5 Takeaways Lean Leaders can Pick Up from India’s dynamic Prime Minister, Narendra Modi– PT II

Narendra Modi

In the second instalment of a two-part article, Debashis Sarkar, author, Phil Crosby Medalist and one of the world’s leading lights in the space of Lean Management, details his final takeaways of what lean leaders can learn from top politicians, using a case study of Indian PM Narendra Modi’s first year in office…

To read up on the first part of this article – involving Vision and People Engagement, click here


Photo by United States government work via Flickr

3. Past experiences should not stop you from reaching out to those who matter

Narendra Modi was denied a visa by the US government because of sectarian violence that impacted the state of Gujarat when he was the Chief Minister there. But when he took over as the Prime Minister of India, he kept aside those bitter events of the past and reached out to engage countries around the world.


His whole effort has been to keep past bitterness aside and reach out to the world to enable India’s transformation. He has been courting world leaders and has developed personal chemistry with many of them. Remember, here is this person, who was just a Chief Minister of an Indian state and has had no experience in diplomacy. Indo-US relations were not in great shape under the leadership of his predecessor - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. But Modi seems to have got the relationship back on track and has developed good chemistry with Barack Obama. Not only did he visit the US a few months after taking office, he invited President Obama to India’s Republic Day.

During the 365 days in power, he has visited 53 countries and spent 53 days outside India. During all these visits he has been successful in showcasing a confident and capable India that has not only enhanced its stature but many of these countries have committed significant investment over the next 5 years. More importantly, he has been able to develop rapport with leaders such as Shinzo Abe, Tony Abbot, Xi Jinping, Anjela Merkel and so on. In each of these visits, he has been addressing gatherings attended by Indian-diaspora, to showcase his popularity. What he has established within 12 months of taking office is that he is a transformational leader determined to take India to newer heights. Little did it surprise anyone when Barack Obama praised him in Time magazine calling him the Reformer-in-Chief.

But Narendra Modi also knows how to reach out to his opponents. It’s well-known what sort of views West Bengal (a state in India) has had about him which she has been sharing publicly. But Narendra Modi knows the nation’s interests are more important than personal experiences. Over the last few months he has been able to engage with Mamata Banerjee, West Bengal Chief Mnister, and they have been seen together. As a matter of fact she is travelling with him to Bangladesh (West Bengal borders with Bangladesh) in the next few days where a water-sharing pact will be discussed. Another example is the Foreign Minister in his cabinet - Sushma Swaraj. She was a critic of Modi before he became a Prime Minister. But after positive engagement, she has adjusted remarkably well and has been amongst his best performing ministers.

Quite like Abraham Lincoln, Narendra Modi knows how to manage a team of rivals.

With his bureaucrats, he is demanding but he also coaches them on what’s required for a stress-free life while also making sure there’s the right balance between family and the office. He also does not shy away in reaching out to the most junior bureaucrats to seek relevant information.

Narendra Modi also knows listening is a great way to engage team members. Mahesh Sharma, one of his ministers, recently mentioned that in cabinet meetings Narendra Modi is the person who speaks the least in cabinet meetings.

Takeaway for Lean Leaders:

Engaging key stakeholders is a critical element of a lean transformation program. A change leader has to emerge from his personal experiences of the past, however bitter they may have been, to reach out to all those who are required to make the change possible. A change leader can’t be a shy person, he should be out there telling people all what he can do / is doing.

4. Performance improvement is just not about output but also about outcome

Narendra Modi wants India to be the world’s manufacturing hub. To make this dream a reality, his government has launched a "Make in India" programme which endeavours to create an ecosystem that can encourage and facilitate world-class manufacturing. To achieve this he is urging all to adopt the philosophy of "zero defect and zero effect". He wants organizations to just not focus on manufacturing quality but also preserve the environment. He wants India to be an attractive manufacturing location for global companies. This will enable Brand India shines all over the world, increasing the share of manufacturing in the country’s Gross Domestic Product from 16% to 25% by 2022and also generates employment.

But his clarion call has a larger message. What it tells us is that whenever you are catalyzing a change transformation program, look beyond the immediate gains to the larger impact on those around you. So if you are working for a manufacturing organization and working on a project to make the products zero defect, make sure there is zero liquid discharge, zero solid waste, zero air pollution and zero use of natural resources. If you are working in mortgage operations and are working on a lean project towards zero errors, make sure you also keep an eye on its outcome on customers which could be measured by customer engagement or customer satisfaction.

Takeaway for Lean Leaders:

For all lean transformation, it’s imperative to keep an eye on both primary (output) metrics and secondary (outcome) metrics

5. Communicate, communicate and communicate

If people are the engine for a change transformation, it’s communication which helps them to keep the agenda of a transformation live and kicking. As change unfolds it’s important to share with all the progress and what’s happening behind the scene. Not telling the constituents what’s happening can lead to speculation especially when expectations are very high. Also, in many instances the impact of positive change is not felt because people have not been told about it. Who knows that better than Narendra Modi.

For him communication is just not a means to connect but a means to form perceptions. From day one, since he took office, he has been leveraging all possible channels to communicate with citizens: be it TV, radio, social media, internet etc. He has been a great user of social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook etc. and has been urging all his ministers to do so. Not only are these used to share his moods and moments but also to share public policies. He is the second most followed politician on twitter after Barack Obama. He started a monthly radio broadcast called: "Mann ki Baat" ("Straight from the Heart") which aims to reach rural India through radio. His official website - www.pmindia.gov.in - provides the opportunity for citizens to write to the PM directly and even provide suggestions where required. Both this website and his personal website - www.narendramodi.in - details about his government, his personal life and encapsulates all the accomplishments by his government for everyone to see. When he completed one year in office he made it sure he and his team were all across the country to share what his government has achieved. This provides a big lesson for all lean change agents. While it’s good to focus on execution and outcome, don’t forget to communicate the impact of the outcome to all. Many transformations don’t make the required impact because one has not been able to do the required communication.

Takeaway for Lean Leaders:

While you work on lean transformation it’s good to focus on people, process and outcomes; but don’t forget to communicate with all stakeholders on a regular basis. To achieve this, use all possible channels (such as town-halls, meetings, intranet, video etc.) and do a regular sense-check to see if the communication is effective.

Transforming a nation is much more difficult than the type of lean transformations we do in our organizations. It’s never easy to satisfy the citizens of a democratic nation, they always seem to be changing their goalposts. But from our stand point, the above takeaways are just five ideas that one can pick from a transformational leader like Narendra Modi that can come in handy while we catalyze lean transformations.



Sanjay Narayan, "It's power to bureaucrats in Narendra Modi govt", Hindustan Times, Oct 5, 2014

By India Today Team, "Babus' lethargic functioning is passe, new work culture is NDA govt's buzzword", India Today, May 5, 2015

By India Today Team,"Time to Step Out", India Today, June 1, 2015