The DEF of Leadership

A group of children is playing near two railway tracks, one still in use, while the other disused. Only one intelligent child is playing on the dysfunctional track, the irresponsible rest on the operational track. A train approaches, and you happen to be in charge of the track interchange. You can make the train change its course to the disused track to save most of the kids. However, that would also mean the smart child playing by the disused track would be sacrificed. So which option would you choose?

Saving many ignorant children at the expense of a single bright child sounds like a rational decision most people would make, morally and emotionally. One can literally “see” the train and children just a ‘short’ distance away, so not surprisingly, a ‘shortsighted’ reflex action kicks in.

But, is there a “longsighted” alternative to this choice as well, one that can evaluate the consequences of our option beyond the range of the naked eye? Such futuristic brainwaves particularly hold relevance when we are routinely exposed to dilemmatic decision points. After all, most of us do play key roles as professional and social entities, be it as a part of a project team at work or a family team at home. Real life is full of similar (albeit less dramatic) situations where a tangential thought process holds some value…

One, the sole wise kid would never suspect that the train might come on the disused track and would definitely get run over.  The kids playing on the operational track, however, would probably know that the track is still in use, so will run away once they hear the train’s siren. In the real world, one needs to have “faith” in the subordinates and the family members to do the right thing, rather than continuously deciding everyone’s tracks!

Two, even if the big group is unaware of the risk, the chances are good that at least one kid is facing the direction of the approaching train and will warn the others in time. The solo kid, on the other hand, has lesser probability of the same advantage.  That’s why there is a merit in diverse points of view, one should always “encourage” family/teammates to contribute towards all decision points.

Three, there must be a reason why one track is dysfunctional!
In that case, how wise would it be to risk the lives of hundreds of train passengers to save a few children? In our daily lives, there are reasons why “disciplinary” frameworks are put in place.  Any appeasement initiatives of subordinates/family for the short-term peace work against the intended objective in the long term.

The ABC of leadership to reach our destination is something most of us understand well. But, sometimes, leadership is not just about going places, rather, firmly holding the ground we are standing on. For life is not always about catching the departing train.  Every now and then, it is about missing the approaching train as well. That’s where the DEF (Discipline, Encouragement, and Faith) traits of leadership come cruising in.

Adapted, Foresight, Leader, Style


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The DEF of Leadership - Arun Nathani Blog