Introduction – 21 Success Sutras for Leaders


There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience, and that is not learning from experience.


Archibald MacLeish, Poet

We all make mistakes in our lives. Do we learn lessons from our mistakes? Learning from mistakes makes people more mature and refined. At the same time, it is necessary to know whether man makes the same mistakes repeatedly. If he does, he is not learning any lessons in life. Man may make different mistakes and fail differently, as it makes him stronger and wiser during his life journey. This entire book deals with leadership lessons that help leaders know what mistakes other leaders have made, and how they realized and bounced back from failures.

The current complex corporate world calls for a specific set of skills to excel as successful leaders. It also calls for learning lessons from the experiences of others to minimize one’s own mistakes. It is rightly said, ‘The wise person learns from the experience of others, whereas the foolish person learns by his experience.’ Hence, it is better to grow wiser by learning the lessons of leadership from the experiences of others.

How Do Leaders Learn Lessons?

Leaders like everyone else, are the sum of all their experiences, but, unlike others, they amount to more than the sum, because they make more of their experiences.

Warren Bennis, Why Leaders Can’t Lead (1976)

Research reveals that most leaders learn lessons from challenging assignments during their corporate lives. At times, hardships and adversity teach them several lessons. Very few leaders learn lessons from classroom teaching and training. It appears that most leaders learn lessons by failing and falling. If these leaders are made aware of failures by experts, academicians and experienced leaders through teaching and training programmes, they will minimize their failure rate and maximize their success rate. Hence, it is mandatory for leaders to read good books and undergo leadership development training programmes regularly to become better and successful leaders.

Great leaders are continual learners, and most leaders learn lessons from their experiences rather than from books and classroom teaching and training. They reflect on their setbacks by spending a considerable amount of time on introspection. If there is no reflection, leaders will keep repeating the same mistakes. Great leaders fail differently and reflect a lot, and learn lessons and move forward with valuable takeaways.

Growth after Failure is Phenomenal

Experience is not what happens to you but it is what you make of what happens to you.

Aldous Huxley

The fact is that growth after failure is phenomenal as the lessons people learn from experience provide an invaluable education. There are leaders who hit rock bottom in their lives and bounced back like the mythical Phoenix. For instance, American leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan had low phases and subsequently bounced back with resilience and tenacity. These leaders learnt lessons from their failures. They realized what did not work for them and changed their strategies subsequently. They became more mature and took more precautions. They realized the pain of failure and learnt the value of life. They learnt hard lessons and improved their decision-making abilities. People who often face failure keep an open mind, and see all sides of an issue. They do not take success for granted. And failure is not final for them.

While successful people think in limited ways, the people who have failed think in unlimited ways, keeping in mind the pros and cons. They are prepared for distractions in their lives as they realize that people are often diverted from their goals because of these distractions. They are also aware that people often fail due to external distractions rather than the man-made ones.

21 Sutras for Your Leadership Success

We should be careful to get out of an experience all the wisdom that is in it—not like the cat that sits down on a hot stove lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove lid again—and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one anymore.

Mark Twain

Here are the 21 sutras for your leadership success, which have been distilled from my extensive reading, intensive compilation, and from my three decades of experience and expertise in various areas.

  1. Leadership is a Responsibility, Not a Badge of Honour
  2. Character Counts, Not Charisma
  3. Be a Coach, Not a Critic
  4. Build Bridges, Not Barriers
  5. Fight for Pretty Things, Not Petty Things
  6. Strive for Excellence, Not Perfection
  7. Failure is only a Comma, Not a Full Stop
  8. Never Say ‘No’ Too Soon and ‘Yes’ Too Late
  9. Praise Publicly and Punish Privately
  10. Spread the Fame in Success and Take the Blame in Failure
  11. Listen to All and Take Your Call
  12. Walk Your Talk
  13. Deal With People Differently
  14. Leaders Command Respect
  15. Don’t Blame Circumstances
  16. Don’t Compete, Collaborate
  17. Don’t React, Act
  18. Think Global, Act Local
  19. Invest in People
  20. Everybody is a Leader
  21. Soft Leadership is the Heart of Leadership

You must note that what worked for others might not work for you as times and technologies are changing rapidly. You need to equip yourself with these sutras to minimize your leadership mistakes and enhance your leadership effectiveness; as Helen Keller rightly remarked, ‘Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.’ We will discuss these sutras with examples and illustrations in the next chapters.