People leave leaders, not parties
‘People leave managers, not companies’ claim Marcus Buckingham and
Curt Coffman, authors of the book ‘First, break all the rules: what the
world’s greatest managers do differently.’ The conclusion is drawn from
a survey of a over a million employees and 80,000 managers.
The authors claim that managers can stress out employees to the point
of quitting in a number of different ways such as being too controlling,
too suspicious, too pushy, too critical and too nit-picky. They point
out that in most such instances, managers forget that people are not
fixed assets, that they are free agents and that when they leave,
companies incur heavy costs. For example, the cost of finding a
replacement, the cost of training the replacement, the cost of not
having someone to do the job in the meantime, the loss of clients and
contacts the person had with the industry, the loss of morale in
co-workers and the loss of trade secrets this person may now share with
the losses. AFP
I am not a manager. Nor an employee. I don’t work for a company and
don’t have one of my own. But reading the above in an email someone
forwarded to me, I couldn’t help thinking that the principle has
multiple applications. I am thinking in particular about Ranil
Wickremesinghe and the United National Party.
Last week, I read that Ranil Wickremesinghe had wanted all those
wanting to contest the forthcoming to sign an affidavit pledging not to
cross party lines in the event they get elected. It brought back
memories of how Ranil’s uncle, J R Jayewardena, obtaining undated
letters of resignation from all sitting MPs belonging to the UNP. In
short, both uncle and nephew are clearly not at ease with the
fundamental tenets of democracy.
Why does Ranil have to resort to this kind of thuggery to secure
‘loyalty’? How should we read this latest move from the greatest
democrat the world has ever known? First of all it means that Ranil
Wickremesinghe is tacitly admitting that the UNP will be defeated by a
large margin at the General Election. If the margin is small, then a few
members crossing over won’t make a difference to him. However if the
margin is such that it puts the UPFA within striking distance of
obtaining a two-thirds majority, then a few members crossing over could
bury Ranil’s political ambitions.
Now there is something distasteful about crossing party lines,
especially in the context of the proportional representation system. The
voter first picks party and then candidate and therefore a candidate
that crosses over is essentially kicking the voter in his/her teeth.
At this point we must point out that the man who is most responsible
for this state of affairs is Sarath N Silva, who made the relevant
Supreme Court determination. It is strange indeed that Ranil
Wickremesinghe does not fault Sarath N Silva for this.
What is relevant about this demand for affidavits is not the
undemocratic character of the exercise but what it says about Ranil
Wickremesinghe as a leader.
The 1978 Constitution, admittedly, is heavily skewed against the
Opposition. It rewards victor with close to dictatorial powers while
transforming the most formidable politician into a weakling the moment
he/she becomes Opposition Leader. The loser doesn’t have an easy task,
but then again who said that politics was an easy business?
Quality of leadership is tested not in ideal conditions but rather in
arduous circumstances. It is at the point of defeat that the true
character of a leader becomes most apparent. Ranil has been in the
political wilderness since 1994, apart from that brief and treacherous
period 2001-2004. In this time, he has shown that he is more interested
in holding on to the reins of leadership than positioning party for
political takeover. Indeed, it can be argued that he owes those three
years in power to S B Dissanayake, G L Peiris and Rauff Hakeem crossing
over than to any special effort on his part.
How many stalwarts has he lost to the ‘competition’ since he became
party leader? Has he asked himself ‘why’? Has he asked himself ‘did I do
something wrong?’ at any point? Admittedly not all those who left were
saints, but is it not possible that Ranil is at least partly to blame?
Let me ask some questions from Wickremesinghe.
Have you taken criticism in the correct spirit or have you used as
your operational principle the prerogative of shooting the messenger?
Have you been arrogant, assumed the air of a know-all, subjected
questioner and objector to public humiliation? Even if you’ve shot the
messenger, have you taken the trouble to read the message? Or have you
taken message as insult and thrust it into your paper-shredder?
Do you think that all those who left the party did so because they
were at odds with the party’s ideological position or because they
simply couldn’t stand and watch while you failed to give the kind of
leadership that might turn things around? Have you been ‘too
controlling’? Have you been too suspicious, too pushy, too critical? Did
you forget that party members are free agents? Is it because you’ve
realized this today, after some 16 years, that you’ve picked the
band-aid solution of requesting affidavits from potential candidates?
Has Ranil Wickremesinghe or anyone else calculated the cost of losing
so many people to the competition? What is the overall cost of
talent-loss, of experience, of party secrets going into the hands of the
competition, the loss of morale etc? What has it done to the party’s
A good leader will hold his team together both in good times and bad.
He will be endowed with humility, skill, wisdom, creativity and the
ability to dig in along with his team until the long night is done.
All UNPers should take a deep breath and ask, ‘Is Ranil a leader?’
They should ask, ‘is it bad leadership that is driving people away?’
And finally, this: ‘Have people left the party or is it that they’ve
left Ranil Wickremesinghe?’ I think most would agree, ‘It is the