieved in the Central elections and then repeated the same in the State elections of Maharashtra and Haryana. I’m certain that there will be Harvard case studies written on Modi because at the end of the day, leadership transcends domains, sectors and even diversity of people.
We will obviously have our own individual take on Modi as a person but one has to acknowledge his success in elections. As the scale of this success is so stupendous, we will also need to accept that this victory was not an accident but the result of some clear interventions. Is there something for us to learn here?  The following thoughts come to my mind when I look back at Modi’s electoral success and while you go through this blog, do think about this in the context of GE and your own role.
1.  Clear and Bold Objective:  
Right from the beginning, the objective of the BJP campaign was clear. They were set on forming the national government. When the election process had just started, how many really believed that the BJP could actually do this? The goal of forming the national government by the BJP was almost a laughable idea. The goal was bold and not incremental and its clarity was well understood by the rank and file in the party. Further, it was a purpose that was aspirational for BJP, across all levels.
The courage to spell out a bold and clear objective was great leadership.
2. The Importance of Strategy: 
The Strategy to declare a Prime Ministerial candidate upfront and run the election almost like a Presidential election was unique. It caught the competition completely off guard. Further, the strategy to use Development as the focal point of the election was a stark departure from the earlier Right Wing agenda of the BJP. Development was a more relevant and positive theme which appealed to one and all.
Strategy is all about making choices and the decision to make clear choices was great leadership.
 3. God is in Data: 
The manner and scale in which data of the electorate was collected and then analyzed was mind boggling. There were literally thousands of ‘back room analysts’, within the BJP, who were focused on gathering data and leveraging analytics to make the right choices regarding candidate selection. The same data was also used to devise a smart communication strategy. Further, the decision on whether the BJP should fight the elections alone or form coalitions and that too, well before the elections, was all based on an assessment of the ‘winnability’ of individual candidates. This action again was based on data. The analytics around this electorate data was particularly relevant because of multiple candidates for every seat and the Indian Electoral System where the ’first past the post’, wins the elections. Old beliefs such as, rural India votes along caste lines, or that social media has not yet taken root in rural India, were completely shattered.
It is credit to Modi’s leadership that this ‘chai-wala’, made his decisions based on data and did not rely only on his ‘gut feel’.
4. Communication is key:
If there is one leadership quality of Modi that stands out, it is his ability to communicate. He is not only a good orator but he can convey difficult and complex messages in a simple manner. In a country like India, being able to communicate in simple terms, is the secret to drive change. Once again his communication strategy was focused on delivering relevant messages to the right sections and his language was simple. Imagine telling the people in Varanasi that the city needs to be cleaned up!
We also the witnessed the consequences of poor communication by the opposition parties. The difference could not have been more stark.
Without effective communication, leadership is ineffective.
5. Technology can be a game changer:
Who would have thought of using technology to contest elections in India? The BJP was extremely effective is using various social media platforms for communication. Technology allowed them to focus their communication, transfer ground level information in real time to their leadership, modify tactics quickly and consequently saving huge costs. The use of the old fashioned radio to communicate to rural India, in the local dialects, was a master stroke.
The willingness to embrace technology by leadership is key to increasing speed of information flow and reducing cost.
6. Huge personal risk:
We now look back and write case studies because the outcome was successful. But what if the BJP would have lost the elections? Or if Modi would have lost from Varanasi? Or if they would have lost in Maharashtra and Haryana? If failure would have been the outcome, then the story would have been very different. There is no doubt that Modi did take a huge personal risk in these elections.
There is no success without taking personal risk.
7. Every person played their part:
There was only one leader in the entire BJP campaign and that was Modi. There was nobody else trying to vie for attention or headlines. There was painstaking work done by the cadres of the party in the villages to spread the BJP message. This work must have been extremely boring and with little appreciation. While a few people at the top of the party made the strategic decisions, the rest went about implementing them tirelessly. The opposition on the other hand seemed to have a star-studded leadership team with everyone pontificating and strategizing on what needed to be done. The ideas were divergent and execution on the ground therefore, confused. A smaller leadership team with more feet on the ground is far better than the other way around.
In team work, stick to playing one’s own position—it’s critical.
I would urge you to think of the above in the context of our respective jobs.
Modi’s electoral success is like concluding a Sale. Execution is now the key to winning the next elections.
Banmali Agrawala,
President & CEO,
GE South Asia
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