King Akbar was your quintessential ‘headhunters-could-kill-each-other-for’ leadership profile!
The Empire of the Mughals, during his reign, was vast and fabulously rich. Akbar’s lower taxes and rising conquests created prosperity for the people and floods of treasure! European visitors estimated that just one province of Akbar’s Empire, Bengal, was wealthier than France and England combined!
But what I find most intriguing about him was his program on ‘managing his high potential talent’. I am not a historian, by any stretch of imagination and could not distinguish the War of roses from the Chrysanthemum throne, but I can safely hazard that Akbar might have been the first leader in the world to truly respect diversity in talent, and manage them well!
His court had “Nava Ratna – The Nine Jewels of the Mughal Crown”.
These exceptional men were gifted in different areas:-
Tansen, was a singer so skilled that candles burst into flame at the mystical power of his song.
Daswant, was a painter who became First Master of the Age.
Todar Mal was a financial wizard.
Abul Fazl was a great historian, whose brother,
Faizi, was a famed poet.
Abud us-Samad was a brilliant calligrapher and designer of Imperial coins.
Man Singh was a mighty general.
Mir Fathullah Shirazi was a financier, philosopher, physician and astronomer.
But of all Akbar’s Nine Jewels, the people’s favorite was his Minister – or Wazir – Birbal: the clever, the generous, and the just.
Taking a leaf out of Akbar’s book, I can extract the following insights around talent management:
1) Left or right, make sure it’s one helluva good brain – You need to spot all the different kinds of intelligences that are needed. Provide a good nurturing environment to tap into them, provide them the right stretch and pique, and have rewards for each one!
2) Ensure they use each other’s skills – Just like the royal court, ensure you have the right practices in place so that they can share and motivate each other. I can imagine Tansen getting some inspiration for his renditions from Faizi’s profound verses!
3) Don’t nag your talent to become what they are not meant for – I can imagine what would have happened if Akbar insisted Todar Mal took painting lessons from Daswant and show results in the area of art as well. Maybe, he would have put in his papers and joined the cabinet of another emperor!
4) Give each one of them an equal piece of you – Man Singh is away at war most of the time. Here he returns, tired and weary, proud of his success on the battlefield, and finds out that Faizi was the only guy Akbar ever time for in THAT WHOLE WEEK! I am sure he’d head back, promptly, to another war, and, ensure they lost it.
5) Have a flair for sleuthing – What if Abul Fazl was actually riding on the talent of his brother, Faizi and, did not have clear accountabilities of his own? Often, people just have an ‘aura’ or, what we call ‘halo effect’ and don’t really DO work. Do you have a nose for sniffing that out?
6) If you have a favorite, downplay it – I’d be keen to know if the others envied/hated/made voodoo dolls of Birbal! Well, it’s hard not to have a preference for one or two people who really get those super results: just be subtle about it!
Finally, I would love to go back in time, meet Akbar, and ask him how he managed the expectations of the people who did not make it to the ‘Nine Jewels’ but, were good, and were needed to keep the kingdom-management sound and stable?
Did he call them ‘Semi-precious stones’ and had another committee?
Did he hide from them that there is a team called ‘Nine Jewels’?
Did he have a process which enabled them to apply for a seat in the ‘Nine Jewels’, if they showed some higher competence?
Even if he had any/all of these processes, would they have worked?