Approximately 40 years ago, a colleague and myself carried out a study on the characteristics of Nepali leaders in public sector enterprises. Now, that is more years than most people can remember, considering the average age of today’s newspaper readership, tweeters, and Facebookadherents; not to mention bloggers: but that’s not surprising. You see forty years ago Nepal was replete with public sector enterprises and whenever it was time for one or other of their bosses to retire, our capital city would go into frissons of expectation, especially among those who were - or who were related to - a public servant.
Leadership of Public Sector enterprises offered many perks to those elevated beings selected to sit at the helm of one or other of them. In true Nepali style they were classified into A, B, and C class enterprises. One that was often fiercely sought after was the then Royal Nepal Airlines, especially after it introduced international flights. To command RNAC guaranteed perks such as free business class tickets to the top-drawer management and this extended to the Board of Directors. Ofcourse it was a privilege much abused and thereby hangs the tale of the failure of our national airlines. If truth were told, there are still those who owe an explanation of their accounts to the airlines. Such is the fate of enterprises in Nepal!
Gradually they were gutted like dead fish on a slab. Everybody gossiped and complained, no action was taken. It’s a typical scenario: anyway, to get back to the leadership study
Essentially we were looking at 2 styles of leadership, Naff (affiliation norms) and Nach (achievement norms). Looking back I believe we were keen to prove that achievement norms are superior to affiliation norms. And that is what we proved, or so we thought!
A man known to be superbly professional and intelligent headed one of the development banks; and his enterprise topped the list, at first.The theory, according to psychometrics was (is) that a successful leader would choose (unknowingly) responses that more or less match those chosen by senior management. And that’s what happened. We seemed to have demonstrated that the Nepali propensity for source and force was just not likely to lead to achievement. Being young at that time, we were all delighted. We gave papers; we talked about autocratic leaders, laissez faire leaders, democratic leaders and so on. But the balloon was bound to burst some time; and so it did when an autocratically run enterprise topped the achievement markers with a plethora of workers and a leader bursting with affiliation norms. It was all ’yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir’ in his enterprise. We suspected and found familial relationships with the leader and his wife in 25% of the staff. What a dilemma! Could it be that Nepali management leaders defied global norms? You see, it was all amatter of ‘il faut grater’ (you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours) in his enterprise. But it seemed to work out all right, much to our ‘fresh out of graduate school’ disappointment
We compared the results with the private sector, hoping I suppose for reprieve; but it wasn’t forthcoming. At that time the private sector had all the faults we had found in the public sector, but they seemed to be doing so well comparatively. Of course, the wage structure was one factor we had failed to scrutinise closely. In retrospect I adhere to my first impression that in Nepal, the same education received by a Nepali, the same qualifications as any given ex-patriate worker does not attract the same salary, not even from international organisations. We undervalue our own human resources, so is there any wonder that they are undervalued in other lands where they slog like slaves to receive what seems to be hefty wages but when compared to what others receive are mere pittances? Is there any wonder that people are drawn into graft and corruption? One has to be able to afford to work for this country!
Eventually we came to the sad conclusion that in Nepal management leaders were deemed successful by staff that shared their norms, no matter what norms they might be. A worker who went for reforms in a corrupt enterprise may attract one or two supporters, but not many. In those days if he/she went over the head of top management to the ‘top top’ management they were bound to be disappointed.
We were advised to ‘never put anything in writing’ and ‘don’t make a decision that they can trace back to you’ and by one management leader,’ see whatever you decide, it’s really a matter of management by phone here. If someone doesn’t like your decision they will complain to some relative they have inside* and you’ll get a phone call.’
Eventually the truth of the statement that people get the leaders they deserve hit home. The most energetic sectors in Nepal were full of people who were striving for what I dubbed ’personal blamelessness’and however many management lectures they attended, it didn’t change because comparatively they were paid pittances, often advised by foreigners who knew so much less than they did, but who drew much larger salaries plus a host of perks; and the Nepali worker couldn’t go home because he/she was home and hence faced with the alternative of being jobless if he/she so much as ‘blew the whistle’ on anything.
There are those who truly believe that the CIAA is taking care of much of what was ‘rotten in the state of Nepal’, but I’m certainly not among them! Until Nepali workers are paid properly and have the means to look after their families without ‘extra perks’ or selling family land, corruption will remain embedded. A people do get the government they deserve, as they say, but does the current government deserve such compliant people?