Attributes of ‘LEADERSHIP’ by Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw

Image source




Father D’souza, General D’souza, ladies and gentlemen, I am here under false pretences, I must be the only one here who has never been into a college.

General D’souza has told you all about me. I am most appreciative of his kind words. My only regret is that my wife wasn’t here to hear them. She would have treated me with greater respect.

When I say, ‘I am uneducated’, I really mean it, I must be the only member of my family who isn’t a graduate. I managed to do my interscience, I got a third division  ‘मुश्किल से’[translation- with difficulty]. Anyways, nice being in this hall with all the academics and all the educated people, and I take this opportunity of inaugrating your “silver jubilee” series on ‘leadership’. Ah! I do not know what one does …how… for inaugration, but may I say that I have inaugrated the thing.

For a long time, I have been watching the scene in India very carefully. Wherever I go, whenever I pick up a newspaper, I find there are ‘shortages’. There is a shortage of fuel, there is shortage of food, there is a shortage of foreign exchange, there is a shortage of housing, shortage of schools, colleges, everywhere. And everybody talks about these shortages, but the one shortage which is responsible for all these shortages, is generally glossed over.

Which is the shortage of ‘LEADERSHIP’.

Father don’t misunderstand me and gentlemen of press, please don’t misquote me, which you are always capable of doing, and which you continue doing. When I talk of shortage of leadership, I do not mean just political leadership, I mean leadership in every walk of life, whether it is political, administrative, in educational institutions, in our sports organisations, in our industry, amongst labour, amongst the law and order contingents, there is a shortage of leadership.

I do not know whether leaders are born, or leaders are made. There is a school of thought which says,‘leaders are born’. Father, we have a population of 780 million people, and we procreate at the rate of one Australia every year, and yet there is a shortage of leadership. So, if those of you who think that leaders are born, and who contribute to that theory, may I suggest you throw away all plank parental?, and really let yourself go.

If leaders are not born, can leaders be made. It is my view, that give me a man with reasonable common sense and decency, you can make a leader out of him.


There are many attributes. The cardinal attribute of leadership is

“Professional Knowledge and Professional Competence”

Now, you will agree with me that you cannot be born with professional knowledge even if you are a child of a minister, the son of a member of parliament, or the progeny of a field marshal.

Professional knowledge has to be acquired the hard way. It is a constant study. Professors, engineers, architects, lawyers, solicitors, doctors; they all study their professions, continuously, they all contribute to magazines, to newsprints, to all sorts of things. But we in India, as soon as we reach positions of power, whether it’s ministerial, secretarial, armed forces, or anywhere else, we think, we are the repository of all knowledge.

Professional knowledge has to be acquired the hard way, and without professional knowledge you cannot have professional competence, and if you haven’t got professional competence, you cannot be a leader. I wonder, those civilian gentlemen who’ve been charged with the security of this country, whether they have ever read a book on military profession. I wonder, if they know the difference between a gun or a howitzer. I remember a minister one day coming to me. I’d left being the army chief then and said, and I will talk to you in his own language.

“ज़रा बताओ यह होवीट्ज़र क्या चीज़ होती हैं।” (Tell me what thing a ‘howitzer’ is?)

Then I say, what are you talking about, ‘HOWVITZER’, then I discovered what he meant, he meant, a ‘HOWITZER’, and I said, “why are you asking me? why don’t you ask the army chief and others?”

He said, “कैसे पूछूँ उनसे, मैं मिनिस्टर हूँ । तेरे से तो पूछ लेता हूँ, तू जानता हैं कि मैं बेवकूफ हूँ ।” (How should I ask them? I am a minister. Though, I can ask you. You already know I am stupid with respect to knowledge regarding military.)Image Source

I wonder if they can distinguish a ‘mortar’ from a ‘motor’, or a ‘guerilla’ from a ‘gorilla’, although a great many resemble the latter. Ladies and gentlemen, professional knowledge is a sine qua non [or condicio sine qua non is an indispensable and essential action, condition, or ingredient – Wikipedia]  of ‘leadership’, you have to have professional competence, if you are expected to lead anything, it doesn’t matter if you are in the army; whether you are in a teaching profession, whether you are in industry, unless you have professional competence and professional knowledge, you cannot be a leader, and it has to be acquired the hard way, you’ve got to study all your life.

