On Feb. 13, Former Chief of Army Staff, Indian army, Vijay Kumar Singh spoke with Kellogg students on leadership, decision making, organizational effectiveness, change management and service in the armed forces. Kellogg student Aftab Khanna said, of the experience:
“…it was enlightening to note how the concepts we learn in the classroom and in our experiential courses are as applicable in the informal corporate environment as they are in the regimented halls of the army.”
General Vijay Kumar Singh is an officer with many credentials. The third generation of his family to serve in the Indian army, Singh received various decorations for his service from the Government of India. He was the first commando to assume the office of the chief of staff of the Indian Army and in 2011 became the first Indian Army officer to be inducted in the International Fellows Hall of Fame of the United States Army War College. Singh’s forty-two year long tenure in the Indian Army included holding command at many sensitive locations and posts and was capped by a two-year tenure as the chief of the 1.3 million strong army.
Singh is currently on a private visit to the United States, and he was kind enough to take time out from his schedule to spend an afternoon interacting with Kellogg students. Moderated by Professor Sawhney, the session covered multiple topics such as leadership, decision making, organizational effectiveness, change management and service in the armed forces. The students as well as Singh were particularly keen to explore how the themes of leadership in the army find a parallel application in the corporate and business world.
Singh was quick to dismiss the notion that leadership in the army is gained purely by command and rank. Stating that pulling rank never works in the army, Singh shared stories from his own career, some of them light hearted and humorous, about how both he and his men constantly tested each other. To make them follow you in battle, the men have to be convinced that you are worth following, stated Singh, and that concept of leadership is applicable in the army as anywhere else. When asked how he felt, both as a junior and a senior officer, about sending men into battle where they could potentially lose their lives, he gave a thoughtful yet somber response. My criteria, he stated, is to never ask the men to do something that you yourself would not be willing to do. It was no surprise that he admitted receiving body bags was the toughest part of being an officer.
The students were particularly interested to explore what Singh thought of the opportunities ahead of him. News reports in India have speculated that he stands as a candidate in the upcoming Indian general elections this summer. Though he humorously dismissed the idea, he did admit that retired army officers have more to contribute to society. In his own capacity, Singh is currently seeking to raise issues relating to the troubles of Indian farmers, armed forces veterans in India, as well as motivating Indian youth to join the political process.
The questions kept coming for Singh but unfortunately the time was limited. I can speak for the entire room perhaps that this was one of the most interesting speaker events that I have participated in at Kellogg. On a personal note, it allowed me to relate to some of the key aspects of the Indian army – honor, selfless service and century old traditions – aspects that I have been lucky to witness up close since my grandfather and uncle served a lifetime in the army as well. However on a larger scale, it was enlightening to note how the concepts we learn in the classroom and in our experiential courses are as applicable in the informal corporate environment as they are in the regimented halls of the army. That to me was the key lesson of the session and one that I think would serve Kellogg students well as they head into diverse careers in the summer and beyond.
Aftab Khanna is member of the Class of 2015. He is from New Delhi, India and is currently attending the MBA program in close collaboration with his Joint Venture Yashika Khanna, who he credits solely for keeping him safe from FOMO, having him well-fed and prepared for school and being his best sounding board. Aftab is a bit of a social media addict, loves to watch any kind of sport and shares his thoughts on Twitter at @aftabkhanna.