The gold standard of great leadership in Rotary was simple; “to be the kind of leader about whom every Rotarian in your district says, ‘If I am ever a district governor, I’d want to be a one just like him/her,” said TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee, while addressing the incoming District Governors at the all-in-one training event Disha organised by RIDE C Basker in Mumbai.
The unique aspect of being a leader in Rotary is that “you lead equals, or even your betters. You are not there to give orders, but to lend support. And don’t forget it’s only for a year, so there’s not much time to get a big head, and little time to get things done. So keep going.”
The unique aspect of being a leader in Rotary is that you lead equals, or even your betters. You are not there to give orders, but to lend support.
– TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee
Within the short period of a year, it was natural that everybody wanted to make his/her mark. But any attempt to “start from scratch to achieve something monumental with your name on it in just one year” will result in failure. “To really succeed, you have to look beyond yourself, beyond your year, and into the long term, at the health of your clubs, their communities, and our organisation,” he added.
All DGs should strive at the outset to leave their district stronger than before and do things for the clubs that will continue to “change lives long after you’ve left office, without bothering who gets the credit”.
Coming to core leadership values, Banerjee said that their leadership in the coming year would have to be based on trust. “The qualities of a great leader can be summed up in one word — trust.” And great leaders don’t take more than their share of the credit or less than their share of the blame. “If you go to them with a problem, they are ready to help and not judge or criticise.” A great leader doesn’t necessarily have all the answers, but can help you find them. And is someone who will listen.
In the wake of deteriorating business and professional environment, Gandhiji’s words, “A man or a woman is the sum of his actions”, assumed new significance, and the world was looking for people who are ethically sound and committed to social responsibility.
How did we survive for 110 years? There must’ve been something special, solid and unbreakable, to come through two World Wars, many smaller wars, terrorism, etc.
– TRF Trustee Chair Kalyan Banerjee
In India our gurus give us spiritual guidance and mentor us. Banerjee recalled that once when he asked his spiritual guru if all the time he spent in Rotary, sacrificing his business was worthwhile, the Swamiji replied, “It is, if it makes you a better person.”
Rotary was already strong in community and international service; could it become equally strong in vocational service? “Can we start the process of infusing renewed enthusiasm for ethical standards in Rotary?” If yes, “Rotary will be recharged, ready and relevant to the needs of the 21st Century, and people will be lining up to join us.”
Banerjee said he always loved being with the “incoming leaders because they represent fresh hope, new ideas, novel approach and an exciting future.” He said he was asked to speak on the ‘Road Ahead’, “but I am not a great futuristic man, keen though I am to know about the future!” A google search gave one some ideas of the future — future city, cars, shops. “They all look, at least for an old-timer like me, different, difficult to understand and follow. And then, I remember the old Doris Day Song: Que Sera Sera, whatever will be, will be, the future’s not ours to see, que sera sera.”
While the future was important, “these days we look little at Rotary’s past: where we came from and how did we get here. What is it that has made us survive and live and thrive through the 110 years of our existence? There must have been something special, solid and unbreakable, for us to come through two World Wars, many smaller wars, terrorism, upheavals and whatever our world keeps muddling through. Yet we keep going and growing.”
Banerjee said what kept Rotarians going was “a strong togetherness… sharing our time, our joys and sorrows, our pleasures, our disasters. So the future depends on being together, working together.”
Swami Vivekananda had said “they only are alive, who live for others. And I think Rotary, with our togetherness and friendships, encourages and brings togetherness even nearer and closer. I hope that in the future people will forget about countries, cultures, colour. They will come together and do things together — grow and enrich one another.”
Rotary placed great importance on being fair, truthful, honest… as also integrity, decency, sympathy and helpfulness. Many thought these values no longer exist, and resort to short cuts or deviate from such values. But in the long run “truth does persist. You may choose integrity, or you may choose dishonesty, but truth is the ultimate reality.”
The Four-way Test stayed very much relevant even today, but went beyond hanging a plaque on the wall; its real test was: “How much am I able to apply it to myself?”
