PK May Be Making His Biggest Political Mistake Yet. He Should Read Drucker

by R Jagannathan - May 5, 2022 10:59 AM +05:30 IST
PK May Be Making His Biggest Political Mistake Yet. He Should Read DruckerElection strategist Prashant Kishor.
  • PK would do well to heed Drucker’s advice to not confuse his own skills with that of leader.

    His skills can be commoditised, but a political leader has to learn the art of winning all by himself.

Election strategist Prashant Kishor (PK) appears to have acquired a taste for direct political power. In a tweet a few days ago, he more or less indicated that he was prepared to take a final political plunge himself.

He tweeted:My quest to be a meaningful participant in democracy and help shape pro-people policy led to a 10-yr rollercoaster ride! As I turn the page, time to go to the Real Masters, THE PEOPLE, to better understand the issues & the path to 'Jan Sooraj' – People’s Good Governance Shuruaat Bihar Se”.

If he does so, he will well have made the biggest political mistake of his career. The skills and qualities required in an adviser are quite different from those required in a leader. This is why the late Peter Drucker, arguably the world’s best known management guru, thinker and writer, never tried to run his own company even though he advised scores of successful CEOs on how to run theirs.

As Drucker said in his autobiographical work ‘Adventures of a Bystander’, “Bystanders have no history of their own…They are on the stage but are not part of the action… Standing in the wings - much like the fireman in the theatre - the bystander sees things neither actor nor audience notices.”

All of PK’s electoral successes relate to his role as bystander and outside observer, not as a player or actor. PK’s advisory and strategic skills, demonstrated now in multiple states and parties, lie in telling politicians what to do to win, not do it himself.

Here's how telling people what to do is different from doing the same yourself.

One, when you advise others, the decision and wisdom in doing what is advised is with the person who is advised, not you. If the advice does not work, at best you may lose your job, but the politician taking the advice pays a huge price. And vice-versa, if it works. The risk-reward equation is widely different, and this makes the job of adviser different from that of the player.

Two, a politician understands by instinct and real-life experiences that what seems good on paper is not always how it appears to people around you, including the people you depend on. Politicians need party officials, core support groups, allies, and hangers-on even when they may not seem to be doing anything useful or stay relevant to a conversation. Your voluble in-house trouble-maker may well be the most effective channel to disseminate information internally even though keeping this person in good humour may seem like a needless indulgence to the adviser.

It is worth noting that PK was not particularly liked by party insiders in Janata Dal (U), where he was vice-president before he quit, or Captain Amarinder Singh in Punjab before the 2017 state assembly elections. His advice may have been invaluable, but his presence was not. This is probably why his plans for entering the Congress party never materialised

Three, charisma matters. PK may have helped Narendra Modi win in 2014, Mamata Banerjee in 2021, and Nitish Kumar in 2015, but the decisive factor was not PK, but the qualities of the leaders he was helping. Where PK’s strategic insights may have helped was in telling the leader what he or she may have missed, on how micro-casting messages to smaller audiences is needed over and above the main message.

Four, long before PK arrived on the scene, political parties have managed huge overnight electoral sweeps without any advisory help. This includes the DMK and AIADMK in Tamil Nadu, Telugu Desam in undivided Andhra Pradesh, and the BJP in Gujarat. Once again, this shows that good advice is necessary, but never sufficient for political success. That critical X factor is not something PK has displayed yet.

PK would do well to heed Drucker’s advice to not confuse his own skills with that of leader. As Drucker said: “Strategy is a commodity. Execution is an art.” PK’s skills can be commoditised, but a political leader has to learn the art of winning all by himself.

Jagannathan is Editorial Director, Swarajya. He tweets at @TheJaggi.
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