 What takes me to the next attribute?

The ability to make up your mind and take a decision, and having taken that decision accepting full responsibility for it.

Those of us, who have suffered at the hands of superiors, who cannot take a decision, know what it’s like. An act of ‘ommission’ is much worse that an act of ‘commission’. An act of ‘commission’ can be put right, even if the decision is wrong, by colleagues, by subordinates, by somebody. But an act of ‘ommision’ cannot be put right right.

Why does a person not take a decision?

Because he lacks confidence.

Why does he lack confidence?

Because, he lacks professional knowledge and competence.

??????? would tell you that when I was the Army Chief, I’d go around, ask my generals,

“What are you doing about this?”

and they’d say,“Sir, I have been thinking, I have been considering.”

and then I produced for my self a ‘Maneckshawism’, and father, would you forgive my language. I used to say,“If you must be a bloody fool, be one quickly.”

Take a decision and then accept full responsibility for it. Do you know how much money is lost in the country because somebody won’t take a decision? Cost escalate; papers lie in somebody’s place for days, for months, for years, and then when they finally take a decision, the cost of a project, the cost of something has gone up ten folds.

Who suffers?

We, the people of India suffer.

So, that’s the second requisite for leadership,

“The ability to make up ones mind, take a decision, and then stand by it.”

Don’t pass the buck on your subordinates, it’s your decision.

What comes next?

“Absolute Justice and Impartiality”

Those of us who have dealt with masses of men, and I’ve dealt with over a million men in my time, know the value of this,‘Absolute justice and impartiality’

Sam Manekshaw and VV giri
President of India V V Giri had conferred Padma Vibhushan to Chief of Army Staff General S H F J Manekshaw at a special investiture ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on January 28, 1972. Image source

No man likes being punished, and yet men will accept punishment, if they know, that everybody, who commits that sort of a crime gets the same sort of punishment. They will take it stoically. They may not like it, they may not like you, but they will respect you.

No man likes being superseded and yet, people will accept supersession, if they know it, is being done fairly and they have been superseded by somebody whose better than them. And not because he happens to be a minister’s son or related to Father D’souza, or Field Marshal’s wife’s current boyfriend. Men will accept supersession, they may not like it, but they will do it.

Now, ladies and gentlemen this is very very important in our country, we have tremendous pressures, we have large families, we have fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces, their fathers, mothers etc. We have pressures from them. We have pressures from members of parliament. We have pressures from all sorts of people, and we lack the courage to withstand that pressure. This is very important for us in India.

And that what takes me to the next attribute,

“Moral and Physical Courage”

I do not know which is more important, moral courage or physical courage. When I’m talking to a lot of soldiers, I would lay emphasis on ‘physical courage’, but since I am talking to only a handful of soldiers, and mostly civilians, I will lay emphasis on ‘Moral Courage’.

What is ‘Moral Courage’?

Moral courage is the ability to distinguish right from wrong, and having distinguished that, you must have the courage to stand up, and say your piece, irrespective of what your superior thinks, irrespective of your colleagues, irrespective of your subordinates, you must have the courage to say so. A ‘yes-man’ is a horrible man. He must be shunned, he’s a disgrace, he may rise very high, he may become a minister, he may become a field marshal, but he will never, never become a leader. He will be used by his superiors; he will be disliked by his colleagues, and his subordinates have no respect for them. Moral courage is essential. Now since you wanted to know some examples of moral courage from my past. I will give you a little story.

In 1970, when General Yahya Khan put all the pressure on East Pakistan, as it was then, and refugees started coming to India, there was a cabinet meeting. I remember the date very well, 28th of April, I was summoned. I had a very strong prime minister in Mrs. Gandhi, who ranted and raved at me, and said,“what are you doing about it? I’ve got so many refugees. The Chief Minister of Bengal has just sent me a telegram, Chief Minister of Tripura has done this, Chief Minister of Assam is writing that there are more Bengali’s there than their own population, what are you doing about it?”

and I said, “Nothing, it has nothing to do with me.”

