Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Being Johny Bravo


On a cloudy night back in August 16th 2002 flying over a valley of Afghanistan were two warthogs. These planes are heavily armored jets which provide cover for the ground troops. The pilots placed themselves above the clouds just in case the ground troops needed any help. It wasn't cloudy there. The moon was shining brightly, thousands of stars twinkled and the clouds below appeared to be big fluffy balls of cotton. Life doesn't seem mundane in these scenic docile environments. Down below however, were 22 Special Forces officers moving through the barren mountainous ridges. They could sense that something was not right around them. Johny Bravo, call sign of one of the fighter jet’s pilot, could sense the anxiety in the voices of the troops. He then decides to go down and have a look around and make sure that everything was fine. The lives of the 22 field forces beneath the thick sheet of grey clouds lay on the fortification of ‘Johny Bravo’. He couldn't see the danger coming, but he could hear them. And the alertness of ‘Johny Bravo’ could save the lives of these men. So the soldiers moved forward without the faintest of cover in the landscape but with the reassurances of a backup in the voice of ‘Johny Bravo’; and ‘Johny Bravo’ in turn swooped down to check on things. Suddenly, even before he could start the swoop, his radio sprang into life saying “troops in contact troops in contact”. The ground forces were in the line of fire of the militants and the only hope they had was ‘Johny Bravo’. Surrounded by the tall daunting mountain gorges and the forbidding valleys with no place to hide, death was in conformity. They were like sitting ducks for the militants who were placed high in the peaks, looking down at them and given a free choice to pick and shoot. Without a moment to lose, ‘Johny Bravo’ immediately stooped down through the thick cloud blanket to back the ground forces. As he tried to recompose himself and his plane on the way down through the turbulent clouds, he soon found himself among the high rises of the mountains. The serenity above the clouds had changed drastically defiant. And to add to his woes was the absence of the ground hugging radar in the plane and some accompanying Old Russian maps. So on his way down, among the fierce firing he picks up a point and starts the suppressing fire. He was aware of the cliffs on both the sides and the subsequent danger of hitting one of them. So keeping in mind his speed and his distance from the maps, Johny Bravo starts counting aloud as he initiates the suppressing fire ‘11000, 21000, 31000…..fire….and then goes up…and again comes down 11000, 21000, 31000….fire….and then goes up….and again comes down 11000, 21000, 31000….fire…and then goes up….and again repeats…’ Johny Bravo does this operation till he runs out of ammunition. He then goes up again, above the clouds, to his wing-man on standby, and gives him orders to go down. Soon he realises that his wing-man doesn't have a clue of the terrain below. So Johny Bravo accompanies his wing-man, goes down with him, and as he starts the suppressing fire with a gap of about 3 feet between them, he counts aloud, ‘11000, 21000, 31000…..fire….and then goes up…and again come down together 11000, 21000, 31000….fire….and then goes up….and again come down together 11000, 21000, 31000….fire…and then goes up….and again repeats…’. That day all 22 American lives were saved.

Leadership is a role and not a rank and a leader is not born he is made. We cannot be born as Johny Bravo but if we try hard we can be made into one. Johny Bravo is an ordinary human being like you and me but he chose to become an extra ordinary person; he chose to lead rather than follow. And leading doesn't mean you tell where to go, step aside and let your people do it for you. Leading means ‘I go first, and then you follow me’. Being a leader is not easy because being a leader means to take risks, risks of the uncertainty ahead and being prepared to face the brunt first.

The role of a parent and the role of a leader are synonymous. There is no ideal way to be a parent and so goes for being the ideal leader. As a parent we are expected to play many roles; take risks, guide our children to take risks, prepare ourselves and our children for failure, teach them not to give up, and motivate them to try again with a lot more vigor and enthusiasm. As a leader, the people who follow us are our children and the organisation we work for is our family. As the head of the family, we should be the first one to take the risk, if not on our life but on our job. When the going gets tough, we do not lay one of our children but let go one of our habits. We might let go a year of eating out to provide two square meals a day for our family.

