12th November 2006, ECONOMIC TIMES
Just as microorganisms grow better in some mediums, the leadership ‘microorganism’ grows very well at IITs. This statement is made, not to exclude others, but to underscore the uniqueness of IIT as a medium to multiply the leadership trait.
From 23 to 25 December, five thousand alumni will gather in Mumbai to contemplate the national theme Inspire, Involve and Transform India. These 5000, a mere three percent of the combined output of 150,000 alumni of the seven IITs in the country, will hopefully demonstrate the thought prowess of the IITs.
The distinguished alumni list displays a multi-chromatic rainbow of achievers in all sorts of fields—technology, business, entrepreneurship, and public affairs–and globally, society needs spade loads of them. To avoid mentioning some to the exclusion of others, I will not take names.
What is it about the food and air of these IITs that produces a brand that the world, Americans in particular, and MNCs go ga-ga about?
Well, on the lighter side, the food in the hostels has been uniformly lousy for so long that the graduates produced are hungry for several years, both gastronomically and intellectually! With the gastronomical, their girth shows the consequences. With the intellectual, their stellar leadership roles in society show the results.
IIT life can produce very odd and challenging situations. A delicate situation arose during the 1965 war when a Pakistani plane was shot down near Kalaikunda, just a few kilometers from Kharagpur. Unbelievably, an enterprising student took a cycle rickshaw to reach the spot before the defence forces. He found that the pilot was dead and stuck in a tree after ejecting from the plane. He relieved the dead man of his machine gun!
You can imagine the complexities that gripped the campus—defence, external affairs, police, security et al.
Leadership research (Centre for Creative Leadership Technical Report No 32) shows that leaders develop from experiences around five themes: Implementing Agendas, Handling Relationships, Basic Values, Appropriate Temperament, and Personal Awareness. The IITs are rich in all of these, and as appropriate to that nascent phase of student life.
First, the curriculum is exacting. If getting in was tough, hanging in is tougher, getting out is the toughest. The lessons of discipline and persistence get ingrained very fast.
Second, the austere hostel life creates dependencies. Nobody in IIT can retain his sanity and graduate successfully without academic and social collaboration with others. This is a huge developmental input for geeky high school graduates who join.
Third, the campus offers many extra-mural activities. You can graduate without being touched by these, but you would be the odd person. Yet, if you indulge in all, you will never graduate! One learns to prioritize and indulge in a few things that one enjoys and may excel in.
Fourth and last, campus life brings you face to face with the challenges of facing yourself. You become your own mentor and mirror. You realize your personal limits and blind spots. The degree of self awareness that you develop out of the campus life is a huge self awareness input.
So are the IITs perfect? Far from it.
Are they the gift of God to the nation? In a small way, yes, but they are not the only gift of the Gods. The StXavier’s, St Stephens, Loyolas, Presidencys and IIMs too are gifts of the Gods.
What the graduates do for the nation in their later life is, however, the true gift. The country will wait to see the outcome of the IIT event around Christmas!
Will it inspire, involve and transform?