JACOB PEENIKAPARAMBIL - It was a humble and noble act on the part of Rahul Gandhi to admit that the emergency imposed from 1975 to 1977 by Indira Gandhi, his grandmother, was a “mistake”. "I think that was a mistake. Absolutely, that was a mistake. And my grandmother (Mrs Gandhi) said as much”, Mr Gandhi said in a conversation with renowned economist Kaushik Basu.
The basic difference between popular leaders and great leaders is their approach to mistakes. Great leaders are “courageous enough to admit their mistakes, smart enough to profit from them and strong enough to correct them”. According to T Whitmore, admitting mistakes means refusing to use other people as scapegoats to avoid responsibility, but courageously owning up to every single one of them. On the other hand, popular leaders are not only reluctant to accept their mistake, but they also try to put the blame on someone else.
Psychologists point out certain reasons for not admitting one’s mistakes. Narcissism is the worst among them. The characteristics of a narcissist are grandiose sense of self-importance, living in a fantasy world that supports his/her delusions of grandeur, demanding constant praise and admiration, a sense of entitlement, exploiting others without guilt or shame, and often demeaning, intimidating or bullying others.
Enlightened leaders adopt the following steps in case they commit mistakes. First of all, they acknowledge their mistakes. They never cover up their mistakes or blame others for what went wrong. Secondly, they learn from their mistakes and do not repeat them. For them, mistakes are an important source of learning. Mahatma Gandhi said, “A full and candid admission of one’s mistakes should make proof against its repetition. Thirdly, they teach others from their mistakes sharing with them the lessons they learned from their mistakes. Finally, they move beyond their mistakes. They don’t forget their mistakes, but at the same time they don’t dwell on it or let it get them down. They keep on moving.
By admitting one’s mistakes a leader becomes a role model for his team members and followers. He/she instils confidence in the followers and earns respect from them. All human beings play leadership roles in their life. Father and mother are leaders in a family. A teacher is a leader to the students she or he teaches. A collector of a district is an important leader of the district. Hence leadership training, focusing on the development of character and competence, should be an essential dimension of education.
People often blame political leaders for their lack of integrity and commitment. Political leaders are not imported from outside, but they are part of the society, and if they lack integrity and honesty, the society is equally responsible for it. Hence accepting mistakes and readiness to say, “Sorry, I made a mistake, please forgive me”, should become part of spirituality and culture of people. Only then we can expect enlightened leaders emerging from our society. Leaders suffering from narcissism will be a disaster for society.