The Popular District Governor

You can either achieve, or be popular. Usually the two don’t go together. But that’s not impossible, only rare. Taking tough decisions may sometimes ruffle feathers. The easiest way out may be to bow to popular sentiment. But this will almost always lead to diffusion of effort and failure in task achievement. .”A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.”

Indira Gandhi once said, “My grandfather once told me that there were two kinds of people: those who do the work and those who take the credit. He told me to try to be in the first group. There is much less competition.” So don’t use your year as District Governor to seek applause – let your results speak for you.

Even before your term starts, there may be pressures to induct some individuals in important positions in the district cabinet that may not be justified by considerations of credit. During the year, the governor may often find himself in challenging situations for politically correct decisions that essentially marginalize merit and performance; the governor is called upon to honor and recognize individuals whom he believes have not done their best. At such times, the concerned person has to take a call. The rightful decision may temporarily annoy an individual but will definitely benefit the association. I have seen important changes in long term appointments, at times the best performers being removed on flimsy grounds just to send out politically strong messages. This kind of a strategy may work out in the short or medium term, but in the long run it only helps in institutionalizing mediocrity as an organisation’s culture. The moment this process starts, be prepared to accept average results and decline of reputation as a top class association.

Stop worrying whether people like you or appreciate you. Your work is your best spokesman. In the game of cricket, let the bat do the talking, or as they say, let the bottom line speak for itself.

Jim Whitaker successfully climbed Mount Everest. At a felicitation, he spoke, ”you never conquer the mountain. You only conquer yourself’. Examine in yourself the personality flaws that hold you back. Conquer them, and the world is yours.”

Selecting those who deserve power is a very important task for the District Governor. He begins to plan his key people even before taking office. To achieve, in the limited period of a year, his chosen few need to be empowered. If all are empowered, few will perform. Some will be enamored of the post and the status at the cost of effectiveness. Empower, empanel and endow only those who can and will deliver. Kiran Bedi once said, ” I like to be on the shop floor to understand what is going on. This drives the enthusiasm.” Picking your key people well, and then giving them the trust and confidence to perform, may be the difference between success and failure. Although I have used the word “power” above, it may not be the best choice. In an organization like ours where we believe that each individual is as important as the other, power may be replaced by influence. A good leader should try and enhance his level of influence that will stay on for a long time. If one is wedded to an official position, then the respect for that individual vanishes as soon as the term of office is over. They say that as you go up the ladder of hierarchy, keep smiling, shaking hands and winning over friends; if you have no time to invest in relational chemistry as you are going uo, no will have time for you as you are coming down. I once met a lion leader who said that the real test of popularity for a district governor is how many clubs want you among them 5 years after your term of governorship is over. During the year of office, there will be many who will crowd around you; but you must have the ability to sense who is holding on to you as a person and who is hanging on to an officer in an official position.

The badge of office is a huge responsibility. You are doing this demanding job for our Association, only incidentally gaining personal prominence. . Recall what Peter Drucker, the management thinker, wrote. – “Leadership is not rank, privileges, titles or money. It is responsibility.” The1.ions expect, not a public figure, but a true leader with vision and drive. Don’t let them down. Say a district has 2000 members and if every member allocates just 2 hours per month for lions activities, then you could be at the helm of taking decisions that would determine how 48,000 man-hours are invested. Can you value the worth of such a large investment, where the persons concerned could be lawyers, engineers, businessmen, architects, scientists or just plain simple good human beings whose intrinsic valuation is beyond mathematical calculations. A friend of mine once defined lions as “the trustees of future generations in their countries”. What a great salutation for lions, and the leader of the district must then understand what the expectations and perceptions of the community are.

”The capacity to generate and sustain trust is the central ingredient in leadership”, writes Warren Bennis, a popular writer and professor of management. Trust-Loyalty-Trust are mutually re-inforcing factors to build strong teams. Remember, reward high and trusted positions to those whose loyalty to you is selfless. But, in doing so, check the portfolio carefully against the candidate. It will never do to assign a key task to somebody only because he is loyal, regardless of his ability and willingness to perform the task.

Henry Ford used to say “I am looking for men who have an infinite capacity to not know what can’t be done.” When you select your team, outline your vision and test their reactions. The sycophants will say ‘Fantastic”, and do nothing. See if your vision truly excites and, perhaps, frightens people. Above all, look for people who want a challenge and are prepared to give it time, energy and creativity.

You have the power to recognize and reward. Use it judiciously. The US Constitution provides for many high offices to be appointed by the President. Many times, key portfolios have been given, and great honours bestowed on otherwise undeserving individuals, purely as a reward for loyalty, vote-getting or campaign fund raising. But just consider the appointment of Hillary Clinton as the secretary of state by President Obama. It’s a very different approach altogether. In cases like this, faith ina leader increases. But if a person is driven by petty considerations and awards are made on extraneous considerations, the result is that the value of the award diminishes. Witness the number of distinguished Indians who have politely, but firmly, declined the Padmashri, Arjuna Award, etc., because they felt these were indiscriminate or politically motivated in many cases. Quite sadly, I have witnessed high awards in our association being recommended for individuals who have hardly been seen at the ground level and rubbing shoulders with the lions in programs and projects that are our identity.

There is an ongoing and fierce debate in our organization. Many senior Lions, Past District Governor and such believe that the District Governor’s contribution to the District is like Emperor Nero’s to Rome- bread and circuses. They believe that the District Governors get strung upon a few lavish ceremonies alone (in some parts of the world). Such governors, they believe, visit clubs ceremonially, not having done homework on each club’s needs, interpersonal tensions, member drop-out rate, etc. But a good District Governor is an administrator who identifies the weak clubs, member drop-out rates and encourages more club level, local community driven projects, to create ownership and pride of. membership. In other words, rather than organize spectacles, he goes to grass roots and makes clubs own their projects and develop a sense of pride in their membership.

This chapter has given you some tips – sometimes appearing mutually contradictory. Achieving a judicious blend between loyalty and merit is a real challenge. But achieving this blend is a must if your goal is to be a memorable lender.

In other words, there are certain organizational realities.

– In order to achieve your goals it may be necessary to be tough ­e.g., not nominating a faithful member to a key post, though he may have worked hard for your elections; particularly when he is not suitable.

– Even so your final team or cabinet might have some people who are not your supporters.

– Above all the District Governor’s post is neither for personal gain or glamour. It is a Lion’s office for service.

– To do justice to this post you have to reward only performers. This will send a strong message throughout the district that it is work and not loyalty, performance not praising, that will be recognized.

– A great deal of discretion is needed to differentiate between those you want to reward and those whom you have to reward.