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Advance automation work environments and the causes of failures of the conventional Indian managerial style

 Imagine working on a product-tanker ship , with slender crew on board , just 17 or so, and of multinational denomination.

In your understanding, what type of leadership and the management style will serve best to operate such a ship?

And now imagine if you have to do training and teaching all the time with those 17 crew instead of the regular Planned Maintenance Schedule jobs. How easy or difficult would it be to you?


The leadership and the management style of an Indian is usually derived, in my thinking , from the models of a tea-estate plantation manager .

Tea plantation was the first industrialized activity ever done by the mankind. It is to be remembered that  our country, India , is the biggest producer of Tea in the world. The European traders came to India as mariners, via sea route, for her riches of the spices. Tea, a small shrub, is also one such spices which caught the interest of the European traders, but at that time it would be found only as some wild growth in some remote forest place. The British, as they realised the potential profits that tea could bring to them, decided to grow tea as a domesticated farm product. That would mean that now the native indians were required to be domesticated too, to work as the Industrial farm labourers, who could be used for the growing of the tea. Indians , until then were casual "villagers"(the non-industrial persons) with their interest confined to the agricultural fields and the soldiery work. "Villagers" were the people who did not know what it was like to work for any interest beyond the service of the agricultural fields and the king, as his soldier . An industrial labour gives his service for the interest centering around money, whereas a casual villager works merely to fill his stomach and to save his life from the fury of the king,
It took the British to coin out the money and to cultivate interest of the villager type Indians in that money in order to make the Industrial labourers out of them. The domestication of the lifestyle and the cultivation of interest in money of the villager Indians was not an easy challenge before the British. The mechanics of domestication of the people was same as the sheep-and-the-dog tactics used by the shepherds. A more aggressive natured person was picked from the Indian people, and then reigned in , ridden like an young colt, who may in turn , use his aggression to control the large mass. This young colt was the classical tea-estate manager.

So, what kind of leadership and the managerial style leads to the production of the Tea in such large volume ?

A traditional Tea estate manager , in my views, was and is, a very cunning, deceitful, manipulative , exploitative person who abused the illiterate Tea plantation worker - physically, economically and even sexually at times, which perhaps led to the rise of the Marxist ideologies among the masses where ever Tea Plantation was being done at an Industrial scale. This observation may perhaps best explain the common factor in why the Left Ideology political parties are dominating in both , the West Bengal and Kerela. The common-factor reasoning is that both are the places where Tea Plantation at an Industrial scale was started in India by the British.

But my interest is to decipher the kind of managerial style - which I would call by a name-  the Conventional managerial style-  that one should expect from an average Indian. In my thinking Management and the Leadership is something that comes to man , both in the Natural format , and the school-trained polished format.

Therefore , even if a person is not exposed to any formal learning , it would be wrong of us to assume that the person doesn't have any managerial style of his own. Rather , the question we should seek to know is - what kind of managerial style should we expect from a person who has had no formal lessoning of the different managerial style and the Leadership courseware . This question is more important to be answered, because, as we can see, the informal (or the non-school trained) style or the the natural format style is what is more prevalent and is what is more regularly practiced by the people.

It is here that our Tea-estate managerial style model comes into picture, because this is the closest explanation of the informal model . A basic understanding of how a Tea estate worker accomplishes his task, and a model of how his estate manager deals with him - will give the best picture of what kind of managerial style one should expect from an average Indian . 

Indeed one may also explore , through this model, why the Nawabi - The Raja babu or the 'velvet gloves'" leadership style of a Lucknowi person may be loathed by the people of the Tea-estate regions .

Having worked on ships which had very lean level of manning , my views are that such ships can be handled only when the crew members are already well-trained , post-beginner level , whom I would like to refer to as the "professional". The idea in my usage of the word "professional" can be best understood by comparing it with the terms "amateur " or the "beginner".

So, these ships are the ones where a shipping company can obtain the best profits only when they have spent enough towards the crew salary so as to pick the most "professional" level crew members from the labour market.  

