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Sakmongkol ak 47

Friday 7 August 2009

Management Lesson from APJ Abdul Kalam.

A close friend shared with me, a story of APJ ABDUL KALAM, a former President of India. He was India's 11th President and is the only surviving former president of India. I am a great admirer of this unconventional Indian leader. Readers may remember how he looked like. With flowing silver hair, he is, if I am not mistaken, still a bachelor. He is in fact a scientist and looked every part, the absent minded scientist (I meant that in every lovable sense). He is known as India's missile man as he is by training a scientist and an aeronautical engineer.

But he is also a serious thinker about India and has written many books to his credit. I like to pronounce his name- AVUL PAKIR JAINALABDEEN ABDUL KALAM. I have had the opportunity to read two of his books- Ignited Minds and India 2020. I have yet to get my hands on his definitive autobiography, Wings of Fire. I must remind my friend of his promise to get me this book.

A leader should know how to manage failure

(Former President of India APJ Abdul Kalam at Wharton India Economic forum, Philadelphia , March 22, 2008)

Question: Could you give an example, from your own experience, of how leaders should manage failure?

Kalam: Let me tell you about my experience. In 1973 I became the project director of India ’s satellite launch vehicle program, commonly called the SLV-3. Our goal was to put India ’s 'Rohini' satellite into orbit by 1980. I was given funds and human resources -- but was told clearly that by 1980 we had to launch the satellite into space. Thousands of people worked together in scientific and technical teams towards that goal.

By 1979 -- I think the month was August -- we thought we were ready. As the project director, I went to the control center for the launch. At four minutes before the satellite launch, the computer began to go through the checklist of items that needed to be checked. One minute later, the computer program put the launch on hold; the display showed that some control components were not in order. My experts -- I had four or five of them with me -- told me not to worry; they had done their calculations and there was enough reserve fuel. So I bypassed the computer, switched to manual mode, and launched the rocket. In the first stage, everything worked fine. In the second stage, a problem developed. Instead of the satellite going into orbit, the whole rocket system plunged into the Bay of Bengal . It was a big failure.

That day, the chairman of the Indian Space Research Organization, Prof. Satish D hawan, had called a press conference. The launch was at 7:00 am, and the press conference -- where journalists from around the world were present -- was at 7:45 am at ISRO's satellite launch range in Sriharikota [in Andhra Pradesh in southern India ].. Prof. Dhawan, the leader of the organization, conducted the press conference himself. He took responsibility for the failure -- he said that the team had worked very hard, but that it needed more technological support. He assured the media that in another year, the team would definitely succeed. Now, I was the project director, and it was my failure, but instead, he took responsibility for the failure as chairman of the organization. The next year, in July 1980, we tried again to launch the satellite -- and this time we succeeded. The whole nation was jubilant. Again, there was a press conference. Prof. Dhawan called me aside and told me, 'You conduct the press conference today.' I learned a very important lesson that day.

When failure occurred, the leader of the organization owned that failure. When success came, he gave it to his team.

The best management lesson I have learned did not come to me from reading a book; it came from that experience


Ramli Mohd Yunus 7 August 2009 at 06:46  

Dear Friend,

I too, admire this man. I read a lot about him.

Recently it was reported that he was throughly checked at the airport though he was a former president. He obliged with a smile.

We have yet to see our Malaysian leader of his character and intergrity.

Purple Haze,  7 August 2009 at 08:25  

The article is truly a management lesson.

Thank you.

Red Alfa 7 August 2009 at 12:28  

More of such postings please, Dato'. Malaysian leaders (be they the anointed, the claimants, the wannabees, the has-beens, the also-rans and all their otherwises and in-betweens) have much to learn from little gems of lessons - life's great successes are learning the lessons of needing more humility.

Steps to return to greatness may even come about from the far memories of their mothers guiding and admonishing with gentle dos and don'ts to their baby steps in life.

Anonymous,  7 August 2009 at 17:19  

Yes indeed I read his 'Wings of Fire' book and its a book worth your time.

The qualities in him is a quality where a person or leader should have in every sense of the word.

His presence in M'sia earlier this year or late last year showed the compassionate side of him. When he was in Penang, he went to Masjid Kapitan Kling Penang then to Goddess Of Mercy Temple and to St George's church before ending in Sri Mahamariam temple where he gave a speech on unity where everyone with different religious background acknowledged and greetd him.

He mentioned that Penang reminded him of his small coastal fishing town of Rameshwaram where various people of different religious background co-exist and live harmoniously.

He loves to mingle and motivate the children hence he made it a point to talk to children wherever he is.

When I went to Chennai, I made it a point to visit his hometown and house in Rameshwaram, which is a Hindu pilgrimage town. His house is right smack there surrounded by temples. People of all walks of life come to see him there and he is most welcoming if he is around.

Indeed he is a true Muslim and a great human being. Most people want to serve God but only if they can show-off but not APJ. He is a gem and may Allah shower his choicest blessings to him.


Suci Dalam Debu 7 August 2009 at 20:57  


This is the second article from you which I feel should be made compulsory reading to all in Malaysia.

Btw, I would be happy if you can write something about Susilo Bambang Yudiyono. His son's father-in-law was brought to trial and found guilty of corruption.

ajoyly 9 August 2009 at 01:23  

Dato', you are absolutely right. Leadership is a heavy and serious responsibility. And as mentioned in your article, the act of taking the blame when failure occurred and giving credit to others when success is attained is proof that a leader must also be humble and magnanimous at the same time.

And the 1Malaysia concept must become a tool of genuine unity for all Malaysians and political parties. It must not be politicised
but it should remain sacrosanct.

To be used in a very pro-active manner,to actualise its programme in creating a physical bond of personal relationaship of trust, tolerant and honesty among the various races in this country.

And the government must strictly
ensure that all its institutions including those in the private sectors must not practised discrimination and bias when dealing with people irrespective of their race or religion.

This bond is very important. It is a link that should not be be broken but should be preserved permanently instead. For it is the lifeline of all Malaysians, including you and me.

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