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Essence of leadership: Bhagavan Shri Krishna and Prof. Satish Dhawan

Tapan Misra

Prof Satish Dhawan

I always cherish a story, narrated by Shri APJ Abdul Kalam, in his autobiography: “Wings of Fire”. He was the Project Director of SLV 3 programme. The first flight of SLV 3 in 1979 failed. As PD he was supposed to face the press who may not always ask pleasant questions. But in place of him, Prof. Satish Dhawan, then Chairman of ISRO, faced the press and publicly acknowledged the failure. And shouldered the full responsibility of failure. He promised that ISRO will bounce back with resounding success.

True to his words, ISRO succeeded in second flight of SLV 3 in 1980 and India arrived in the world fraternity of space launchers. Prof. Dhawan asked Shri Kalam to face the jubilant press and bask in all the adulation of country. Dhawan stood away from limelight and set the tone of essential style of ISRO leadership. Essential component of leadership is all about taking responsibility, specially in difficult times. When goings get tough, tough gets going.

Babasaheb Ambedkar is one of the profound, erudite and visionary politicians and more an intellectual, India ever produced. He mastered the art of becoming explicit and subtle in the same breath. Constitution of India is a classic example.

In the constitution of India, Part IV chapter on Directive Principle of State Policy is prefaced with a stunning illustration by oriental master Shri Nandalal Bose. Illustration depicts: just prior to battle of Kurukshetra, Arjuna is breaking down at the spectre of bloodletting among relatives and cousins. Bhagavan Shri Krishna, his Charioteer, did not console him. Instead he reminded him about his responsibilities, Dharma and inspired him to perform his duty as per his responsibility and conscience, not as per his emotions, and fighting the battle full heartedly.

This is the essence of Bhagvat Gita, collection of enlightened conversations between Shri Krishna and Arjuna, as heard by Sanjaya, a person of vision but without power and narrated by him to King Dhritarashtra, a person with power but without any vision.

Emotion is essence of human self. Emotions come with different shades. Only an enlightened person knows which emotion to exhibit at which place and at what time. You cannot narrate humorous jokes at a crematorium. You can breakdown losing your near and dear ones. You can sometime break down in happy tears at your astounding success. But you cannot breakdown at the sight of daunting responsibility. By breaking down in the face of failure and spectre of responsibility to pick up the gauntlets, you may elicit sympathy, but cannot inspire confidence. Great leadership is all about inspiring confidence with your team members and with your countrymen.


Tapan Misra, the author of this blog, heads the Office of Innovations Management, ISRO, Bangalore. Earlier he was Director Space Applications Centre. For a brief period he also held additional charge of Director, Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad.

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