It was the morning of September 8th 2009, a group of American troops were walking down a part of Afghanistan protecting and securing a group of Afgan Government officials to connect with the native Afgan elders. Capt. Swenson was leading this team of combat troops. Suddenly the team was ambushed by militants. Capt. Swenson started bringing in the injured to the rescue helicopters to fly them to the base camp. Coincidentally one of the rescue helicopter’s pilots was wearing a camera which was stuck to his helmet. This camera captured an image where Capt. Swenson puts a heavily injured soldier in the helicopter and kisses his forehead before returning back to rescue more.

Where do people like Capt. Swenson come from? Whether it is the upbringing of the parents, or the way the parents inspire their kids, the intense training that these people go through, or the environment in which they grow up; whatever the reason but the sole point made is these kinds of people are not born, they are made. 

Leadership is all about inspiring people. Inspiring and making people believe in what you believe. Making people and individuals who are working for us and working with us feel safe. Leadership is the trust that we built; it is the relationship which we establish due to this trust and the feeling of safety that people feel based on this trust and relationship is what makes a great leader. Being a leader in the rank and leading people is a compulsion; but leading people because they believe in what you believe is called leadership. Capt. Swenson is one among those kinds of leaders who inspire their men and their family.

“Do not come up, I will handle them”. These were the last words from Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan leading his men during the seize of the Taj Hotel by terrorists on the fateful night of 2008 Mumbai attacks. Having safely evacuated one of his men, who was severely injured in the cross fire, Major Unnikrishnan decided to take on the terrorists alone. The last words from the daring Major send out the sentiments of the person. It tells us how a leader should behave and the attitude he should have. A leader should lead people. He believed that he will be able to eliminate the terrorists and not only save the lives of his men but also millions others. Though he went down fighting valiantly and could not save his life in the process but he saved many other lives; and his men saved the city. As a parent we all do this. We let go our pleasures to ensure happiness for our children. We do not think twice before compromising our happiness because that is what brings us satisfaction. And this feeling of satisfaction comes because while we play our part diligently, we in turn are inspiring our children to become better people and better individuals who will carry forward what we believe in because they believe in what we believe. 

“I have a dream”. These words started the speech of a civil rights activist who changed the face of modern day United States of America. Approximately 2 million people came to Washington DC to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak from the steps of Lincoln memorial on 28th August 1963. Among these people, approximately 25% were whites. These people did not gather on the memorial grounds just to hear Martin Luther King Jr. speak. They gathered here because  against all odds there was a man who believes in what they believed. There was a man whom they could trust and feel safe. There was a man who could ensure that they feel equal and live equal. Such is the power of a leader; a man who commands inspiration. As a parent it is also very important for us to command inspiration; and inspiration can be commanded only by trust. The feeling of trust that a child has for his/her parents comes from the feeling of safety that a child feels when he/she is with his/her parents.

The degree of trust and safety that children have in their parents are demonstrated everyday by simple gestures. The other day, I playfully held a green chili in my hand and asked my daughter whether she would want to eat it. She did not know what it was, nor did she know about the after effects of it. But one thing she knew for sure that her mother won’t give her anything that would harm her. It was this sense of trust and faith she had in me that she did not even think twice before opening her mouth when I asked her to.


Being a leader, holding a rank and demanding to be followed is not what makes a good leader. This kind of leadership is a forced compulsion. People follow you not because of the role you play but because of the rank you hold; and the moment you go off the rank you lose the followers. Leadership and being leaders is when you are one among the crowd yet you lead the crowd. People follow you not because of the rank you hold but because of the role you play. Being ‘Johny Bravo’ is a role not a rank and great leaders, whether in a family or in an organisation, inspire actions and inspire people. We can all become leaders by our rank, but becoming ‘Johny Bravo’ needs inspiration.