The Menace of Yes Men

A ‘Yes man’ is a dangerous man. He is a menace. He will go very far. He can become a minister, a secretary or a Field Marshall but he can never become a leader nor, ever be respected. He will be used by his superiors, disliked by his colleagues and despised by his subordinates. So discard the ‘Yes man’
– Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw

Second Lieutenant to India’s first Field Marshal… Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw popularly known as Sam Bahadur was the best that they ever make. In 1931, Sam’s father refused to send him to London to pursue medicine as he was passionate about. In 1931 the Indian Military College Committee, recommended the establishment of a military academy in India to train Indians for officer commissions in the army. Through a competitive exam set up by the Public Service Commission fir the first time Indian Youth were allowed to compete and become officers in the Indian Army by joining a course in the IMA. In an act of rebellion against his father’s refusal, Manekshaw applied for a place and sat the entrance exams in Delhi. On 1 October 1932, he was one of the fifteen cadets to be selected through open competition. Manekshaw was placed sixth in the order of merit. And here started a journey which scripted a rare chapter of extraordinary contribution to the Indian History.

What’s my point? And why bring Sam Manekshaw to the fore with this topic. Well if there can ever be an outshining exemplar of the topic in question here, Sam Bahadur would unanimously be at the top rung. Best is a word.. if it ever were to have a life of its own.. would feel infinitely proud for having been attached to such a fine gentleman.. officer.. leader.. human being. Such men take humanity and excellence of being .. a notch higher than it was ever envisaged by the creators of life and the epitomes of quality manuals envisioned in the departments of excellence in the heavenly offices.

Folklore legend has it that when Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asked the Indian Army Chief Sam Manekshaw if the Indian Army was ready for a war against Pakistan in April 1971, against her own assessment and the advice of the cabinet, he told her about the inevitable defeat if India attacked East Pakistan untimely. The Field Marshal narrated this incident as a personal example of moral courage, at the inaugural Field Marshal KM Cariappa Memorial Lecture in October 1995 at Delhi:

“There is a very thin line between being dismissed and becoming a Field Marshal. In 1971, when Pakistan cracked down in East Pakistan, hundreds and thousands of refugees started pouring into India, into West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. The Prime Minister held a Cabinet meeting in her office. The External Affairs Minister Sardar Swaran Singh, the Agriculture Minister, Mr. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad, the Defence Minister, Babu Jagjivan Ram and the Finance Minister, Yashwant Rao Chavan were present. I was then summoned.”

A very angry, grim-faced Prime Minister read out the telegrams from the Chief Ministers of West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. She then turned around to me and said, “What are you doing about it?”

And I said, “Nothing, it’s got nothing to do with me. You didn’t consult me when you allowed the BSF, the CRP and RAW to encourage the Pakistanis to revolt. Now that you are in trouble, you come to me. I have a long nose. I know what’s happening.”

I then asked her what she wanted me to do.

She said, “I want you to enter Pakistan.”

And I responded, “That means war!”

She said, “I do not mind if it is war.”

“Have you read the Bible?”, I said.

The Foreign Minister, Sardar Swaran Singh asked, “What has Bible got to do with this?”

I explained, that the first book, the first chapter, the first words, the first sentence God said was, “Let there be light” and there was light. Now you say, “Let there be war” and there will be war, but are you prepared? I am certainly not. This is the end of April. The Himalayan passes are opening and there can be an attack from China if China gives us an ultimatum.

The Foreign Minister asked, “Will China give an ultimatum?” And I said, “You are the Foreign Minister, you tell me”. I told them that my armoured division and two of my infantry divisions were away. One in the Jhansi/Babina area, the other in Samba and the third one in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. I mentioned that I will require all the road space, all the railway wagons, the entire railway system to move these formations to the operational areas and that harvesting was in progress in the Punjab and UP and they would not be able to move the harvest which would rot; and I pointed out to the Agriculture Minister that it wouldn’t be my responsibility if there was a famine. Then I said, “My armoured division, which is my big striking force is supposed to have 189 tanks operational. I have got only 11 tanks that are fit to fight.”

The Finance Minister, who is a friend of mine asked, “Sam why only 11?”

So I told him, “Because you are the Finance Minister. I have been asking you for money for over a year and you say you haven’t got it!”

