The Rule of Three

There is an old thumb rule in the tech industry which says that you can get at most only two out of performance, quality and price in any given product. For example, if you get low price and high performance, chances are that the product is sold by an inferior brand. If the product is sold by a great brand for a low price, then it’s likely that its features are limited. And so on. I call this the rule of three.

There may be a similar rule that applies to leaders, especially the political ones. I think you can get at most only two out of charisma, integrity and performance in a leader. By charisma, I mean an intrinsically trustworthy and likable person who has the ability to inspire large numbers of people. Manmohan Singh, for example, is not a charismatic leader. Ronald Reagan was a charismatic leader. By integrity, I mean things like not being corrupt, honesty, truthfulness and similar traits. Bill Clinton, for example, would not rank high on the integrity scale. By performance, I refer to an ability to govern and execute. Vajpayee’s stewardship of the national highways project, for example, is quoted often as an example of excellence in execution.

If we applied this model to Indian leaders, it seems to work well. Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi were not the best of administrators. Sardar Patel, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Narasimha Rao lacked charisma. Indira Gandhi lacked integrity. Atal Behari Vajpayee is the only one who comes somewhat close to having all three, which probably is why some consider him the greatest prime minister till date. Manmohan Singh displayed governance and integrity early in his career, as RBI governor and then Finance Minister. His last five years as Prime Minister are notable for their deficiency in all three areas of charisma, integrity and governance.

In 2014, we will likely evaluate three prime ministerial candidates: Arvind Kejriwal, Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi.  Kejriwal appears to possess charisma and of course, has built a campaign around his personal integrity. Inexperience in governance is his weakness. Narendra Modi scores on integrity and governance fronts, but comes across more as a polarizing force than a unifying one. Rahul Gandhi appears to be the straggler in this mix, possessing at best personal integrity and at worst, none of the three. That doesn’t bode well for Congress. If his party were to somehow win, it wouldn’t then bode well for the country. We can’t afford yet another leader who scores zero on three.

Can you think of any leader, either in politics or business, living or dead with all three? Please use the comments section to nominate.

9 Replies to “The Rule of Three”

  1. Thought I’d add a couple of names.
    Nandan Nilekani (I’ve heard that his charismatic selling and team skills are legendary)
    Steve Jobs (Pixar and iPhone phases)

  2. Ha ha….i was just kidding Sri!….Just wanted to see ur reaction..)..sorry,,anyway history is too busy now in judging MMS…Lets not put another burden on that…:D…….Actually i too think Vajpayee is the one who can come close to all these three virtues you mentioned…

  3. Very interesting analysis. Among the three choices, I would pick Modi perhaps because I have lived in Ahmedabad and have seen the change in Gujarat (development wise) first year. Kejriwal is a newbie though he symbolizes hope for the entire nation. Rahul Gandhi is a big zero who had the opportunity to do so much but he didn’t. I admire Steve Jobs for his charisma, integrity and performance though he sucked as a person (was prone to temper tantrums). He was a nightmare boss!

  4. The phrase Rule of three, reminds me of the comment of Sir C.P. Ramaswamy Iyer, who is rumoured to have observed while commenting on Jawaharlal Nehru that the post of PM was offered to him thrice and he rejected it, while the “FELLOW”, snatched it from Patel and stuck to his boots more than thrice. CP was a very able administrator with a silver tongue and also blessed with charisma. He allowed it to slip it out of his hands, In the present context, I endorse your views whole heartedly on Vajpayee and the other three. While Kejriwal has charisma and the intent to prove himself capable, time alone can tell whether he is an able administrator, but, are we not taking too much of a risk in reposing faith in one, who is yet to prove his mettle and set sail on unchartered seas? . What happens if he falters? The crucible of EXPERIENCE as an able CM of Delhi, will alone qualify him and it is too early to risk in an “ADVENTURE”, which has been described as a “discomfort seen at a distance” by G.K. Chesterton. Narendra Modi has charisma, endowed with a capacity to lead men from the front and with a very great mass appeal, which is the true measure of charisma. As regards, Rahul, the less we talk about his qualification to take the mantle, the better for him and the nation at large. .

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