Leadership Lessons from Lagaan
Don't Laugh. While it is not often that movies offer more than entertainment, ever so often there comes a film which can make a deep impact and teach us a few things. This week's Tech Talk takes a different path as I share what I learnt from the movie. It is about Bhuvan and his team, who, against all odds, fight for pride, land and country - and win. It is how one single person with a passion can make a difference. It is about the triumph of human spirit, the Indian spirit.
As a movie, Lagaan (you can read the review here) is something we can all be proud of, made to perfection by Aamir Khan (producer) and Ashutosh Gowariker (director). It is different in many respects from the regular stuff churned out by our film industry. It is a period film. It was shot in one schedule in Bhuj last year over 4 months. It is long, very long - 3 hours, 40 minutes. It has British actors who mostly speak English. It has little romance and no fights. It even has a song in Hindi and English. Lagaan as a movie is innovation personified. The movie's heart - the hour-plus cricket match - was not even disclosed in the pre-release publicity.
Lagaan is set in the village of Champaner (somewhere in Central India) in the late 19th century. Yet, it does not seem too far removed from us in the 21st century.
Each of us has someone we know in some Indian village. Many of us still pay a visit to our native place every once in a while. It is about the unchanged reality of India - the wait for the rains every year. It is also about the only sport which matters in India and which each of us has grown up with - cricket.
Above all, Lagaan is about people. Ordinary, average people, who are going about their lives - like each of us. Who, when the moment demands, do extraordinary deeds. It is about the power of a Team - the muthi ("closed fist"). As a team, they were fighting for the future of tens of thousands of their countrymen against a heartless enemy (the British). They had few resources, and little knowledge of the game of cricket. What they did not lack was fighting and team spirit, and the will to win. They were not playing a game; they were fighting a war.
The India of today, too, faces a lot of challenges. If we can learn from Bhuvan and his bunch of motley cricketers, the New India that is being built can be a different place, one which occupies pride of place in the world economy, one which is respected and feared but not ignored, one in which the community and nation come before self, one which Bhuvan's XI would have been proud of. 2: Leadership Lessons from Lagaan (Part 2) Think of Problems as Opportunities.
When Captain Russel challenges Bhuvan to a cricket match, Bhuvan accepts it because he knows that there is really no option. It is a risk, but without taking risks, there are no rewards. Given the state of his brethren (and with no looming rains), Bhuvan viewed the incrementalism of trying to reduce the "double tax" as a non-option against the possibility of a "10-100x" quality of life improvement offered by a victory in the cricket match. In our lives too, we face a lot of problems. We need to think of these as opportunities for innovation. Dream Big and Define the Goal.
Once Bhuvan accepted the challenge, his dream was three years of no tax. It may have seemed unrealistic or even improbable, but then that's what dreams are. Dreaming is about imagining a different future. In the case of Bhuvan, he not only dreamt big but also put in place a strategy to make that a reality. Another name for Dream is Vision. To make things happen the way we want, we have to envision the future, and paint a picture in front of the others of what we want to achieve. Put Community Before Self.
The important thing about Bhuvan's dream was that it was not for himself, it was for the community. Never in his talk or action did Bhuvan put himself or his self-interest before that of what his village needed. Bhuvan's dream of greater good thus elicited (after some initial resistance) the support of the entire province. Be Determined in face of Opposition.
This comes across many times in the movie. Right from the start when the entire village opposes Bhuvan's having taken up the challenge to when the rest of his team refuses to play because Bhuvan wants to take on board Kachra, who is an untouchable. On all occasions, Bhuvan knows he is right, and faces up and answers his critics with courage, winning their support in the end. We face this situation many times in our organisations. Many a time, we give up and accept what we feel is perhaps a lesser decision. It is at times like these that we need to speak up - as long as we know we are fighting for the right issue, and not against an individual. Give Examples to Enhance Understanding.
Even though Bhuvan didn't know the difference at that time, he simplified the challenge of learning cricket by portraying it as something similar to gilli-danda. By doing this, he made the impossible seem achievable, he made the mountain seem climbable. Analogies have that effect and can be powerful in helping tame the seemingly difficult. As managers and leaders, we too have the task of motivating the troops to take up challenges in the marketplace. Vision needs to be translated into a series of tasks that the team can understand, thus building a path through the fog. 3: Leadership Lessons from Lagaan (Part 3) Make a Beginning.
Bhuvan did not wait to start. He did not see around. He made a bat and a ball, got the kid interested and started. Many times, we brood and end up thinking too much. The only way one can test out new ideas is by jumping in, by getting started. Only when we close the door behind us will we see the doors in front start opening. Small Victories are Important at the Start.
The first time Bhuvan hits the ball, he does so in public, in full view of the entire village. He makes it seem easy, he makes them want to participate. In the film, watch the faces of the villagers after Bhuvan's first strike. When starting any project, it is important to have small wins at the start to motivate the team. Building the Team.
This is at the heart of the film in the first half. Building the team is like recruitment. One needs to select the right people and motivate them. Just watching Bhuvan go from one to eleven offers a lot of learning. He understands the pressures and the soft points of people, and uses this knowledge to make them part of his team. Watch and listen to the song which he uses to recruit Goli, the largest land owner in the village, and Ishwar Kaka, Gauri's father. To get Bhura, the murgiwalla, he makes him feel important as a person who can teach something (catching) to the rest of the lot. Watch also how Bhuvan talks to each of his team members. Each one is treated as special, as being different. Allocating Roles.
Bhuvan also assigns responsibilities to each of his people. Just getting the people on board is not good enough. They have to be told what the goal is. Just as the hand consists of a thumb and four fingers, a team consists of different individuals. The objective is to make them all work together like a fist, like a team. Support the Team Members.
