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Bookmarked: Dr Pritam Singh And The Art Of Being A People’s Leader 

Bookmarked: Dr Pritam Singh And The Art Of Being A People’s Leader 

Dr Singh was keenly aware of the need to build teams and create bonds among team members and worked at it diligently in all the three organizations

The Alchemist Guru
The Alchemist Guru The Alchemist Guru

There is a lot that late management guru and Padma Shri awardee Pritam Singh, who passed away two years ago, has left behind as his legacy. In their book 'Dr Pritam Singh: The Alchemist Guru', authors Asha Bhandarker and Subrat Kumar highlight the contributions of Dr Singh to institution building and leadership in higher education and the corporate sector. The book also looks to bring to light his complex, multifaceted talent and capabilities, the authors say. 

Here is an excerpt from the book: 

Dr Singh was keenly aware of the need to build teams and create bonds among team members and worked at it diligently in all the three organizations. Bringing people together to celebrate small wins and achievements was practiced. Faculty members were treated more like colleagues than as subordinates. In fact, he was known to say, “People already know you are the boss, where is the need to rub it in?” 

D.Bandyopadhyay shared one of the early stories of travelling in Europe by bus at night, and visiting various business schools by day, to explore tie-ups for IIM-L. Although as Director, he was entitled to business class travel and stay in star hotels, he preferred to travel by bus with his faculty colleagues. Bandyopadhyay added: 

I discovered a man with tremendous foresight and an incredible capacity to carry people together – he never gave me the feeling that he was my boss - and that is his greatness. On the other hand, he would say, “All this is happening because of you, you made the plan-” there was encouragement and appreciation every time. 

Other faculty we interviewed mentioned how they could walk into the Director’s office and talk to him, seek his help, and get ideas. As Maheshwari said about his experience at IIM-L, “He always led the team by example- Dr Singh, in my view, established trust with candour and transparency.” 

Anadi Pande elaborated in the interview regarding Dr Singh’s style by using an analogy from the Mahabharata, “A leader must work through people- like Lord Krishna worked through Arjun- and accomplished many things without himself lifting a finger,” Dr Singh brought that capability to delegate, but would still take the responsibility. This point was further reinforced by Maj Gen Khurana who visited MDI when he was Director General AIMA (All India Management Association). He observed: 

You could see that Dr Singh’s thoughts were flowing through the team, his thoughts were actionized through the team. I also observed that in some of the meetings when things went wrong, he would take the blame saying, I am the leader and ultimately, it’s my responsibility. 

Celebration was an important pillar for building bonds, which came about through informal dinners on important occasions like institute achievements, milestones, and faculty achievements. One of his favourite Sanskrit prayers from the Rig Veda, which he never tired of repeating was, Sangachadwam samvadadwam – let’s live together, let’s work together, let’s enjoy together. 

Accessible, Open and Patient 

Anyone could reach out to Dr Singh – faculty, students, and staff. In this respect, Dr Singh was different from most other directors. He had a great reputation, whether within the institutions he headed, or outside in the corporate world, as a great listener – he listened with rapt attention and tried to help to the extent possible. As Banerjee opined - a busy man always finds time, and that adage perfectly describes him. He was super busy flying between Lucknow and Delhi almost every week and yet one could easily reach him whenever there was any urgency. 

Sometimes he would go to meet faculty and staff in their offices, instead of calling them into his. This informality appealed to everyone. The ease of access to meeting him for any issue that arose was widely appreciated. This atypical, non-hierarchical style inspired and motivated people, making them feel that he is one of them. As Bandopadhyay explained: 

Everyone felt more connected and more productive. His collegial behaviour actually melted the ice, and everyone started to think that ‘he is one of us and he thinks about our welfare.’ That’s how he influenced and inspired people. Everybody became productive, that is a very interesting thing. I used to say to him that you have a Midas’ Touch. 

He was open to suggestions from anyone and everybody. Be it from a class 4 employee or an officer, he would take suggestions and implement them. He always took criticism positively. “We considered him a family member as he gave us that sort of liberty. I sometimes criticized him,” said Yadav, his former personal secretary. He added that Dr Singh gave him this liberty to speak even in MDI V2 when he came as Director in 2003. Sometimes he implemented and sometimes he did not, but he always listened. 

Nagananda Kumar recalled an incident in 2006, when a Staff Union leader came to his office and shouted at him. Dr Singh was calm, he told Naga, “As the Director it is my job to get both bouquets and brickbats.” When Naga asked, “Don’t you think she should be thrown out,” he replied, “I will give her another chance – after all, she has a family and I don’t want to jeopardize their future.” 

(Excerpted from Pritam Singh: The Alchemist Guru by Asha Bhandarker and Subrat Kumar by SAGE Publications Pvt. Ltd, 2021) 

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