Kalam and using your Office of Influence for the Greater Good

The passing of President APJ Abdul Kalam earlier this week has left us marvelling in many ways. There are those of us who marvel at the way he went- in a painless, quick, way, almost in a way of his choosing; there are others who marvel at his life, from humble small town boy in Tamil Nadu to premier rocket scientist (yes, his work was rocket science !) to President of India, and yet others who marvel at his work ethic, his zeal for life, his enthusiasm, his belief in India.

While there is much to be learnt from Dr Kalam, and no doubt much will be written about him in the days and weeks to come, probably one of the biggest lessons we can all learn from him is how to use influence for good. He leveraged the office of the President to put forth his ideas for the development of the country, to galvanise the youth, to urge us to dream, to show us what could be. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say that he used his office for the Greater Good far more effectively than did all his predecessors and successors put together (all of who are in any case perceived by the general public across a spectrum ranging from aloof and far away to comically incompetent). 

Dr Kalam realised that while the President’s office was constitutionally ceremonial, it had the power and influence to allow him to touch every citizen of the country. During his tenure, President Kalam met children, adults, communicated his dreams, his ideas, inspired people, got them to dream, and badgered many hapless high-and-mighty visitors with his PowerPoints about when and how we would be a developed country, all the time using the official machinery his office allowed him in the most effective way. Those of us who knew of him from his days as a scientist got to know him better, while those who had not heard of him before, went away feeling proud and inspired. 

While his predecessors may not have been imaginative enough to understand the power of their office to do good, or may not have had the inclination, once Dr Kalam had shown the way, there was nothing to stop his successors from also using the office similarly. But alas, as we all know, that has not happened.

And that brings me to the nub of this blog post- our willingness to use our offices of influence for the greater good, should we choose to. Not all of us have the power and reach of the Indian Presidency, but in out own way, in our own space, we are influential, and we hold offices of influence. We can propagate ideas we want to, to an audience that respects us enough to listen to us, and who will be influenced by us. We too can reach out, we can use our own stories to inspire others, we can help others dream, and yet others build the path to their dreams.

But most of the time, we tend to see the glass as half empty, rather than half full. We look at our offices of influence, and see what we’re constrained by, not what we can achieve. I have, and I’m sure so have many of us, been astonished at various times about how powerless and jobless our presidents can be. Yet, along came President Kalam, turned things on their head, challenged long held beliefs about what a President could and could not do (was making a PowerPoint presentation on ending poverty lowering the dignity of the Office?), and achieved stupendous things!

So think about your own office of influence, and think about 

  • what you can achieve, 
  • what you are constrained by, 
  • how you can remove those constraints, 
  • what assumptions and long held beliefs/ traditions are holding you back
  • what’s the impact of challenging those assumptions
  • what’s the message you want to deliver and to who (Dr Kalam was very clear- children and the youth were the future, and it was to them that he talked)
  • what impact you can have should you choose to do so

And as you move along, taking to and trying to convince others, and it gets tough, as no doubt it will, remember the Missile Man who’s inspired us like no other President before. Remember his unwavering faith in his dream- the dream for this country, and draw energy from that for your dream, for the message you want to propagate.Many people across all walks of life lined up to pay their respects to Dr Kalam as his body lay in state in Delhi. Many more attended his funeral in Rameshwaram. But using your office of influence, whatever it may be, to spread your message of good, whatever that may be, is the best way to pay tribute to this great man.

RIP Kalam.