Bhuvan backs his people to the hilt, even when they make mistakes. He is willing to give Kachra a second chance (on the second afternoon of the match) despite the skepticism of others. He knows Kachra can be a match-winner - and Kachra proves him right. It is very important in any team that the captain support his team, backing the right person at the right time for the right job. Passion as the Differentiator.
Bhuvan and his team were playing for the hopes and aspirations of a nation. Their passion, especially Bhuvan's, made all the difference. It is in crunch times that one's passion for the work helps in bringing out that extra strength from within. Bhuvan's body language, his actions all speak for themselves. He is confident, not arrogant. As leaders, we all have to be careful of what we say and do, for the slightest sign of weakness can get magnified within the rest of the team. 4: Leadership Lessons from Lagaan (Part 4) Lead from the Front.
Bhuvan is always there - encouraging, talking, making the decisions. He knows that having taken up the challenge, he has to take the fight and be there till the end. The same applies to us. If we take on a responsibility, we have to take it to completion. Bhuvan, as a true leader, also points out the mistakes of others - like when he ticks off his team members at the start of the match when they are all running after the ball and complimenting each other. Define the Enemy.
To Bhuvan and his team, the enemy was clear: the (bad) British and their oppressive laws. For Russel's team, it was not so clear. While for Russel the enemy was clearly (and only) Bhuvan, his team members were not quite sure about the cause. To them, it was just a game. Having a clearly defined enemy works as a rallying point for the team. Overconfidence Destroys.
Look at Captain Russel. In trying to destroy Bhuvan (a personal enmity), he forgets what he is speaking and what he is offering (when he puts up the challenge). What he was trying to do was to take his anger against an individual against the entire province - and it boomeranged back at him. It made the opposition (the villagers) united, it made them discover talents they never had. One should never overestimate oneself or underestimate others. Train and Practice
Bhuvan and his team did not just go into the match; they trained and practiced day and night. There are no short-cuts for physical and mental fitness. To be fit, one needs to work hard. Celebrate the Small Wins.
Watch the genuine joy in Bhuvan's team when a catch is taken or a wicket falls. The small celebrations help in encouraging and motivating the team as a whole. It also helps lift everyone's spirits. How many of us celebrate the small wins in the workplace? Never Give Up.
Because the Last Ball can be the winner. A small opening - as in Chess, as in Cricket, as in a battle, and as in life - is all that it takes to make the difference and turn the tide. But you have to be prepared to be able to exploit it. Look at the situation in the Lagaan match. One ball to go in the match, 5 runs to win and Bhuvan is at the non-striker's end, with the partly handicapped Kachra facing. A seemingly lost cause. But Bhuvan did not give up. When Kachra hit the ball, he ran and took a single. As it turned out, the ball was a no-ball. That single created the opening for Bhuvan. If he had not taken that run assuming that they could not have won, the extra ball would not have made a difference. In sport, in life and in business, always be alert because you never know how and when opportunity comes. Faith In God.
The pre-match rituals and the prayer at the end of the second day are examples. When everything else seems lost, God shows the way - as long as you are on the side of the Right. 5: Leadership Lessons from Lagaan (Part 5) Make the Best of Limited Resources.
Watch how Bhuvan makes the bat and ball, and later how the pads are made. Look at the scene where Bhuvan and his team are practicing at night - the entire village is gathered around their team with mashaals to create the light. The villagers of Champaner have limited resources, but they make the best use of them. One cannot always wait for the perfect tools or for the availability of infinite resources. As entrepreneurs, we must innovate - focus on getting the work done. When one has fewer resources, the brain and body work that much harder and much more imaginatively. Face the Challenges.
When you are batting and facing a fast bowler, if you run away it is all over. You have to stand there and face the bowling to have a chance of winning. The balls being thrown are like the challenges we have to face every day: the answer is not trying to escape from them, but to stand there and let the bat (our actions) do the talking. Take the Unexpected in Your Stride.
The runout of Devaa, the "Mankading" (bowler running out the non-striker before delivering the ball) of the kid (and thus, Ismail), Russel's kicking the ball for a boundary towards the end to keep Bhuvan away from the strike - unfortunate things will always happen. One cannot dwell or worry too much about the setbacks. One has to take them with the good and move on. It's about Team Spirit.
However good and passionate Bhuvan was, he could not have won the match on his own. Cricket needs eleven players. It is a team game. So is business. Individual brilliance means a lot, but as Bhuvan showed, an average group filled with team spirit and playing with passion can overcome a group of talented, experienced but under-motivated individuals. Members must put the Team before Self. Take the time when Bhuvan is batting with Bhura, and he (Bhuvan) slips while going for a run. Bhura pushes Bhuvan away to the other half of the pitch, and sacrifices his own wicket because he knows that the captain is the one who can lead the way. It's about People.
Lagaan is about how ordinary people can do extraordinary deeds. We all have it within us. Look at the Reader's Digest "Drama In Real Life" stories. When the occasion comes, people - each one of us - can do amazing things. The Legacy of Lagaan Movies come and go. Ever so often, one movie comes and leaves a mark, an indelible impression -
Because it succeeds in bringing out something from within us. Something which has been hidden and perhaps long forgotten. Something whose existence which we didn't even know about. As we go about our lives, we need to be reminded that each of us matters, that each of us has it within us to make a difference. Living in today's India makes optimists out of all us ("tomorrow can only be better"). But it is we who have to create tomorrow's India. Our ideas, our vision, our skills have to come together to build this New India. Lagaan's Bhuvan stokes us somewhere to become part of that team. 6th November 2004 From India, Nizamabad