Dr. A.P.J. Kalam with PGPX on the dynamics of leadership

Dr. A.P.J. Kalam with PGPX students at IIM Ahmedabad

Former President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam addressed the 9th batch of PGPX students as a part of “Speaker Series” at IIM, Ahmedabad (IIMA). Dr. Kalam spoke about the dynamics of leadership and described leadership characteristics that India’s future business leaders, including PGPX students, would be expected to adopt. This article distills his principal messages.

Essence of leadership: Dr. Kalam commenced his speech by stating that he was always delighted to address a gathering of positive minds, at the best management school in India. He then asked the PGPX students to reflect for a moment as to why they put their well-paying professions aside to study to at IIMA. Describing core traits of individuals at various stages of their life, he said that a child would say “You give me”, a teenager would say “I want to do it alone”, an experienced person would say “Let us do it together” while a Leader should say “What can I give you”. This ability of a leader to put the cause of others ahead of himself is what really distinguishes him / her from others. Dr. Kalam eloquently quoted verses from ancient Indian scriptures, and drew from the wealth of knowledge in them to unambiguously show how India had played the role of a guru for rest of the world over past millennia. He said that for a happy, beautiful, prosperous and resurgent India, it needed this class of leaders to surge ahead. He asked the audience to re-think what they have done or would be doing to become a guru who can “Give to others”.

What worked yesterday will not work today: Dr. Kalam mentioned that yesterday natural resources defined power, today knowledge resources define power; hierarchy was the model of yesterday, today now synergy is the mandate; yesterday, leaders commanded and controlled, today leaders empower and coach; yesterday seniority commanded respect and status, today creativity drives status; yesterday production determined availability, today competitiveness is the key; yesterday value was extra, today value is everything; yesterday everyone was a competitor, today everyone is a customer; yesterday profits were earned through expediency, today individuals will have to work with integrity and succeed with integrity.

Linkage between economic development and creative leadership: He then switched gears and established the linkage between economic development and creative leadership. He mentioned that in today’s context India needs leaders who are not just commanders but also coaches, a director who is a delegator and a manager who can also be a mentor. The nation needs creative leadership at its cores i to evolve a large ecosystem for holistic economic development.

Nations economic development is powered by competitiveness; competitiveness is powered by knowledge power; knowledge power is a result of technology and innovation; technology and innovation is powered by resource investment; resource investment is powered by return on investment; return on investment is powered by revenue; revenue is powered by volume and repeat sales; volume and repeat sales is powered by customer loyalty; customer loyalty is powered by quality and value; quality and value come from employee productivity and innovation; employee productivity and innovation comes from employee loyalty; employee loyalty is driven by employee satisfaction; employee satisfaction comes from good working environment; good working environment comes from management innovation; management innovation comes from creative leadership. This completes the cycle that connects economic development and creative leadership.


Leadership requirements of today: He emphasised that a leader must have a vision for the organisation and the passion to realise and transform a vision into action. He / she must be able to venture unexplored paths, and must know how to manage success and failure. Handling failure was most important. A true leader absorbs failure and shares success with others. Dr. Kalam also reminded students emphasised that ethics are fundamental and quoted a verse from Quran which states that “When the Almighty appoints a person to a position, he takes care of his provision. If a person takes anything beyond that, it is an illegal gain and hence unethical.” He also recollected a childhood experience when he was scolded by his father for accepting a basket containing a dhoti, some sweets, fruits and a tambulam from an unknown visitor who knocked on their home when his parents were performing namaz. He had not known that earlier in the day, his father had become a sarpanch and so these gifts amounted to misuse of position, which was unethical. Leaders today need to empower themselves and others with knowledge; knowledge which is the sum total of creativity, righteousness in heart and courage. He went on to say that where there is righteousness in heart, there is beauty in character; where there is beauty in character, there is harmony in home; where there is harmony in home, there is order in the nation; where there is order in the nation, there is peace in world.

Finally Dr. Kalam concluded by putting forth his vision, which called for an integrated action for development of India. He mentioned that our nation needs leaders at least in the following 5 areas for holistic development.

  1. Agriculture and agro food processing
  2. Education and healthcare especially for women
  3. Information and communication technologies
  4. Infrastructure and power
  5. Self reliance in critical technologies and strategic industries

One can find more details about the “Integrated action for development of India” and many other initiatives that Dr. Kalam is overseeing at his website http://www.abdulkalam.com.

Dr. Kalam also entertained several questions from PGPX students.

When asked about how individuals could identify what he / she was capable of giving to someone or to the society, Dr. Kalam said that individuals could give anything; it did not have to be monetary in nature. For instance if you went to a village 50 kms from Ahmedabad, people do not even know how to eat food hygienically. They could be taught benefits of hygiene. Trees can be planted to improve green cover. Individuals could visit government hospitals and inquire about the well-being of any patients, and showing care for them.


In response to a question about how leaders dealt with challenges faced when the maiden launch of its space mission failed, Dr. Kalam recalled that the first thing they did was to leave the failure behind. Instead they focused their complete energy in finding a solution to the problem and quickly returning back with an improved design for testing. They did not let failure become our captain, instead they became the captains of failure.


In response to a question about the apparent ethical dilemmas between what is said and what is practised, in weaponisation of nations around the globe, Dr. Kalam said that there was no dilemma. He further added that our nation and its leadership are duty bound to ensure the safety and peace of its people. Strength respects strength, and the role of militarization is to maintain our strength and position as a leader. Therefore in order to protect the nation, we needed to equip ourselves with minimum deterrent capability. Further Dr. Kalam added that strength also comes from knowledge, and for the past few millennia, India has been the knowledge hub of world. If we have strength and good leadership, then peace in the nation will prevail.

Article written by
Srinivas Cherla
IIMA PGPX Class of 2015


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