Nagda Express : Journey of Leadership

Nagda Express has no connection with Chennai express. However it was equally interesting and eventful. In this story, Nagda is not the name of a train or a place. Nagda is the surname of one of our batch mates at INSEAD. Nagda was one among all till second last module. Our last module was scheduled at Fontainebleau, France. We were to make travel arrangement to France from India. This was the time when Nagda sent a mail to the entire batch. Leadership starts with a small step.
Nagda would not have anticipated before sending the mail that what he was getting into. Nagda planned to travel to Switzerland after the completion of module. Nagda went to a travel agency for booking his ticket. After learning negotiation at INSEAD, Nagda could not resist negotiation with travel agent and found that if group booking is done then big discount is possible. Nagda had 90 batch mates. Nagda was excited and estimated that almost everyone would jump at the offer if price is right. He negotiated an attractive price with the travel agency for a group of 90 people. Now he had a value proposition. Nagda wrote a mail to the batch with a value proposition. Leaders always have a compelling value proposition.
There were early adopters. Batch mates wrote encouraging mails which gave confidence to Nagda and convinced some other people to join the wagon. Nagda kept pushing by sending encouraging emails to the batch to get the magic number committed to travel agency. Some of the batch mates straight away declined and created few other options of Spain, Italy, Germany and Brussels. In total only fifteen batch mates signed up for the trip with. This was the first setback but Nagda did not give up. Nagda encouraged the batch mates to bring their families along and brought the number of travellers to thirty eight. Leaders do not give up, they try to find ways.
Next challenge was to book the tickets. Travel agency told Nagda that group booking should have one common date of arrival and departure. In this group families had a different date of arrival. Nagda started influencing people to change dates of travel. Nagda checked with INSEAD and found that it is possible to get accommodation for family at a reasonable price. Most of the people changed the dates and thanked Nagda for the facilitation. Leaders influence instead of using force.
After tickets the next priority was to get visa. People requested Nagda to arrange for visas. Generally travel agencies booking for tours arrange for visas. The catch here was that visa is issued by the government of France whereas everyone was expecting Nagda will get the visa done. Nagda only had limited control on travel agency who was actually helpless. This is a situation similar to where shareholders expect CEO to deliver in uncertain markets. Process, perseverance, patience and poise deliver the results.  
There were continuous follow ups. People used to call Nagda asking about the status. Nagda patiently talked to everyone and gave confidence. With all hitches, Nagda got visas done for all the passengers. Nagda did not lose his cool on anyone during this period. Scope of work for Nagda was not limited to just booking tickets and getting visas. Travel agency lost passports for three families at railway station. Nagda went to railway police station quickly and got the passports retrieved. Nagda was also co-ordinating with people so that they reach airport in time. Leaders do not lose their cool.
People reached Fontainebleau and within no time, it was the time to leave Fontainebleau. This was the time for Nagada express to start. Nagda collected everyone, coordinated with the driver and the journey from Fontainebleau to Paris started. Nagda took a sigh of relief. But hard part was not over yet. As the Bus entered Paris, a traffic police van stopped the Bus. They asked driver to step down and show papers. Driver was not carrying papers. Traffic police called for the backup. Policemen in different uniform appeared. Police declared that they are taking the driver with them and all the passengers will have to get down and walk their way to Paris. Troubles have a habit of finding leaders.
The day plan was messed up. Nagda talked to the Travel Agency and decided to take everyone to Eiffel tower. It was a fifteen minute walk. Luckily Paris police was genuine and just wanted to check papers, the Bus was back in the afternoon. In this hard time, many passengers stepped up to help. Nagda started delegating activities. People want their leader to be successful. Success of the leader ensures success of the common goal. Delegation is the most important tool of Leaders.
After finishing Paris, next part of the adventure involved train journey. Nagda bought the tickets and all boarded the train. Nobody knew that ticket checkers take their job so seriously. Ticket checker first counted all but could not make out. Then ticket checker made Nagda to distribute the tickets and checked age of each and every passenger. Finally ticket checker concluded that there are two extra child tickets and Nagda Express is short of one adult ticket. Everyone in the group learned that how many adults, children and infants were travelling. Leaders must not only know their people, they must know the composition of their people.
The worst was yet to come. God wanted to test leadership of Nagda to the core. Nagda express reached Switzerland. Nagda was given a brief that government in Switzerland allow drivers to work only for certain hours in a day and they are to be paid tip every day. Switzerland bus driver could only speak German. Nagda had no option but to communicate with the driver. Even with the best of efforts from both sides, communication gap was huge. Nagda requested driver to switch on the AC. Driver switched on the TV. This is a typical situation where board expects CEO to deliver whereas employees do not understand CEO language. CEOs must understand language of employees along with the language of shareholders.

When the bus broke down

Nagda did not give up and kept communicating. There were shining moments when driver understood “Go round and round before going to hotel” expression of Nagda and took the passengers to the scenic places. Towards the end, driver was very upset with Nagda because driver was expecting Nagda to do certain things which Nagda was not even aware about. In mid of all this, the bus broke down. Driver was agitated and was trying to fix the bus. Nagda was not able to understand or explain driver finally decided to teach him yoga and advised driver to take deep breaths. Nagda called the travel agency to arrange for another bus. Driver called for a mechanic to fix the bus. Passengers (Shareholders) were looking for other options. Patience was the name of the game. Mechanic fixed the bus. Passengers (Shareholders) were not sure whether this bus will reach the destination. Shareholder confidence is a subjective measure of performance.
Owner of the travel agency tracked the bus and joined midway. He talked to the driver and understood that Bus is fine and there will not be any problem in reaching the destination. These words of assurance in their own language calmed down the passengers. Nagda was relieved of the pressure. Nagda never thought that one mail for good cause could lead to so much pressure. Leadership is a thankless job. Even then Nagda has gained relationships and respect of his colleagues, even those who were not part of Nagda express. People will not be able to forget Nagda Express in their life. by Harjeet Khanduja publishes HR relevant topics in layman language and redefines conventional concepts in current context without making HR too technical or complicated. Nagda Express : Journey of Leadership is inspired by a true incident and is a tribute to a dear friend Piyush Nagda and all INSEAD batchmates who boarded Nagda Express.