She said,“I want you to go in, and take action.”

and I said,“Do you know what that means Prime Minister?”

and she said,“No.”

I said,“It means war.”

and she said,“I don’t mind if this is war.”

I said,“May I please quote from the Bible, the first book, the first chapter, the first verse; GOD said, ‘let there be light’ and there was light, and you said,”let there be war, there be war. Are you ready? I am not ready. I am not prepared. It is not the right time to go in. The monsoon will break very shortly and the whole of East Pakistan will be a swamp. I will not be able to operate. The Air Force will not be able to operate. April is the month where we gather the harvest.”

Sam Manekshaw
Image Source

And the agriculture minister was Mr. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed.

I said,“I will require every railway wagon, I will require every train, I will require all the road space to move my troops, and you will not be able to move your harvest, and then if there is a famine, don’t blame me.”

And I said,“The passes in the Himalayas start opening now, the snow melts, and then if the Chinese give us an ultimatum, I will have to fight on two fronts.”

Then external affairs minister, a ‘KHALSA’ [translation-“Sovereign/Free” or “Pure/Genuine”], Sardar Swarn Singh said,” Do you think China will give ultimatum?”

I said,“You are the foreign minister, you tell me?”

and then my own minister, Jagjivan Ram, who couldn’t call me Sam, he used to called me ‘Shyam’.

He said,“श्याम मान जाओ ना ।”[Shyam, please say yes.]

I said, “यह कोई मानने की बात हैं !’[Is it something that can be agreed upon!]

“I am telling you what the facts are.”

I said,“If you want me to do this Mrs. Prime Minister, I guarantee you 100 percent defeat.”

“Now, prime minister, give me your orders.”

and there was dead silence, and she turned around and said,“the cabinet will meet at 4’o clock.”

This happened at ten thirty in the morning. So, as the cabinet ministers walked out, I being the junior most man there, was the last to go.

She said,“Chief will you stay behind?”

So, I shut the door and I said,“Prime minister, before you speak, do you wish me to send in my resignation on grounds of health, mental or physical.”

She said,“Oh! Sit down!”

“Everything you told me is correct?”

I said, “It is my job to fight, it’s my job to tell you.”

“If your father in 1962 had me as his commander in chief, the country would not have been disgraced, the army wouldn’t have been beaten. But the army chief did not have the moral courage of turning around and telling him, he wasn’t ready.”

So, she said,“Alright, you know what I want.”

I said,“I know what you want and I must be allowed to do it my own way.”

Then she said, “Alright, you know what I want.”

So, ladies and gentlemen, there is a very thin line between becoming a Field Marshal and being dismissed. I just gave you an illustration of moral courage.

Of course, I didn’t worry very much, my wife has money, if I had gone, she would have looked after me. So much for moral courage.

Now I come to physical courage.

Fear is a natural phenomenon like hunger and sex.

Anyone who says he is not frightened, is a liar, except perhaps a ‘GORKHA

Everyone is frightened. It is one thing to be frightened, and quite another, to show fear.

It’s when your knees are knocking and your teeth are chattering, and you are about to make your own geography, that’s when the real leader comes out.Sam Manekshaw

Image source

If once you show fear in front of men that you may be commanding, it doesn’t matter whether they are soldiers, they are clerks, they are labour, they are students. Once you show fear, you should quit. Now again, General D’souza says I must give examples from my own life.

This was in Burma, in 1942, I was commanding a Sikh company; big tough chaps, very fond of them. I had a man called Sohan Singh, big man about 6 feet 4. He had been promoted many a times to Lance Naik, to Naik, and everytime because he was a ‘बदमाश’[naughty], he was broken. We’d had lots of casualties and we had to make promotions. So, we had a promotion conference with the commanding officer and Sohan Singh’s name came up and I said,“No, no use making him, he’d be broken tomorrow.” So he was passed over. The conference finished, names were published. I came back to my ‘basha’, where my company was in the jungle, and I found my senior subedar Balwant Singh terribly worried.

