Saturday, 20 October 2012

Freedom from Prejudice:The Cornerstone of Leadership


A leader must be value oriented and socially sensitive with tolerance and respect for diversity , and lead her/his organization to assume higher and still higher social responsibilities .If one studies  likely trends in leadership for the coming decades, one will find that in business , government or politics ,  diversity and social responsibilty  are two things  that  will  occupy increasing resources,priority  and attention .It is just the result of  evolutionary dynamics .Prejudices  can be based on race , religion , caste, region or physical or mental disabilities or any other factor. For example , prejudices against  women , jews , Africans , certain castes  and many other groups still exist in different countries.There is a wide spread prejudice against persons with certain disabilities.To be able to be an effective leader in such a world , a leader must not only  be personally free from all kinds of prejudices but also ensure that  members of the organization she or he is leading also rise above them.And this needs to be both in theory and practice .It is not easy .That is why , real leaders are very few .The rest are just duplicates .
                 " All overblown and generalized  prejudgments become prejudices if they are not reversible when exposed to new knowledge." so says Gordon  W. Allport in his classic 1954 book "The Nature of Prejudice"For those who have not heard of Allport , he was a leading social psychologist of 20th century.From 1930 onwards , he was a Professor of psychology at Harvard .Born in Indiana  in1897 , he died in 1967 at the age of 70.
A prejudice has two ingredients:An attitude of favour or disfavour  , and an overgeneralized belief .A prejudice , when practiced , results in discrimination.Discrimination comes about when we deny to a person or group equality of treatment .For example , it becomes discriminating when we exclude people from our neighbourhood, school ,employment or organization or country.Differential treatment based on individual qualities are not discrimination but those based on ethnic categorization are discrimination.To quote the UNO:"Discrimination includes any conduct based on a distinction made on grounds of natural or social categories, which have no relation either to individual capacities or merits or to the concrete behaviour of individual persons."It is born out of ignorance , superstition and unjust customs .

To some extent,each one of us is prejudiced against many things.We judge in favour of the values we hold, we defend our values and ways of living,we defend our values with pride and we reject those who oppose our values.
                   Is there such a thing as national character?The answer is yes, though objective studies  about national character are few in number.But it is important to distinguish between the real national character and the stereotypes , images that people have about national character.The Japanese have images of Americans as" hypocrite, materialistic,coarse, self-indulgent and luxury loving."Images are a mix of facts and previously held values and frames of reference.It is important to study images because people act in terms of these.It is important to correct false images because they add to misunderstanding and conflicts.Understanding images of national character as well as the genuine differences in national character, are important for leaders in this era of global markets and  increasingly unified world /humanity.                
       Prejudice leads to autistic thinking  and wrong decisions or sticking to old views.Autistic thinking is contrary to reasoning or directed thinking , and is irrational .It takes our thoughts to self-indulgent fantasy and does not advance them .In fact , we do not get anywhere.The whole process is self-serving .Our decisions , as a result , are in accordance with our preconceptions and self-interest.They are not objective .We tend to justify or rationalize our autistic thinking and do not like to admit that our thinking is autistic .
   If prejudice , by definition , continues despite exposure to new knowledge , what are the remedies?Can I overcome my own prejudices, or do I need external assistance .?Allport has  suggested  seven ways to  remedy prejudices .
1.Legislation  for  protection of victims against discrimination .
2.Formal educational methods.
3.Contact and acquaintance programs.
4.Group retraining methods.
5.Mass media.
6.Exhortation .
7.Individual therapy.
Formal education involves  imparting inter-cultural education .Evaluation studies have shown that inter-cultural education does result in lowering the prejudices.To my mind , this lends very strong support to inclusive education .Contact and acquaintance programs  make for friendliness and mutual respect .."Whatever makes for equal-status relationships and for more intimate acquaintance is likely to make for increased tolerance."            Group retraining is essentially a study of techniques of democratic leadership .It is a training program that helps people to improve their skills in  human relations.Mass media  ,films, publicity campaigns and propaganda do help in reducing  prejudices .
Another method is exhortation , preachment , admonishment and ethical talks .The best method to  reduce prejudices and change attitudes is individual psychotherapy.The individual needs to feel the need for approaching a counsellor.Though very effective , psychotherapy can reach only a small number of people .It needs to be practiced along with other methods of reducing prejudices. 
            A leader with prejudices cannot remain leader for long without destroying herself or himself ,and the organization she or he is leading.A "prejudiced leader" is an oxymoron (Yet none of the leaders except very few are completely free from prejudices.).Such a person is unfit to lead in a globalized world, with increasing demands to deal with diversity.With autistic thinking , she or he has poor ability to make correct decisions , be just and fair, to inspire and motivate.Such a person  wastes tremendous energy and resources of the organization and society and weakens the efforts for unity.She or he will not be able to enforce  with speed and firmness orders (from the top or courts )against  prejudices and discrimination.Such a leader cannot have tolerance and respect for the members of organization and other stakeholders  with diverse beliefs.
          India , with its million mutinies(To quote V S Naipaul)and rich diversity poses  great challenges as well as opportunities for leaders  to achieve the goals of equality, equity and growth.This necessarily makes it imperative that all persons in organizations (including business and non-governmental) of all kinds develop a culture of tolerance and respect  for diversity and freedom from prejudices .They should increasingly and deliberately place themselves in situations where they are required to handle successfully more and more diversity.This requires modernization of thoughts , beliefs and attitudes towards diverse groups  with their diverse character , attitudes , beliefs and values.In an organizational context , this means giving  special attention  to diversity and freedom from prejudice ,while  recruiting , doing placements,and designing,and implementing training programmes for the employee and top managers.