M.S. Rao is one of the most recognizable names in business education in India. He was also nearly one of millions of victims of the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic.
An acclaimed speaker and the author of more than 50 books, Rao contracted Covid in early 2022. It caused a stroke and he lost function in parts of his body, including his right hand. He was bedridden for 5 months.
Recovering from his home in Delhi, the Indian Air Force veteran, longtime educator and consultant, and “father of soft leadership” tells Poets&Quants that “I am passionate about teaching, writing, speaking, and consultancy. I will return to the classroom soon. I will author books. My message is to be resilient. Never give up.”
PRACTITIONERS OF ‘SOFT LEADERSHIP’ INCLUDE GANDHI, MLK, DALAI LAMA
Named by Thinker360 as a #1 influencer in entrepreneurship, culture, and business strategy, Rao is an international leadership expert and acclaimed executive coach, educator, author, speaker, and consultant with 40 years’ experience in leadership development. Until his illness, he taught in private institutions in India and conducted training programs for various corporates and educational institutions — work he intends to continue when he is fully recovered. Among his most well-known works are See the Light In You, 21 Success Sutras For Leaders, and Vision 2030: One Million Global Leaders. The latter book highlights his passion for students and vision for India to grow as an economic superpower through the training of a million student leaders; he says so far he has taught and trained more than 50,000 toward the goal.
Rao is perhaps best known as the “father of soft leadership,” emphasizing such traits as character, charisma, and conscience to effectively lead organizations. He points to historical examples: Benjamin Franklin, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, and the Dalai Lama all practiced or practice soft leadership, Rao says, contributing extensively to society and making a difference in the lives of others.
“Soft leadership,” Rao wrote in CEOWorld in 2020, “is not a submissive leadership or a lame-duck leadership but an assertive leadership where soft leaders adopt pleasing and polite communication to execute their tasks. It is a blend of courageous leadership, thought leadership, servant leadership, and inspirational leadership. Succinctly, soft leadership can be defined as the process of setting goals; influencing people through persuasion; building strong teams; negotiating them with a win-win attitude; respecting their failures; handholding them; motivating them constantly; aligning their energies and efforts; recognizing and appreciating their contribution in accomplishing organizational goals and objectives with an emphasis on soft skills. It is based on the right mindset, skillset, and toolset.”
IN A FAST-CHANGING WORLD, ‘SOFT LEADERSHIP IS VERY MUCH ESSENTIAL’
As Rao tells P&Q, soft leadership “can be defined as the process of setting goals; influencing people through persuasion; building strong teams; negotiating them with a win-win attitude; respecting their failures; handholding them; motivating them constantly; aligning their energies and efforts; recognizing and appreciating their contribution in accomplishing organizational goals and objectives with an emphasis on soft skills. It is based on the right mindset, skillset, and toolset.
“Since the world is changing fast, this leadership perspective is very much essential.”
B-schools have a vital role to play, Rao says. As they face a need to evolve and reinvent, he says, opportunities abound.
“The future of management education is promising globally despite being beset with several challenges presently,” Rao says. “B-schools must take corrective measures and adopt innovative methods in course curriculum and teaching pedagogy.
“There must be coordinated efforts from all stakeholders including industry, educational institutions, faculty, students, parents, thought leaders, non-profits, and governments to ensure relevance and achieve excellence in management education globally.”
See the next pages for Poets&Quants’ interview with soft leadership guru M.S. Rao about the present and future of management education in India and globally.