And he said,“साहब ! सोहन सिंह को कैद कर दिया।”[Sir, we have imprisoned Sohan Singh]

I said, “क्यों क्या हुआ?”[Why, what has happened?]

He said,“उसने बोला साहब, अाज आपको वह गोली मारेगा ।”[He said sir, he would shoot you today.]

I said,“ओह! अच्छा । पेशी हो।”[Oh! Is that true. Bring him for a hearing.]

So a stool was put in, a table was put there and Sohan Singh was marched up there in front of me. Sohan Singh, was at that time, was a light machine gunner, and light machine gunner carried pistols, and his pistol was taken away from him. So, he was marched in front of me. The usual charge was read out.

And I said,“सोहन सिंह क्या बात हैं?”[Sohan Singh, what is the matter?]

Sohan Singh said,“साहब गल्ती हो गया।”[Sir, it was a mistake]

So, I said,” तुमने बोला कि तुम हमको गोली मारेगा ।”[You have said that you will shoot me]

So, I picked up the pistol, loaded it, walked up to him, handed the pistol to him,

 I said,“तेरा दिल है मारने का, मारो।”[If you want to shoot me, then shoot me]

and he said,“नहीं साहब गल्ती हो गया।”[No sir, it was a mistake.]

So I gave him a tight slap,“case dismissed”,”जाओ भागो । “[Now go away]

I went off to the mess, had my dinner, came back and everybody in the company was very worried and Subedar Balwant Singh said,”नहीं साहब ! आज रात को वह आपको गोली मारेगा ।”[No sir, he will shoot you tonight.]

So, I shouted,“सोहन सिंह किधर हैं?”[Where is Sohan Singh]

Sohan Singh came around. I said,“सोहन सिंह, आज रात मेरा ‘बाशा’ पर तुम संतरी होगा। और कल सुबह पाँच बजे, एक मग्गा चा और एक मग्गा गर्म पानी दाढ़ी बनाने के लिए । कोई शक! बेशक! भागो!”[Sohan Singh, tonight you will be a sentry for my ‘basha’. And tomorrow morning, at 5’o clock, bring me one mug tea and one mug hot water for shaving. Do you have any doubts? For sure? Now, go.]

And I went in there. I was woken up in the morning by Sohan Singh with a mug of tea and mug of hot water, and he followed me like a lamb throughout the conflict.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, if you think, I wasn’t frightened, you’re mistaken, I was terrified. But if I hadn’t done that, if I hadn’t done that, and put Sohan Singh in the clink, or something like that, everybody would have said,“देखा ! हमारा साहब डरता हैं।”[Look! Our sir is frightened.]

Sam manekshaw

Image source

Just an example of this.

How often during riots and all that. Some young sergeant, with nothing but a little stick in his hand, has walked in and quelled everything by showing courage. So physical courage is essential to leadership. You needn’t be foolhardy like I was. I was very young. I don’t know whether, I’d do it today. But physical courage is essential.

That takes me to the other attribute.

Sam Manekshaw
Image source


Now, does loyalty require very much explanation. We all expect loyalty from our subordinates, do we give loyalty to them? Loyalty is a two way thing; we expect loyalty, we have to give loyalty. Do we give loyalty to our colleagues? So, remember that, for leadership, you have you expect loyalty, you got to give loyalty.

Time is running short. There are other attributes. Remember, leadership is nothing else but management of men and resources.

Management of men.

Men have problems. Men in numbers can be very nasty, and a leader must be able to deal with them very firmly. When people misbehave, like they are misbehaving in Bombay these days.  It’s no use saying ‘Jai Hind!’[Long live India] to them, you’ve got to deal with them very very firmly. But you must never forget that men have problems; they have human problems, they have problems of debt, of death, family problems, they get easily despondent, and therefore, the leader must have  a human touch. He must have a sense of humour to get them out of their despondency. He must have the gift of the gab. Unfortunately, our leaders have the gift of the gab, but they have no sense of humour. Further, men and women, generally speaking, like their leader to be a bit of a ‘man’, a bit of a ‘lad’.

