Leadership Lessons - From General Sam Manekshaw himself.

Jul 31, 2021 5 min read

Notes of a talk by General Sam Manekshaw on leadership & its attributes.

Hello Folks!

I hope you enjoyed the previous short chain of thoughts on Advertising trends on the Internet. This one is on leadership lessons from one of the best leaders this land has produced. The original blog is here https://krishna404.com/leadership-attributes-stories-from-general-sam-manekshaw

So I came across this video of Gen. Sam Manekshaw, thanks to youtube's algorithm. Surfaces of such content also reinforce that I am probably watching the right kind of content & following the right kind of channels/people.

So here is the video & detailed summary follows. You can also find this as a Twitter thread here.

Leaders are not born but made. Any person who has common sense & decency with the right mentorship can be made into a leader.

Leadership Requirements

Professional Knowledge & Professional Competence

This is an absolute must for any leader.

Ability to make up mind, make a decision & accept full responsibility for it.

Acts of commission can be put right by colleagues & subordinates but acts of omission cannot be put right.

If you must be a bloody full, be one quickly.

When decisions are not taken & delayed, the cost escalates & the loss is irreparable.

Absolute justice & impartiality

Nobody likes being punished but they will accept punishment if there is a code & uniformity. No one likes being superseded but will accept supersession if they know that it's done fairly & by someone better than them.

Moral & Physical Courage

Moral Courage

The first step of moral courage is distinguishing right from wrong & once identified, having the courage to stand up & say their piece.

A yes man is a horrible man, he must be shunned, he is a disgrace. A yes man is used by his superiors & disliked by colleagues & has no respect in the eyes of the sub-ordinates.

Gen Manekshaw describes a personal story about Moral Courage.

In 1970, when millions of Refugees from then East Pakistan were fleeing to India, the then Prime Minister Ms. Indira Gandhi called a cabinet meeting & Gen Manekshaw was summoned to be in the meeting, it was about a decision to wage war on East Pakistan as the PM wanted the problem of refugees to be solved.

The General explained to the PM & the cabinet that it was an inopportune moment to wage a war, due to multiple facts like weather, logistics, Geopolitics & more. When pushed to still go for a war, here are the words the Gen then told to the cabinet, not together but will give a good sense of what would have transpired in the meeting.

Like in the Bible - The God said, let there be light & there is light. You said, let there be war & there will be war. You are ready but I am not.
If you want me to do this Prime Minister, I guarantee you 100% defeat. Now Prime Minister give me your orders.

& once that meeting concluded & PM wanted to talk to Gen in private, these were the first words the General spoke.

Prime Minister before you speak, do you wish me to send in my resignation on grounds of health, mental or physical?

Gen made it clear to the PM that it's his job to give the facts & if the General in 1962 would have done the same with the then PM, the country wouldn't be disgraced.

Physical Courage

Fear is a natural phenomenon like hunger & sex. Anyone who says that they are not frightened is a liar, except perhaps the Gorkha.

It is one thing to be frightened & another to show fear. If a leader ever happens to show fear in front of people they command, they should quit.

The Gen again shares a personal story on this.

Once, the General denies the promotion of a Sikh soldier from Nayak to Lance Nayak, as he was promoted multiple times but always broke, as he was a "badmaash". The Sikh soldier, Son Singh, told his colleagues that he was going to shoot the General dead. Son Singh was imprisoned. Gen dared Son Singh to shoot him by handing a revolver & dismissed the case with just a tight slap as punishment to the soldier. He also appointed Son Singh as the guard to his personal quarters for the night.

Yes, the General was frightened but he didn't show fear. Very often a single young Seargent with a stick can wield an unruly mob.


We expect loyalty from sub-ordinates & colleagues but do we give it back to them? Loyalty is a 2-way street, you expect loyalty, you give loyalty.

Reminds me of Harvey Specter from Suits 🙂


Leadership is the management of Men's & Resources.

Men in numbers can be really nasty but leaders should be able to deal with them very firmly. A leader must also understand that men have problems, human problems, they easily get despondent, so a leader should have a human touch. A leader should have the humor to take them out of their despondency, the gift of the gab.

Men & Women also like their leader to be a bit of a man, a bit of a lad. Julius Caesar when he came to the city, men would lock up their wives. He also gives similar examples of Duke of Wellington & Napolean.

Discipline & Character

No amount of leadership can put things right in a society devoid of these 2 primary ingredients, discipline & character.


Discipline is the code of conduct for decent living in society, for one with other.

This code of conduct has come from a Father to Son, it's in Bible, Bhagavad Geeta & other religious scriptures. It has been refined as customs have changed.

Non-punctuality is an act of ill-discipline, which is injurious to the state & injurious to people.

Again General shares a personal anecdote from his life.

The General was once invited to give a speech at an educational institute where he was addressing 5000 young boys & girls. This young crowd had seen off the last VIP from the stage in 15 seconds of him starting the speech. Of course, the General didn't have the same fate but rather got pin-drop silence & a standing ovation for his speech. When the General later asked the students the reason for this, the students said the earlier VIP arrived at the program 1 hour late, acted entitled, unclean, unshaven & kept scratching his legs. The act of ill-discipline on the part of VIP got more ill-discipline.

Freedom is not a license to do anything. Acts of ill discipline are the reason for corruption, smuggling & all sorts of wrong things.


Of course one must be Honest, Peaceful & not be promiscuous but here General says that one must know themselves truly, in-depth. Whatever little character we have is denuded by fans & sycophants around us. So we must be really wary of these.

General comments on leadership

Subordinates follow in the leader's footsteps. Of course, they follow the leaders' actions but it is also important to have the right environment & fear (of punishment). These are also contributing factors.

The Roman Catholic church has done a great deed in bringing self-discipline into the world. A confession is a great tool for self-discipline.

Please do follow me on Twitter @krishnaa404 & share your thoughts. 🙂

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