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Management Lessons From Rani of Jhansi

Management Lessons From Rani of Jhansi

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Published by Gaurav Kumar

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Published by: Gaurav Kumar on Apr 26, 2009
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Management lessons from Rani of Jhansi

Throughout history, wars have left an indelible mark on human psyche. Serious debates have been held on the morality of and the strategic necessity for war. And yet, like every dark cloud that has a silver lining, wars too at times leave a society wiser. India is no stranger to wars. And there are many lessons to be learnt from each of those battles -- Management Lessons, to be precise. Here we present the second in a series of articles on Management Lessons drawn from Indian history. This one picks out Management gems from the battle for Jhansi.

Image: Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi

The battle for Jhansi (1858 AD) The British Government had decreed that all independent Kingdoms which did not have a male successor had to merge with the Empire. An adopted son was not considered a successor. This caused problems for Rani Lakshmibai whose adopted son, Damodar Rao, would not have been able to ascend the throne after her husband, Raja Gangadhar Rao, died. She told the British envoy she would not part with her kingdom, Jhansi, despite knowing she could land into trouble. She had consulted her subjects, who had enthusiastically supported her in taking up the issue with British legally, if not militarily. Residents of Jhansi were made aware of this new situation. If the legal battle didn't go in her favor, she would have to take to arms. Lesson: Involve the team in any major decision-making process. When one has the buy-in, it yields far better results

February 26, 2009 As expected, Queen's requests were shot down by the British. In March 1858, General Rose led an army into Jhansi. All entrance gates to the city were closed. The British army started bombarding the city, which damaged the walls. But overnight, Queen's people set it right. This continued for weeks and frustrated the designs of the British army as they could not move forward. A few of Queen's best gunners were women; elsewhere in her army too, there was a good representation of women. She had recruited people based on skills, irrespective of their caste, creed or sex, and therefore formed a formidable defense. She handpicked the personnel and deployed them studying the ground situation. Lesson: Team formation is fundamental to success, and Senior Management involvement helps. They can apply their rich experience in choosing right people for the right job. This also helps team members to have an access with Senior Management if they have any suggestions and recommendations. It also makes information flow smoother and decision-making faster

Image: General Rose

Image: Tatya Tope

Two months later, Tatya Tope, a distinguished leader, came to help Rani Lakshmibai with his big army and ammunition. Lakshmibai was confident of outsmarting the British. But General Rose had anticipated Tatya's arrival. He knew he would be sandwiched between the two armies and, therefore, executed his well-thought-out plan of splitting his army into two. One part was supposed to keep attacking Jhansi -- albeit to maintain the status quo -- and the second was to fight Tatya's army.

Lesson: A leader should anticipate the opponent's move and strategies accordingly. This takes the surprise factor out of the equation and helps in keeping the morale of the team high.

Image: Tatya Tope's forces in battle with the British

Tatya Tope had numerical superiority and his people fought very well, but he could not convert it into a win as he stumbled badly while crafting attack strategies. This led to the British registering a Resounding victory.

Lesson: Although quantity might provide an edge, quality can add to the edge. Or blunt it, at times. Informed and intelligent decision-making overcomes many apparent disadvantages. It is very easy for an organization to relinquish market dominance due to a bad decision. Some of these decisions have quick impact, while others might become evident after some time. If time permits, one should revisit the decisions or else learn from it to avoid future mistakes.

Image: The decisive battle for Jhansi

On that evening, Rani committed one mistake of not opening the gates of Jhansi and attacking the British soldiers who were in their last stage of battle against Tatya Tope's forces. That attack would have crippled Rose's forces and would have changed the course of the war. She realized it later.

Lesson: Opportunity comes without any announcement. It should be sensed, grabbed and exploited

Image: An artist's depiction of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi in battle with the British, with her young son, Damodar.

Since the beginning of the war, Peer Ali, a confidant of Lakshmibai, was working as a spy. He suddenly turned against her one fine day, without her knowledge. He was asked by General Rose to identify and turn a key Jhansi gunner manning the gates who could be bribed to switch loyalties. Peer Ali tried hard for a few days, and then one day he succeeded in convincing a top gunner, Dulhaju, to go against Lakshmibai. Dulhaju was unhappy with some of the comments made by Lakshmibai and some fellow soldiers. He appeared before General Rose and promised to do his bidding. In return, he was to get a few villages. Lesson: Giving and receiving feedback is an art and should be executed carefully. Leaders should be careful in providing feedback. If feedback is not good, the leadership must provide an opportunity for another round of discussions where misgivings could be set right. Praise openly, criticize confidentially -- that should be the policy with those in strategic positions

Image: The Gwalior fort

One person could sense a change in Dulhaju and his sudden cozying up to Peer Ali. He provided an early warning to Rani Lakshmibai, but she stopped short of intense questioning for fear of antagonizing a key gunner which might impact Jhansi's security. Lesson: Any case of ethics or serious offence should be handled immediately, irrespective of employee's past performance and high rating.

Image: The Jhansi Fort

Lakshmibai sensed the British were preparing for the final assault. To keep her troops' morale high, she cheered them on and also doled out money to them. She rewarded most of the gunners, who risked everything to guard Jhansi, very well. She said Jhansi would remain independent so long as people want it to be. Lesson: Risk and reward go hand in hand. It is human to expect appropriate reward for taking risks.

One fateful day, Dulhaju, as per the plot hatched with the British, went to open one of the doors of Jhansi. One of Lakshmibai's gunners had seen him and tried to stop him. But his efforts were in vain and the British troops crashed through the open gate, pillaged Jhansi, destroyed buildings, and killed numerous people. Rani Lakshmibai was depressed and decided to commit suicide, but her advisor prevailed upon her to escape to Kalpi and join Tatya Tope's forces. Lakshmibai discussed it with her other confidants and then her small troops fought their way through to Kalpi. There she met Rao Saheb and Tatya Tope with their armies. She inspected their armies and found them disorganized. Following Lakshmibai, the British army reached Kalpi. But Rao Saheb had not paid heed to Lakshmibai's advice on reorganization of the armies, and thus lost the war. Lakshmibai then suggested that they capture the Gwalior fort, as evading the British would not provide any long-term solutions. Tatya Tope and Rao Saheb agreed. But the Gwalior fort was with Scindia, who had joined hands with the British.

But as Lakshmibai had suspected, most of the Scindia's soldiers revolted against their king and joined hands with Rani Lakshmibai to help in capturing Gwalior. The army led by General Rose proceeded towards Gwalior. Here again, Lakshmibai advised Rao Saheb and Tatya Tope on the approach they should adopt to take on the British, but again they disagreed. Lakshmibai fought valiantly and died. Gwalior was recaptured by the British. Lakshmibai remained an icon of bravery and determination not only for Indians, but for the British too. Lesson: A good leader can learn from Lakshmibai's conviction, commitment, skill, flexibility and can-do attitude. An organization can also learn from her life: it can learn to be prepared for a topsy-turvy ride in the long run. There could be multiple roadblocks and hiccups. But the important lesson is to learn from the losses and consolidate the wins; this will help in turning an organization into an institution, which could be respected by all.

Image: A regal statue of Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi

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