Take examples of history – Julius Caesar. Julius Caesar, you will agree, he was a great leader. When he came to Rome, the senators used to lockup their wives. Take Napolean, he had his Josephene and Marie Antoinette, and Georgettes, and Paulettes, and any number of things, and you will agree, he was a great leader.

Take the Duke of Wellington, the night before the battle of Waterloo, in his chamber there were more women of luscious proportions than staff officers. And he was a great leader. You know sir, a thought has just struck me, all these three people I had talked about, had one thing in the common, they all had long noses.

If my time is not up, can I crave your indulgence and talk for another ten minutes.

[voice from behind – “love it, love it”]

Ladies and gentlemen, no amount of leadership will put things right, there are two other aspects, that we Indians must know and we lack badly.

One is‘Discipline’ and second is ‘Character’.

What is discipline?

Discipline is a code of conduct for decent living in society, one with the other.

Who lays down this code of conduct?

Not the prime minister, not parliament. Of course, it’s laid down in the army, in the ‘army act’, but I am not trying to impose ‘army act’ on you. This code of conduct has come to us, from father to son, from mother to daughter, for times immemorial. It’s in the ‘Bible’, it’s in the ‘Gita’, it’s in the words of ‘Nanak’, in the saying of ‘Muhammed’ and ‘Buddha’.

It’s come all down. It’s been refined as cultures have changed.

Again let me illustrate this by example.

Non-punctuality is an act of ill-discipline which is injurious to the state, injurious to it’s people. Sometime ago sir, I was invited to a university, as also my wife, unlike today.

Uh! I was called there at a convocation at 5’o clock in the evening, and having been in the army for 50 years, telling the driver go slow, go  fast, arrived there on/at 5’o clock in the evening. I was received by the Vice-Chancellor, and his lady, their union secretary escorted to the dais. My wife too was asked to sit on the dais, and she politely refused, saying she’d much rather sit down, as this is the only opportunity she has to look  up to me. And as usual I was garlanded, the vice chancellor sang my praises, and asked me to talk to these people. There were five thousand boys and girls there, plus deans, plus professors, plus lecturers, everyone. And as I got up, to get to the desk, to the lectern, the vice chancellor says to me,”???????”

“Field Marshal, a fortnight ago, we’d invited a V.I.P. to the same function, he was allowed to stand at the lectern for exactly 15 seconds. I wish you good luck!”

I said to myself,“Had the vice chancellor sad this in the letter of invitation, I wonder I would have come.”

Anyway, I got up to the lectern, and I addressed the gathering for the amount of time I was allowed. I was heard in pin drop silence, and at the end of it, I got a thunderous applause. The vice-chancellor, and his lady, the deans, professors, lecturers, the student body and even my wife stood up and gave me a standing ovation. I was most relieved, although my wife told me afterwards that I looked pale.

Background- laughter.

After the usual vote of thanks etc., we went out into the gardens, where refreshments were given, and I having an eye for a pretty girl, walked up to a pert little thing, wearing lovely jeans, tight fitting, uh! and I started a conversation, which ran as follows.

I said, my dear, why were you so kind to me today? All of you, I not having the looks of Rajesh Khanna or Amitabh Bachchan, or a speaker like M.G. Ramachandran. When only the other day, you were so rude to a V.I.P. And she said, I quote.

“Oh! Field Marshal that grateful man! we’d invited him at 5’o clock, he turned up at six. He brought with him a bevy of security people, who pushed us aside, and took their places where we should be sitting. He brought with him two of his brats, grandchildren probably,{ he was too old to have those kids that time. Uh! But you never know.}

He was received by the vice-chancellor and lady. He was/the union president garlanded him and he demanded garlands for his two brats. The union president, being very flexible diverted the garlands for the vice chancellor and his lady to these brats.  And then the vice chancellor sang his praises; saying how fortunate we were, that he’d come here, that he has done so much for the country. And all this while, this man sat there, he had come unwashed, unshaved, wearing a ‘dhoti”[a garment worn by male Hindus, consisting of a piece of material tied around the waist and extending to cover most of the legs], exposing four fifths of his legs, scratching away, scratching away.

