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Taking credit ..... and blame

During the Wharton India Economic Forum held in Philadelphia on 22 March 2008, former President of India Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam ji was asked a question based on his own experience on how leaders should manage failure.

Dr. Abdul Kalam responded: 

"In 1973, I was appointed project director of India's satellite launch program. Our goal was to put the 'Rohini' satellite into orbit by 1980. I was given all the necessary funds and the talented people I needed."
"Several thousand people were involved in this ambitious target and in 1979 we made the launch. Unfortunately the satellite plunged into the Bay of Bengal soon after launch. Professor Satish Dhawan the head of ISRO, (Indian Space Research Organisation) had called a press conference. Through the media he made known to  the world that the failure was his responsibility and by the next year they would have the problems solved."

"The following year in July of 1980 the satellite was successfully launched, much to the joy of all Indians. Again there was a press conference but this time Prof. Satish Dhawan took Dr. Abdul Kalam aside and said "You conduct the press conference today".

That day Dr. Abdul Kalam learnt the most important management lesson of his life.  "When failure occurs the man at the top should take responsibility and when there is success let it be that of your team."

Satish Dhawan ji

Only people who attempt to do anything make mistakes. All great men have learnt from their mistakes. Those who do not make mistakes, do not make anything. 

To succeed, Leadership tasked with innovation,  have to give their team the freedom to make mistakes, (mistake is different from negligence). When organisations cannot tolerate mistakes they fail to evolve and that usually means organisational demise in the long run.

Its easy to make someone a scapegoat, and satiate the blood lust of detractors for a while, and that is exactly what good leaders must never do. Within the organisation they are merciless, but they shield the team in public, when its a genuine mistake. 

In this case Satish Dhawan ji demonstrated true leadership, the kind that builds great institutions and communities. The hall mark of great people is their ability to get things done, with confidence in the capabilities of both their team and themselves and humility in accepting the contribution of others in the success.

Some information,on the Indian Space program.

Success does not necessarily come by throwing money at a challenge. It comes from passion, intelligence, faith in oneself and commitment of team members, grit, and learning to make do within the constraints we have.

Short of funds, and resources, at the start, ISRO initially launched a satellite that was transported to the launch pad on a bullock cart with some components of the rocket being transported on a bicycle. The mission was a success.

These men and women of integrity, did not allow anything to come between them and their mission. This is why they are national heroes and an inspiring reminder of the power of human spirit, character and intellect.

To honour this great son of India, scientist, remarkable human being and inspiring leader, India honoured him in 2002  by renaming the satellite launch centre at Sriharikota, located about 100 km north of Chennai, as the Satish Dhawan Space Centre


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