This theory about the selection of the crew for a slim-manned ship goes well with the level of automation that the ship has been provided with. The shipowners may never obtain profits from their spending on the automation technology unless they operate the ship as per the standards that they have conceived in the design and the construction of the ship . Advance level Automation is a very useful means of saving the potential losses to the ship owners from factors such as delays in time, improving the efficiency with respect to the manual operation. Automation, thus, saves losses to the ship owners from the crew inefficiency related causes. Such crew-inefficiency related losses occur  in terms of training of the crew, Supervision , the overtime component of their salary , and such on. 

But the Automation comes with another price tag of its own. That, the skill standards required of the crew  to operate the automation of ships must be of the "professional" level. Otherwise the Automation will start working just the opposite of what it is intended for.

Now that we know that the crew of leanly-manned automated ships is having the skill of the standards designated as the "professional" level,  try making a guess what leadership style should be the best style to be practiced on such ships ? 

To put the question more straight - which is the best style of Leadership to be practiced in an environment where the workers are suppose to be of "professional" level skill standards ?

I was working on ships where the Company , the ship owners, discouraged the practice of giving overtime related salaries altogether . 

Now, that makes the challenge of Managerial style even more straight . But this handicap on the manager gives a hint to our query of the working style of the manager .

When the crew is not expected to be given a reward in term of the overtime payment, the answer is that the shipowners want the crew and officer to work only within the defined framework of the the Standards Operation Procedure or the SOPs. The crew, whose skill level is Advanced enough , is expected to know how to execute out their task. The only issue is that they only have to do their tasks while keeping within the framework of the SOPs, which means without any expectations of the extraneous reward such as the overtime allowance. 

By the way, what does it speak about the ship owner's idea of what is the overtime payment ? 

 The shipowners think that the Overtime payment is a "rewarding and a punishing tool" given to the person in managerial role for no good reason because that way the overtime payment is often crookedly secured by the crew, but which is a loss to the ship owner's pocket. On ships where the crew is known to be of the skill level of "beginner /amateur "; and that the overtime payment system is practiced, it is observable that the overtime "reward/punishment" system works - more often- to destroy or damage the machinery ,  which the crew is habituated to do for creating an artificial justification ploy for not conforming with the pre-defined framework of the SOPs . 

Now that is a complex truth to understand. But we must take out time and apply our minds , to think it out.


More about the tea-estate managerial style : -

The conventional , tea-estate style of person in a managerial role , has an in-built cultural attitude where a cat-and-mice game is played between the workers and the managers, somewhat like the tom-and-jerry show . The worker have a cultural skills to skive off the task, to fail the task and to blame the cause of failure to something that the manager is supposed to be responsible for. 

And the manager bear their cultural skills to identify some person whom he may put as a guinea pig - to send out his message of discipline. He knows it, culturally, to how to humiliate, insult, demoralize and to discipline the selected guinea pig person. 

The game sets on by itself in any work space where there are sufficient Indian people are around. It is during this psychological game that the human values, (the human considerations for a fellow human) are also used as a coin to hit out against each other . Within this managerial work environment, a manager who allows for the humane consideration to his worker is seen as emotionally weak to have succumbed to the coin  thrown by the worker at him.

Since, in the tea-estate managerial style , the human consideration are , inter alia, used as the attack weapons , therefore , the manager is expected  to be hardened , and often cruel or even inhuman in his ways. Obviously ,the Lucknowi style, where Tea is not grown, but merely sipped and enjoyed, such a  managerial style is loathed . But , in turn , the Tea-estate managers who are from the plantation regions of India, see the Lucknowi 'velvet glove' managerial style itself as impotent , powerless , and inefficient. 

However , the work environment that I am referring about --  the slim-manned ship having crew member of multiple nationality , a barriers come into play when a traditional tea-estate style manager is put into it. The ideal relationship between the worker and the manager must be centered around the willingness, and the sincerity of the commitment made to each other. But the cat-and-mice game tea-estate  managerial style is filled with insincerity. 

The tea-estate manager is not acquainted with the ideal of sincerity. Neither does he know how to honour the free-will of a person. Being crooked comes as naturally to the tea-plantation manager as is the poison to a serpent. But a lean-manned, hi automation level ship can hardly afford insincerity of the crew  and the officers. 

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