IR: Leaders and managers by chance?


A majority of the IR managers and trade union leaders are not aware of the legal, behavioural, business and conceptual aspects of unionisation—labour, productivity, benefits, IR, leadership, role modelling, discipline and business management which is why they have a short time perspective to resolve an issue.

Most of the leaders in the field of industrial relations, from both the sides of the table, happen to be leaders by chance, not by design. For instance, the majority of the vehicle drivers become drivers not by getting a structured training from a recognised institute, but by serving as helpers to a driver who himself got half- trained in a similar fashion.

If we conduct a survey, we will find that a majority of the IR managers and trade union leaders are not aware of the legal, behavioural, business and conceptual aspects of unionisation—labour, productivity, benefits, IR, leadership, role modelling, discipline and business management. That is precisely why, both have a short time perspective to resolve an issue, and often get into the confrontation mode when it comes to non-issues, affecting organisational peace. Effectiveness and genuineness of the leader is more important than anything else. As Alexander the Great himself said, “….. not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.”

We have seen two prominent opinion makers in IR history, MK Gandhi and Karl Marx, with diverse leadership beliefs. Gandhi Ji was more practical and experimental. He was a risk-taker and focussed on achieving his goals and rightly said, “I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles but today it means getting along with people.” On the other hand Karl Marx was more theoretical and too hypothetical to execute any sustained reform or revolution, “If anything is certain, it is that I myself am not a Marxist.” One must believe in himself to transform a concept into reality.

In the words of John C. Maxwell, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” If you are at a job, you must equip and update yourself with the required knowledge and attitude, to justify your presence and progress. You have to contribute your bit in order to get a share of the outcome/result.

Like all other public dealings, in IR too one must establish one’s own credibility. A ‘spit & run’ or grand venture never ensures genuine and growth-oriented sustenance. Managerial failures cause the collapse of organisations, such as Kingfisher, and failed leadership results  in debacles such as that of millions of Mumbai mill workers in the 1980s.

As an IR manager, I have dealt with many trade union leaders and professional stalwarts to obscure manipulators. Some biggies, I found, were very thorough, pointed, reasonable and progressive in their approach during their demands, discussions and negotiations. However, most of the others with poor knowledge of rules, regulations, business prospects, and so on, were positioning themselves merely on the basis of their aggression or manipulations. While the former kind were doing justice to the workers as well as the business, the latter kind were exploiting the situation, even at the cost of their peers and the industry.

Industrialisation is expected to grow fast in the near future. Formal education is also making advances and getting more specific. Both will lead to growing expectations. With increased technology and pampered grooming, people will be averse to blue-collar jobs and hard labour. On the other hand, a comfortable and ‘free-will’ life style will increase the cost of living. Simultaneously, due to high industrialisation, with reduced profit margins, and higher paid white-collar functions, the average wage of those performing physical labour, even if they are educated and skilled, might comparatively be poorer. In such a situation, this unrecognised educated lot may become prone to distraction, and cause serious IR concerns.

These apprehensions need to be addressed at the earliest by all concerned—the Govt., employers, managers, trade unions, leaders, trainers, educationists, social scientists, opinion makers, and most importantly, the social elders.

Governments must define linked standards of performance and remuneration. We cannot equate poor performers with high performers, and generalise pay packages based on subjective considerations, such as level, position, length of service, loyalty, and so on. The compensation must comply with the science of ‘cause & effect’. We should not mix the two concepts— wage and welfare. ‘Wage’ is the reward for work done. However, ‘welfare’ is the concession for human equality. ‘Wage’ must be earned by sweat, while ‘welfare’ goes by existence. We must keep the ‘pampering’ alienated from the required ‘protection’, to allow natural growth and build strength.

Employers must desist from being emotionally reactive. We cannot indulge in egocentric wild games of ‘win – lose’ with our own people. Business is a mathematical venture, where better prospects are ensured from a logical and proportionate sharing as compared to shared contribution. As a rule of objective behaviour, firmness goes hand in hand with fairness. One cannot be firm without being fair to people. Similarly, you cannot be fair either without being firm to a right degree.

Managers must be honest in their dealings with all the stakeholders—honesty through mind, speech and deeds. Truthfulness is the reflection of honesty. This state of behaviour can be habituated only through a clarity of thinking and unbiased decisions. We cannot play ‘hide & seek’ with our cohabitants. “When there is nothing left to hide, there is nothing left to seek”, says Esther Perel, a renowned Belgian psychotherapist.

Trade unions are the products of ‘double standards’. They need to become more professionalised with subjective knowledge, objective thinking, and inclusive behaviour. Gandhi Ji has given enough insights into trade union management, better performance and growth.  “…my ideal is that capital and labour should supplement and help each other. They should be a great family living in unity and harmony, with capital not only looking at the material welfare of the labourers but their moral welfare also, and capitalists being trustees of the welfare of the labouring classes under them.” ” . . . .while it’s quite proper to insist upon (worker’s) rights and principles, it is imperative that they should recognise the obligation that every right carries with it ….. the workers should treat the business of their employers as if it were their own business and give it their honest and undivided attention. They should fight, if they must, on the path of righteousness. According to Gandhi Ji, “Workers should go on strike only after the capitalists fail to respond to moral appeals and only as a last resort after exhausting all other means of persuading the capitalists to concede to their just demands”.

Behavioural trainers are not those who preach to others. They are those who exemplify themselves. This cannot be lectured upon in a classroom. People follow the behaviour of their role model(s). The best trainers are the seniors who need to behave the way role models are expected to behave. We have seen the unceremonious downfall of hypocrites in leading roles. They created bad history at the cost of followers. A single word or a single gesture can become critical enough to make or break an event or situation that could change the course of the future. An abusive or taunting word can create a deadlock or lead to a lifetime of apathy. The desired behaviour is one that ensures sustained harmony and growth, not one which creates crises and calls for crisis management.

Classroom educationists are often slow in responding to changes and revolutions. Most of them follow the hype created by the theoreticians and school impresarios. Our business schools continue to focus on subjects, such as soft HR, training, recruitment, and so on. But, who will prepare hard-core IR executives for the growing manufacturing sectors?

Social scientists have forgotten to emphasise the role of discipline to maintain social order. Vouching for free will is good fashion, but who will tame unbridled behaviour? Preventive policing is seen as an interference, while post crime mechanism is insipid. There is no tripartite system for preventive IR. Anyone with impious intentions can overturn the smooth running cruise, that too with no filth at face. The preventive and resolution machinery must be sufficient to conclude the cases promptly in a time-bound, just and effective fashion.

Opinion makers are motivated to satisfy their own egos. This subjective ego, nowadays, is satisfied with materialistic gain, not with righteously earned prospects. Wild ego inflates and deflates on the basis of comparative positioning. Mature ego management depends upon personal grooming and external environment. One must systematically be exposed to the required behavioural grooming and prompt grievance-handling mechanism.  

The elderly are becoming defunct as institutions. They are treated as outdated, just because people refuse to be reasonable. Actually, their role must be recognised and their experience sought to enhance collective wisdom. While technicalities can define the road maps, there is something called a gut feel, which develops with experience and experiential learning.

Think Over!

(The author is plant HR head, Hero MotoCorp)

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