Friday, February 23, 2024

Leadership lessons to be learnt from Sam Maneskshaw

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Recently, a movie on Sam Maneskshaw has been made. The movie is titled “Sam Bahadur” as he was popularly known. He was not only a legendary military strategist but also India’s first field marshal. The purpose today, is to take a look at the key incidents in his life and take important lessons from them.

Strategic Brilliance –

During 1971 war, Sam showed his strategic expertise by crafting the perfect war- taking into account geopolitics, politics and military planning. He chose 4th December as the date of war. For the snow in the Northeast mountains would block Chinese through Chumbi valley. Monsoon had passed and the rivers receded, enabling better mobility for army on ground.

By this time, he secured logistics –

  • Brought his men in formation
  • Involved “The Mukti Bahini” – a local militia group of Bengali nationalists in the operation by establishing multiple training camps for them.
  • Posted a strike division with few tank formations on Western border – to be ready for intrusive strikes from Pakistan.
  • Mobilised the Northern command to repel the Chinese
  • Ensured the medical teams are read and on standby
  • Equipped the army with bridges and arms
  • Consolidated and coordinated the air force and navy towards one objective

Lastly, he displayed his strategic acumen by not following the conventional British army strategy of confronting the enemy on one –on- one basis. He knew the enemy would be holding key towns and highways so he instructed his commanders to leave highways and proceed on by-lanes towards Dacca their main objective. Capturing it before UN could intervene.

He had secured air force to simultaneously destroy all air defences in East Pakistan and “Air drop” army men. Thus, attacking the East Pakistan from north, south, east and west with army, navy and air force. Encircled the West Pakistan with INS Vikrant in Arabian sea and similarly in Bay of Bengal.

Lesson –

Professional knowledge and professional competence are a sine qua non of leadership. Unless you know what you are talking about, unless you understand your profession, you can never be a leader”.

Decision –Making –

Throughout his career, he took decisive actions. During the 1971 war, which led to Bangladesh’s liberation. He took prompt, well-informed decisions with careful planning which demonstrated his steadfast devotion to his nation.

Also he remained composed and calm in the face of chaos which is the hallmark of an effective leadership.

Lesson –

Take a decision and then accept full responsibility for as Sam would say – “An act of omission is much worse than an act of commission.”


Be courageous enough to face consequences or adversaries in life. When Sam was shot with 6 bullets and on death bed. The doctor had decided to give up. Yet, there he was saying “Nothing happened, I was kicked by a donkey”


In face of any crises, he displayed mental and physical courage. Even his last words were “I am okay”

Ethics and integrity-

When former PM Indira Gandhi wanted to launch an attack. Sam denied the war. He spoke his mind irrespective of the ministers and PM herself.  He gave his honest opinion and showed his integrity by not compromising in the face of political pressures.

To the extent that he had even snubbed the Defence Secretary for addressing his fellow soldier as “You there! Open the window!”

He immediately intervened the Defence Secretary saying – “Mr. Secretary, don’t you ever address my Officers in that tone of voice. You may however say, “Sam, would you please open that window, and I will open the window for you. That Officer you called out to is a Colonel, and not- ‘You there’.”


He spoke the truth and did what was right without the fear of consequences. Be it stopping Indira Gandhi from entering the Ops room or saying “No” when needed. He acted with integrity.

Trust –

His subordinates and commanders respected him for they trusted him. This trust wasn’t a blind trust. It was because he displayed competence, honesty and justice. He treated everybody in a just and fair manner irrespective of their family backgrounds.

Once he had denied the Defence Minister’s order of using soldiers as construction workers. He stood up for them saying – they are soldiers who are trained to fight the enemy not to be used as cheap labour.

Lesson –

He trusted his officers and gave them credit whenever required. Engaged with them and encouraged them to take up responsibility. A true leader is one who empowers others and not the one who keeps being authoritative.


It’s not the military discipline but the way he behaved and conducted himself that must be imbibed as a quality.

Once we took a decision, he went executing it without procrastination. It’s the persistent and consistent efforts that make a difference.

Lead with Humour-

Given the fact that soldiers have to fight in tense situations and with their lives on stake. His communication style had a mix of his wittiness. He used this to reduce stress and at times to build good rapport with them.


A good leader is one who knows how to communicate. When to speak and how to speak.

He once said- “One of the important things for a good officer is a sense of humour and a sense of proportion.”


To sum up, the leadership legacy of Field Marshal Sam Maneskshaw is a testimony of bravery and wisdom that transcends the battlefield. His ability to lead by example, decisiveness, empowering his team, and acting with integrity are timeless lessons for leaders of all fields.

His legacy serves as a guiding light for all the aspiring leaders of future – to lead with principles of dedication, humility, and an unwavering commitment towards greater good.

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