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November 2, 2018

Leaders or managers?


November 2, 2018

This is the crux of governance, the difference and complementarity of which must come early to any person in a position of leadership. Actually, it is a bit of both.

What comes under one’s control as material and human resource is enjoined as sacred trust to care and improve in fulfilment of the common purpose. The resource is meant to help the one trusted with its care to achieve stated goals as the basis of a contract between the trustees – in this case the people – and the one entrusted to such position of eminence. This in short is the job statement for Prime Minister Imran Khan who is meant to be both a leader and a manager.

If it sounds abstract, reduce it down to a functional example from the military. In its innate nature, the military is about leadership, of which management is a subset. The role of a commander is dual, of a leader and a manager. The human resource placed under one becomes his responsibility, especially in the roles they are meant to be war-ready in. This is a graduated process and a function of time and experience which with the right kind of training can enable an individual to attain the desired level of proficiency. To make a person realise the requisite level of proficiency is the prime responsibility. This task is part management and part leadership – managing human resource and enabling it for the most optimum output, and the necessary leadership to motivate him to work towards higher levels of attainment.

What however remains an exclusive leadership function is creativity and innovation in policy direction and formulation, and in implementing it to progress forward the entity placed under one’s remit. This can begin with being creative and realistic in objectives, purpose, methods, employment strategies and extraordinary sense of commitment beyond the call of duty in fulfilment of the common purpose.

Leaders distinguish themselves from managers by being creative in ideas and vision and policy guidance, which will raise the quality of existence and function of the entity he is responsible for, while managers may only manage without moving the proficiency scale. Ditto for material assets; keeping them available and ready to be used at any time of calling. Managers at the very least ensure that the level of proficiency does not decay below what was handed over. Better managers will improve efficiency and proficiency when handing them over to the next charge. Leaders must move the entire lot forward wholesomely.

Relevant to our governance method in vogue, the bureaucracy – central, superior, or provincial – is that asset under the prime Minister and the chief ministers, as much as is the money in the treasury that the government is entrusted with. The leaders and managers are meant to use them optimally to deliver the results that leaders seek. For good or worse, the bureaucracy is the machinery that runs the government; some call it the skeleton around which each government places its own shroud with its own distinct look. But from the inside the same skeleton holds the facade.

In mechanical terms, when a policy is fed into it a machine delivers the intended product at the other end. If both the input and the machine are in harmony the product is agreeable. If the machine is corroded, for any number of reasons, the government of the day has the duty to oil it and keep it functional; if some parts need changing, those must be changed, but to keep it running is a governmental function. The reform in it that the PTI envisages must answer these two needs: remove the corrosion, and replace what is not functional. Till it is replaced, if indeed that is possible over time or intended, this is the only machine that will run a government.

The bureaucracy may be corrupted in how it may have been mal-administered but it remains the only system on offer. The Sharif brothers understood this limitation the best, and were perhaps the most adept at incorporating the bureaucracy, realising early enough its perennial essence. Bureaucracy remains a mix; it has some outstanding individuals and some others who may not be as bright and brilliant. The Sharifs chose the best and tasked them with specific objectives to be achieved in a given timeframe. They then equipped them with necessary fiscal and legal enablers which could assure the tasked bureaucrats the necessary freedom to operate without external intervention. The matter of some 56 companies in the public-private domain is the case in point.

That some of them, regardless of their brilliance and entrepreneurship, ended up mixing personal gain with diligence became a consequence of blind trust and inadequate oversight. Perhaps the trust in their ability was blind; perhaps the aim was to enable a laissez faire environment of functioning where – by design or default – leakage, wastage or pilferage of resource became possible. That is exactly what is under scrutiny and what has become a sore for those being looked at by accountability institutions for neglecting the fiduciary aspects of the trust. That remains a sad reflection of the state of bureaucracy and how politics may have blotted an essential arm of governance.

Some governments have been in power in the provinces for extended and continuous tenures, causing bureaucrats there to become beholden to the political leadership for career gains. This without much effort transmuted into material benefit as the bureaucracy became agents for political benefit rather than for service of the state and its people. This corrosion has pervaded the bureaucracy. A government fresh into its tenure is certain to find it difficult to reconcile with such residual political influence which inhibits loyalty while finding the malignance odious. Be that as it may, this machine must still be brought back to its productive state.

The PTI government though seems in another state. Fazed by the reluctance of a few in the bureaucracy to go along with initial urgings for favour by some of the newly-elects, the government is in a frenzy – forcing irrational resort to executive power to make bureaucrats pliant. This reeks of uninitiated understanding of governance, pitching the executive against its own arm of administering governance and implementing policy. Delays in spelling out and bringing forth a plan of reform haven’t helped, engendering apprehensions in the mind of the services on the ultimate intent of the reform.

How efficiency and fidelity in the bureaucracy are reenergised should be the primal concern. It goes without saying that now is not the time to open another front as the government grapples with its teething issues in the government. Along the way when a plan of reform takes a final shape it must be shared with the bureaucracy to incorporate it into the process. Co-opting their support will ensure success of its implementation. In the meanwhile, the bureaucracy is the only mechanism available to implement policy.

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