TRF, he added, “will grow to become perhaps the biggest NGO in the world, known for its support to control diseases, spread literacy, build better homes, provide clean water, more food and of course, we shall work for peace, not just through scholarships but perhaps as a UN member itself. These are big things but I believe, they will get bigger, still.”
PRIP Rajendra Saboo complimented RIDE Basker for getting the Club President’s manual translated in major Indian regional languages. “But sadly, one thing we haven’t managed to achieve is to make Hindi among the recognised languages of RI that are translated at the International Assembly and other events. At least we should get the theme of every President done in Hindi.”
He was particularly happy that Basker had put together so many different training modules into a single meeting. “I know that this is something that our families will welcome”.
Reiterating that Rotary gives its members so many opportunities to do good in the world, he recounted examples of how our doctors had done “sheer magic” so many times in different medical missions in India and Africa. Speaking on his expectations from the DGEs, Saboo quoted Michelle Obama who has said: “I’ve learnt that as long as I hold fast to my beliefs and values, follow my own moral compass, then the only expectations I need to live up to are my own.”
Build a pedestal not for your own statue but so large that your whole district can stand there with you.
– PRIP Rajendra K Saboo
His own experience was that one’s expectations should be tempered with reality; “First of all, expect that today something good or pleasant will happen, irrespective of what happened to you yesterday. Don’t dwell in the unpleasant yesterdays and let the past go. Always look ahead because an entire world of opportunities awaits you.”
Also, life had taught him that if one’s expectations were in tune with reality, “you will never get disappointed.” Also, never expect others to show you love, commitment and respect, which you don’t have for yourself. If you can’t respect yourself, how will others respect you?
- Other nuggets from Saboo for the incoming DGs:
- Keep your expectations high on yourself and low on others.
- Ego is a mischief monger that attacks everyone; to be an effective leader, dispel it. Don’t think always of yourself.
- Expectations are like fine pottery, the harder you hold it, the more likely it is to crack.
- Be courageous and bold. Leadership is not a pleasing game nor a war except for the objectives and values of the organisation you serve.
- Be focused during your year on your responsibilities; don’t start thinking about what your next assignment will be!
- Some Governors make visits as late as in May or June just to fill the agenda sheet. Don’t follow this wrong precedent.
- Life is not easy; on your journey, choose not the easy but the right path.
In conclusion, Saboo said: “Build a pedestal not for your own statue but so large that your whole district can stand there with you. When you do all these, you’ll fulfil my expectations as well as yours.”
Addressing the meet, PRIP K R Ravindran wondered at the way things had changed from the time he was a DGE 25 years ago. At that time, a letter took a month to reach and we were using telex, not even fax. E mails came much later.”
Rapid advances in technology had taken over the world so completely that last year during a one-hour Twitter chat 1,400 tweets from 30 countries were generated in one hour. “And I could do this from my laptop, with an internet connection sitting anywhere in the world.” With such “exponential growth” around us, today’s DGs have to be equipped with new skills. The incoming RI Director C Basker was gearing himself to handle these changes and “our next President Ian Riseley is a remarkable individual; clever, witty, incisive and with a mind of his own. These two at world and regional levels are well positioned to move us into this new age.”
Your year as DG will leave an indelible and inalterable mark upon each of you. So it is worth killing yourself for doing this job, because this office gives you the power to do good.
– PRIP K R Ravindran
As they embarked on this eventful journey, the DGEs should remember that while Rotary gives them an opportunity to make the world a better place, it makes the world better for “us and our families too, and makes our own life richer.” Because their term as DG was bound to leave an “an indelible and inalterable mark upon each of you, it is worth killing yourself for doing this job, because of the magic and power of this office… the power to do good.”
This collective power, said Ravindran, had been shown in reaching every child on earth through the polio eradication drive to immunise 2.5 billion children at a cost of $11 billion. But it was more than this; not many Rotarians knew that because of this work, “some $50 million will revert to the global health budget over 30 years thanks to the cost savings that polio eradication will bring. And these $50 million will be available to fight malaria, AIDS, TB, cancer—because we lifted the burden of polio.”
Similarly, last summer the Ebola virus could not reach further than Nigeria because of the resources and health infrastructure that Rotary had in place in Nigeria to fight polio.
“This is the power of Rotary.”