And finally I turned around to the Prime Minister and said that the rains were about to start in East Pakistan and when it rains there, it pours and when it pours, the whole countryside is flooded. The snows are melting, the rivers would become like oceans. If you stand on one bank, you can’t see the other. All my movement would be confined to roads. The Air Force, because of climatic conditions would not be able to support me. Now Prime Minister, give me your orders. The grim Prime Minister with her teeth clenched said, “The Cabinet will meet again at four o’clock”.

The members of the Cabinet started walking out. I being the junior most was the last to go and as I was leaving, she said,”Chief, will you stay back?”

I turned around and said, “Prime Minister, before you open your mouth, may I send you my resignation on grounds of health, mental or physical?”

She said, “Every thing you told me is true”.

“Yes! It is my job to tell you the truth” I responded, “and it is my job to fight, it is my job to fight to win and I have to tell you the truth.”

She smiled at me and said, “All right Sam, you know what I want?”

I said, “Yes, I know what you want!”

Now this is what the anti yes men cult are made of. Even when facing imminent dishonourable discharge, even when facing the pinnacle of power, the officer in charge of taking a decision did but budge from the stand of what was factual, the best option for the responsibility he represented in his line of duty. A simple yes to all that the cabinet said could have won him incomparable brownie points and benefits. His moral compass was however inclined towards the facts in hand and the best option that his experience and training accorded him.

In fact in yet another place Sam Bahadur so wonderfully lays this treatise simply thus:

The problem with us is the lack of leadership. 

There is lack of leadership in every walk of life, whether it is political, administrative, in our educational institutions, or whether it is our sports organizations. Wherever you look, there is lack of leadership. 

So, if leaders are not born, can leaders be made? My answer is yes. Give me a man or a woman with a common sense and decency, and I can make a leader out of him or her.

What are the attributes of leadership? The first, the primary, indeed the cardinal attribute of leadership is professional knowledge and professional competence. Now you will agree with me that you cannot be born with professional knowledge and professional competence even if you are a child of Prime Minister, or the son of an industrialist, or the progeny of a Field Marshal. Professional knowledge and professional competence have to be acquired by hard work and by constant study. In this fast- moving technologically developing world, you can never acquire sufficient professional knowledge. Professional knowledge and professional competence are a sine qua non of leadership 

What is the next thing you need for leadership? It is the ability to make up your mind to make a decision and accept full responsibility for that decision. Have you ever wondered why people do not make a decision? The answer is quite simple. It is because they lack professional competence, or they are worried that their decision may be wrong and they will have to carry the can. According to the law of averages, if you take ten decisions, five ought to be right. If you have professional knowledge and professional competence, nine will be right, and the one that might not be correct will probably be put right by a subordinate officer or a colleague. But if you do not take a decision, you are doing something wrong. An act of omission is much worse than an act of commission. An act of commission can be put right. An act of omission cannot 

AND THATS THE CRUX. Acts of professional turpitude orchestrated by the yes men who throng the aura of a decision maker like a halo of a evil do untold harm to the one who falls for their ill meant advices as also those who bear the brunt of the impacts of such decisions influenced by vile sycophants.

Corporate and political history is abound with the travesties caused by such evil minions which eventually led to the downfall of dynasties, corporations and the even sovereignty of nations. Not to mention the calculated systematic meticulous destruction of superlative talent that could have reversed the fortunes of such nations, corporations or even dynasties. That’s the evil axis of influence of these lackeys in the garb of polite pleasing yes men … who can corrode the very pillars of what any entity stands for or ever stood for. These talent termites eat away every single possibility of excellence, every iota of potential and every ounce of opportunity ever presented by factual realistic representation of those who were competent and capable.

Yet, the silver lining is the path tread by such outstanding resplendent precedents like the Field Marshal Sam Bahadur who with their scant regard for systemic destruction, yet never gave up on the ideals and values on which humanity thrives. Becoming legend perhaps was never their aim. Being & doing the right always was. Irrespective of the fate that the sycophants scripted for them. They lived far taller than the mightiest peaks in their steely resolve and their unbridled pursuit of extraordinary excellence.

And it’s these instruments of change that Steve Jobs spoke of when he said: “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes … the ones who see things differently — they’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. … You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things. … They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.

Remember, It is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.” James 4:17

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