Mr Spock of Star Trek

imageFor a young kid, logic had no meaning. But when it was portrayed as the next best thing to sliced cheese, by a pair of slanting eyebrows and warped ears, it certainly fitted into a space in the brain. Since that time, many decades ago, its remained there and has played a part in my life. Leonard Nimoy (Mr Spock to hundreds of millions), the purveyor of this logic has died. There is a strange sadness worldover, for he touched the lives of many around the globe.

Few will remember so far back, to a sultry Karachi evening in 1970, when Star Trek came to town. A black and white TV – I think it was a Philips make- and there on the screen was one of those dramas from the serial. It was immediately more than just a scifi show. It took over life. Kirk, Spock, Doctor McCoy, Sulu, Uhura, Scotty and Chekov became a part of all of us. It also finished too quickly and was gone. But repeated shows all around the world and later, the Star Trek movies revived it. And bore it through the decades of various off shoot series and movies. Till today.

In those years it became a constant of life. These great fictional travellers, again and again, came into our lives, portraying the best of humanity. Whether, they were exploring the universe, or fighting for survival, or taking on the Klingons, it taught us great lessons on teamwork, living in adversity and about a greater cause. It embodied our dreams of goodness.

Central in that theme were two characters. A leader extraordinaire Captain Kirk, who life long has stood as the model of leadership for many of us. But the character who carried the embodiment of goodness, of selflessness and of doing things the right way was Spock of Vulcan. This Spock with his logic, his strange powers and dry humour. He won the heart decades ago of almost all who watched him. Mr Spock also taught us lessons which we carry through our daily lives. I too try to think logically when making decisions, for teams and for greater good and when I do so, sometimes the lessons taught through childhood by Mr Spock subliminally pop up in my brain.

Sadness is a lot of things to a lot of people. To me just now, sadness is the end of something that counts in my life. For me and hundreds of millions others, in this present world, Mr Spock is one who counts. Leonard Nimoy who so ably over five decades, portrayed Mr Spock, is gone to a more permanent abode, and with him has finally gone one of the most enduring fictional characters in history. It will not be possible to replace him, who has been there in our lives for so long and taught us so much.

So now who will take the starship Enterprise on a journey, where no man has ever been? And who will teach us logic? A personal thanks to Leonard Nimoy, for having been such an important one in so many lives.

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Leadership, Personality cult and Institutionalisation

imageAdam (as) came down a father and leader and so from the beginning, man has been cast into this mould.

From my years of witnessing, leadership really falls into two broad styles. The first is iconic and driven by the personality of the leader. The second type is one which is built into the fabric of the system, where the personality of the leader is less visible and the institution is important. Its not my wish to judge, as depending on the need, either could be right for that particular moment.

Personality driven situations happen a lot in developing countries. The reason is simple. There are not enough institutions in place and moreover, the mindset is not controlled enough to have it any other way. So the personality of the leader is dominant enough in the minds of the followers, to ensure they follow his/her direction. Emotions have to play a larger role; trust is the basis of the system. At its extreme demagoguery occurs. A crisis normally has to have such a leader. Pakistan/India politics is very much just such a game. Hence families have thrown up leaders (not necessarily competent) where the family profile has given them that thrust. The Gandhis, Bhuttos, Shareefs are very much from this mould. Imran khan, too is a personality cult. Though to be fair, an attempt has been made towards some institutionalisation. But the recent dharnas have stamped his personality very firmly over his party and this country. This also happened in his cricket days in the Pakistan team, where the gulf in personality between him and others, made his dominance inevitable.

Institutional leadership is something you see a lot in structured systems. The leader is an arm of the system. He/she derives their authority and power from it. The followers respect and follow the seat and system, rather than the individual. Change the leader and it should not make a difference. Many corporates have followed this regime and it has worked well for them. Its cold, calculating, systemised and sustainable. And that is why particularly, it is not ‘Us’ in Pakistan. An army is one institution where the rules of succession are such, that there is very little difference between one leader to another. So then institutionalisation of leadership occurs.

Now within these broad guidelines are variations of style. You might get authoritative people, softer people, people who are loved and people who are hated. This does not shift the eventual effectiveness of leadership, as long as control is practised on the direction and goal of the leader, there is sincerity of purpose and there is the backbone for perseverance. If all these happen, success will come eventually.

Within established systems you will get the odd outlier. Jack Welch of GE was one such leader who created a personality cult within the system. Others one can think of in recent years are Iacocca of Chrysler and Goizueta of Coca Cola. Typically, such outliers will rock the system and make things happen in the short term. But since they differ from the system DNA, they cause longer term damage and eventually the system reverts back to its institutionalised DNA.

Can a system migrate from one to another? Above examples are of those where a personalised leadership was foisted onto an institutional based approach. I have never really seen these work. Typically the system reverts to an institution over time or it will crash and disappear. Think of India and Indira Gandhi in the mid 70s. That attempt to create an authoritative leadership failed and India moved back into democracy mode.

The reverse migration of institutionalisation from a cult personality, almost always happens over time. Mao and China is one very obvious example. There are so many others. The Magna Carta is one very poignant example of how the cult of a leader was replaced by the participation of a system.

We in Pakistan are witnessing this very battle in so many places. The Supreme Court, the Army, the democratic institution and also in many local corporates. If we desire sustainability, then eventually we have to learn that dependence on the cult of a leader will always give us variability and uncertainty over the long term, not sustainability.

The picture is from Wylio.com a free picture site

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