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Leadership Lessons From Lagaan

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By Author: Khyati Shah
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“Leadership is a way of thinking, a way of acting and, most importantly, a way of communicating.” In the complex environment that we live in today, leadership is an essential skill. A leader today has to deal with expectations of different stakeholders, face ambiguity and steer the team to collectively achieve the vision of the organisation.
Globally, there are many examples of successful leaders and several books have been written on leadership skills and qualities. However, one doesn’t have to be a C-Suite executive, to require good leadership skills.
Even students and sportsmen perform above par when they have the ability to lead a team or to steer an important project.
So what exactly is leadership? Leadership doesn’t necessarily require degrees and grey hair, it is about honing an attitude. About igniting passion for a vision into a diverse group of people and empowering them to achieve the goal. It is the art of using communication and emotional intelligence to cultivate a collaborative approach to succeed.
Let’s take inspiration from Bollywood to simplify what leadership truly means. It is impossible to talk about Leadership and not mention the movie ‘Lagaan’. Although it was released almost 20 years ago, it still manages to capture the attention of audiences of all age groups. The character played by Aamir Khan – Bhuvan, a simple villager who rose to a challenge and created and led a team of novices to victory, is a great example of leadership skills.
Here is my take on the leadership lessons from the movie:
1.Look at problems as opportunities!
The British ruler, Captain Russell, offered a deal to Bhuvan: The deal was to play a cricket match against the Englishmen. If team Bhuvan won, they would waive the taxes for next three years. If the Britishers won, then they would triple the tax amount. This was meant to mock the villagers who did not know the game. Although extremely risky, Bhuvan accepted the challenge. He took it as an opportunity to bring freedom from taxes for the entire province.
2. Have a clear vision:
When Bhuvan accepted the challenge, his vision was three years of no tax. The villagers thought that it was impossible to learn an alien game and play to win it. But that is how dreams start, don’t they? It always seems impossible until it’s done. In this case, he not only dreamt about winning; he also put in place a clear strategy to make his dream a reality.
3. Build a winning team:
A good leader always chooses his team carefully. He needs to identify the strengths of each team member and use it to the advantage of the team. The movie showed a great example of diversity and inclusion in the way the protagonist enlisted each team member. One team member (Kachra, the sweeper) was disabled, yet Bhuvan’s excellent observational skills helped him identify the talent in him. The villagers were against his decision as he was untouchable, but caste didn’t stop Bhuvan from including him in the team.
4. Be a Facilitator:
The key differentiator of a leader is his ability to empower the team to achieve the goal. He acts as the guide and facilitator. As a leader, Bhuvan supplied his team with necessary equipment and explained to them the rules of the game. He ensured that they practiced together and bonded with each other and learnt to appreciate each one’s unique skills. He motivated his team and got the entire village to align with his dream slowly.
5. Support and empower:
As a leader, you need to have a positive influence on others. Positivity and optimism bring in energy to the group. Bhuvan made sure that he did not let anyone in his team lose hope. He simplified the game by comparing it to ‘gilli-danda’ which the villagers were familiar with. He made everyone believe that they can beat the Britishers and fight for their rights. He supported every team member and even when they made a mistake he encouraged them to keep trying.
6. A great listener:
“Listening is an art that requires attention over talent, spirit over ego, others over self.”
This quote by Dean Jackson sums up the importance of listening for a leader. Leaders often think that their task is to talk, but the best leaders talk less and ask, listen, and observe more. Bhuvan listened not only to what was said, but also what was left unsaid in the minds of the villagers. That helped him address and alleviate everyone’s fears.
7. Make the best of limited resources:
Resources will always seem limited and it is the challenge of every team to achieve the desired results despite the limitations. Bhuvan and his team did not have any cricket equipment or well laid grounds, yet they made the bat and ball themselves and practiced using ‘mashaal’ or fire lamps lit by the villagers.
Different situations will make a different demand on the leader to deal with ambiguity, resolve problems and keep moving forward with the whole team.
These are some learnings I derived from Lagaan. I believe the movie summed up leadership skills in a very simple yet powerful way.
What has been your inspiration?

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