And the vice-chancellor said, that the worthy had been to jail. When he said that, the girl said,‘I almost shouted’,”he should be there now”

Then, the vice-chancellor asked him to go to the lectern and talk to us. So he picked up the lemonade, or limca or whatever that was there which belonged to his female offspring and took a sip. We started a howl, when that subsided, the worthy came to the lectern and said, ‘friends and well-wishers, I have not had time to prepare my speech, but my secretary has written something for me’, and he produced a whole heap of paper.

She said,“Without any pre-meditation, without any thought, we made his short stay, very short.”

I unquote.

Sir, I thank my lucky stars that fifty years in the army had made me come on time. That I had been brought up to shave in the morning, and shave in the evening if there is a function. That I had a ? suit on and although I had very nice legs, I didn’t expose them. Then I didn’t suffer from itch or eczema, to indulge in the scratching of the unmentionable. Now do you see, what I mean by illdiscipline. Had the worthy come on time, according to the programme, talk to the people, and giving them advice, can you imagine what a lot of good it would have done. Instead of that, his act of ill-discipline produced more ill discipline.

Now this is not a matter to be laughed at, and forgotten. We, people in India are terribly ill-disciplined. We think because we have freedom, that we can do what we like. I do not stop you from criticizing, to standing up for your rights. I think it’s your duty to do it. But what I abhor, are the acts that we’ve gone into, because we’ve got freedom. Why do we have to spit ‘paan'[betel leaf after chewing] all over, why do we have to write on doors and things, why do we have to keep staircases dirty and filthy? Why do we have to throw garbage into someone else’s compound? These are all the acts of ill-discipline. It is because of these acts of ill-discipline that you have corruption, you have smuggling, you have all sorts of things.

Even animals, in Tanzania are better disciplined. I went there four years ago and I saw lions, lionesses, zebras etc.They were all so disciplined. If the lion wanted to do his stuff, he went behind cover. He didn’t spit. I came back from Tanzania, I arrived at Bombay airport, I cleared my baggage, and as I was walking out, there was a big, fat, slob of a man, who squirted damn ‘paan’ on my trousers. And when I gave him a tight kick, he was most indignant, he didn’t think he had done anything wrong.


Why do we tolerate it?

So much for discipline.

Sir, everybody has been extremely disciplines so far. Will you, give me your indulgence for just another few minutes. I said,‘character’.

By character, I don’t mean the sort of thing, which the father will preach to you. Of course you must be honest, of course you must be truthful, of course you mustn’t covet thy neighbour’s wife. Not…Not when father is listening. Of course you mustn’t ?????????.

All that is part of character. But I mean something bigger, it’s knowing yourself, knowing what you really are. Unfortunately, we lack that sort of character, and what little we have is denuded by our fans, by the sycophants around us, by the hangers on.

Again let me illustrate this by an example, some years ago Hollywood produced a picture of the great violist and composer ‘Paganini’. And they got a very handsome actor, tall, good actor, who had some knowledge of the violin, to take the part of Paganini. And he was drilled to perfection, so that, when that little cadenza was played, and screened, the critics raved over it, raved at the movement of his fingers and of his bow. And this man’s fans, sycophants, hangers on, went on telling him that he was greater than ‘Menuhin’, greater than ‘Heifetz’, greater than ‘Kreisler’. And the man started believing it. And it took eight months in a psychiatric home, to rid him of this delusion.

Do you know sir after the 1971 conflict, my fans, my hangers on, the sycophants around me kept telling me, sir you are the greatest general, the century has produced. You are better than ‘Rommel’, you are better than ‘Guderian’, ‘Auchinleck’ was nothing. And just as I was beginning to believe it, the prime minister created me Field Marshal, and sent me off to the Nilgiris. And a hard headed, no-nonsense wife, deprived one more inmate of a psychiatric home. I thank you sir.

Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s