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Book Extract: Taking Charge

We're happy to bring you our first book extract, a chapter from best-selling author (and Forbes India columnist) Subroto Bagchi's latest

Published: Oct 10, 2009 08:02:00 AM IST
Updated: Feb 20, 2014 05:54:38 PM IST

In The High-Performance Entrepreneur, Bagchi shared his story of building a company. His second bestseller, Go Kiss the World, was his own story, a motivational message to young people. In his newest book, based on his lifelong experience, he talks about what it takes to be a professional.

The extract from the chapter: Taking Charge

Bagchi talks about what it takes to be a professional
Bagchi talks about what it takes to be a professional
Many years ago, I wanted to take my direct reports on an annual exercise to some place far away from Bangalore. The purpose of the exercise was to set out the objectives for the various departments I was responsible for. I wanted to tell them about my priorities for the future so that they could align their objectives. In the process, I also wanted that they share their functional objectives with each other so that everyone was aware of what each department was doing.

The plan was that we would all drive down in a small bus to a place in the middle of nowhere where my friend Captain Ravi, an ex-army officer, ran a highly successful outbound learning centre called Pegasus Camp. There I wanted the team members to listen to each other, question, ideate and return with solid alignment with a collective vision for the year ahead.

Along the way, I also wanted to expose them to a situation involving extreme pressure and uncertainty so that they became emotionally ready for what I foresaw as an unpredictable time ahead. With Captain Ravi’s help, a plan was hatched.

The group assembled on the appointed morning for the bus ride. They were told that I would not be joining them; I had gone ahead by car. Only the bus driver knew the real plan.

An hour and a half into the journey, the bus turned off the highway on to a barely motorable road. The bus had to go past a tiny village before coming to the camp that was located down a hill by a lake. When the bus approached the village, the managers, by now weary of the rough-and-tumble and still somewhat sleepy, were accosted by angry villagers who had barricaded the road. The driver had no option but to stop and no sooner than he did, the mob surrounded the bus.

Apparently a car ahead of the group had mowed down a goat and sped off. The irate stick-and-sickle wielding mob demanded everyone get down from the bus and stay right there until the car owner returned to compensate the villagers for the loss of the goat. The group was stunned. The description of the car and driver suggested it was me. The villagers were relentless, their tempers rising by the second. They refused to engage in conversation, unrelenting in their demand that the group get down from the bus.

Away from the scene, inside the village school, I sat glued to a small window and watched the reactions of the people in the bus. It was one of fear and uncertainty. The bus had some very competent, very senior and very qualified managers. People who reported to me were usually stars.

They were trained to handle difficult corporate situations; they were engineers and MBAs and trained negotiators. But this was different. Here were villagers who did not speak English, were armed and angry and seemed like they could do anything. I wanted to see how the leaders would react, who would take charge.

The first reaction of the group was to stay put in the bus. No one stepped out.
After a while, a few tried reasoning with the mob from inside the bus. But it was futile because the group did not have a nominated leader and it is not possible to negotiate with a cacophonous bunch. Most just sat glued to their seats, anxiety writ large on their faces. It was soon evident that the villagers were determined to get everyone out and who knew what they would do next.

Then, in the melee, I saw two men slowly get up, come up to the door of the bus, open it and get down from the bus. These two were not the seniormost among the occupants of the bus, they were not the stars who would wow everyone with their presentations. They could best be described as somewhere between a solid citizen and the unsung soldier.

In that instance, however, where others were courting safety, these two men had waived aside all caution, putting group before self. As they cajoled with the villagers, their captors got more menacing. Surrounded from all sides, they kept trying to pacify, to reason, standing between the villagers and the bus door, negotiating on behalf of their colleagues. At this stage, I came out of the village school with a goat in tow and seeing me the villagers stopped the premeditated drama. The mood in the bus changed from fear to jaw-dropping disbelief to relief and happiness.

Several years after the incident, many of the stars in the bus have either become dust or shine elsewhere; the two men who climbed out of the bus continue to serve MindTree well. But to me, the goat that was never killed settled the issue as to who among the busload could be counted upon in case of a future crisis.

Faced with a potentially dangerous situation, people freeze. They are afraid to push their way into a crowd because they feel powerless. They justify their inaction by thinking that not being in the front, not taking charge of a dangerous situation is the wiser (and safer) thing to do.
We have often heard: No one gives you power, it has to be seized. While the first part of the statement may have a tinge of truth to it, the second is an untruth. Power is not something material that you can seize, like seizing an object or a piece of land. Power is never seized.

It is always generated within. Both feeling powerful and powerless in any situation is an inner feeling.
Developing the power within, to have the confidence to take charge in the most difficult and dangerous of situations, is the hallmark of a true professional.

(This story appears in the 23 October, 2009 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • R. Sridhar

    This is classic Bagchi. Wonder how he comes up with such interesting ideas. This also reminded me of a book called "All hat, no cattle' which is about change management. There is a sequence in that which is somewhat similar. Though I find the 'The Goat' incident more dramatic!. Now I must rush to buy the book. Sridhar

    on Nov 12, 2009