Wings of Fire: an Autobiography of Apj Abdul Kalam
Wings of Fire: An Autobiography of APJ Abdul Kalam By Arun Tiwari, Sangam Books, January 1999 Background APJ Abdul Kalam, a distinguished professor and technocrat at the Indian Space Research Organization, oversaw the design and development of India’s first indigenous Satellite Launch Vehicles in the 80s. As a very successful CEO of India’s Guided Missile Development Program, he earned the nickname “Missile Man of India”. His leadership in Space research was instrumental in elevating India to the exclusive “Space Club” of the world.
As Scientific Advisor to the Defense Minister and Secretary, Department of Defense, Dr. Kalam’s efforts also led to the Indian nuclear tests in Pokhran that elevated India to a Nuclear Weapons State. A scientist par excellence and a passionate visionary, Dr. Kalam Chaired the Technology Information Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC) that developed the “Technology Vision 2020”, a policy road map for transforming India to a developed nation by 2020.
Author of 4 books (Wings of Fire, India 2020, My Journey and Ignited Minds) and the recipient of 30 honorary doctorates from Universities around the world, Dr. Kalam was awarded the highest civilian award in India, the Bharat Ratna. Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam was elected the 11th President of India in 2002. The formative years This is a great story of how a simple boy, from a very humble background in a remote corner of India, became a top engineer, a rocket scientist, a great leader and eventually the President of a billion plus people.
Right from his childhood, his story is one of sacrifice and struggle. Sacrifice not only by him, but also his family to help him succeed and go beyond his small fishing village. His autobiography is littered with anecdotes of the roles various mentors played in his life. With their constant motivation and guidance, leaders like Dr. Vikram Sarabhai and Dr. Brahm Prakash (both stalwarts in the Indian Defense/Space Research arena at the time) successfully molded a young engineer into a leader, who succeeded them.
Along the way, Dr. Kalam had heart-breaking personal and career setbacks. But with the help and support of his mentors and people around him, who believed in him, he sprung back with renewed enthusiasm, learnt from his mistakes and eventually succeeded. A poet and a firm believer in his God, Dr Kalam describes himself as a he believer of the human spirit. Leadership Dr. Kalam realized early on that India needs young leaders who can steer its transformation into a developed nation and a knowledge society.
He firmly believed that such leaders eventually create new institutions of excellence. “Quality leaders are like magnets; they attract the best persons to work for their vision and in turn give inspiring leadership even during failures of missions, since they are not afraid of taking risks. I have seen and worked with such creators of vision and missions. ” Over his career spanning 5 decades Dr. Kalam was mostly credited for putting together teams from multiple Defense Research institutions and Academia and then guiding those teams towards a vision.
At ISRO, he focused on creating an environment conducive to team work, integration of people, balancing hands on, hands-off styles and effective communication. At DRDL, he exemplified management by participation, self-managed teams, effective matrix organizations, determination of successful team performance and effective reorganizations. Dr Kalam identified a set of values that he went by. According to him, a leader must possess the following qualities. •Be able to set a vision for the organization •Be able to explore uncharted areas Be able to know how to celebrate the successes and manage failures •Must have the courage to make tough and often unpleasant decisions •Be noble and humble •Be transparent Dr Kalam demonstrated superior Emotional Intelligence in all aspects of his own self and his immediate environment. He exemplifies all the different leadership styles that Goleman talks about, but most notably the Authoritative, Affiliative and Coaching styles. He also talks about the ‘flow’ or a state of mind when you are operating with total commitment and your self, surroundings and what you are doing are in perfect harmony.
Dr. Kalam mentions in his biography how his team experienced this ‘flow’ while they were working on a Launch Vehicle project and attributes it to excellent commitment, challenging work, a sense of pride and purpose and controlled creativity. “Anyone who has taken up the responsibility to lead a team can be successful only if he is sufficiently independent, powerful and influential in his own right, to become a person to reckon with. This is also the path to individual satisfaction in life, for freedom with responsibility is the only sound basis for personal happiness.. Dr Kalam professes that the way to get there is primarily by continuous learning and developing a passion for personal responsibility. Dr. Kalam takes us through how he chose leaders for his projects, how he had to balance between a cautious planner and fast mover, a tight controller and a do as you like person. It is interesting to see parallels with MBTI playing out here as he employed various strategies depending upon the type of the project, how challenging it was and what kind of resources were available to support it. The work code in the Guided Missile Office was: if you need to write a letter, send a fax, if you need to send a fax, use the telephone; and if the need arises for telephonic discussions, visit the place personally” Dr Kalam gives us examples of how he continuously challenged the status quo in large Government institutions and setup new processes and homegrown management techniques such as proactive follow up, generating new ideas at the grassroots level and encouraging innovation and risk taking. Conclusion
The British left India broke and dilapidated in 1947. While the vast majority of the leadership in the country focused on nation building, there were a few people who dreamt of rocket science. As much as I find that hard to fathom, history now tells us that within 2 decades of independence these people blasted off sounding rockets and satellites into space. This was not only about the advancement of science, but as Dr. Kalam points out, mostly about leveling the playing field. Through sheer grit, determination, hard work, and a brilliant mind, Dr.
Kalam transformed the Indian defense research establishment. Along the way he demonstrated exemplary leadership in how he developed a vision and executed on it. Developing and mastering indigenous technologies that were denied from the West, he showed that even in the depth of despair, there is hope, and great things are possible with the right mix of talent, hard work, fair play, and motivation. References http://knowledge. wharton. upenn. edu/india/article. cfm? articleid=4276 http://www. amazon. com/Wings-Fire-Autobiography-Abdul-Kalam/dp/8173711461