This Astute Leader Inspired India to Rethink Metro Transit – by Naveen Lakkur

The World Thinking Day is an initiative started by the Scouts and Guides movement. Over the years, their “thinking day” changed to “World Thinking Day”. Every year since 2005 a theme is decided and discussed. In 2005, the theme was “Think about food” and in 2008, the theme was “think about water”.

The theme of this year’s “World Thinking Day” is “Leadership”. Let’s discuss a civil engineer who showed incredible leadership in giving birth to the mass urban rapid transit movement in India. Naveen Lakkur, Chief Innovation Officer at Institute of Inspiring Innovation introduces to you Dr. E. Sreedharan, popularly known in India as the “metro man” who was an innovative leader.

Reviving India’s rapid transit dreams

During the 70s, countries like India and China stepped into the urban rapid transit bandwagon. While China had a dream run, India’s dream collapsed. Its first metro project in Kolkata (Calcutta) was wrought with bureaucracy, cost overruns and frequent delays. The first 3.4 kilometers of metro Line 1 was opened 12 years after the foundation stone was laid. The entire line took more than two decades.

When it was decided that Delhi metro must be built to provide a mass rapid transit to the ever growing metropolis, people thought it was madness. More than easing traffic, the authorities had to quell skepticism. The Calcutta debacle had diminished people’s interest in mega projects and their faith in the system.

Delhi Metro Rail Corporation (DMRC) was set up as a joint venture that included the Govt. of India and the Govt. of Delhi. It took up the challenge and set to burst through the infamous red tape of Indian bureaucracy. They needed innovative leadership who would not buckle under pressure of any kind.

Dr. Sreedharan after he successfully implemented the Konkan Railway, was appointed as the Managing Director. He was already an example in leadership and project management, evident by his efforts in completing the Konkan Railway project.

leadership traits

Examples of his leadership

  1. Dr. Sreedharan had autonomy in recruitment, delegation, and decision making. He was able to build a great team with reliable talented resources, further divided to perform specific tasks. Being a civil engineer himself, he visualized and strategized the project at every step.
  2. He had a huge financial requirement to implement Phase 1. He approached and convinced the Japanese government to fund the project, who managed to fund 60% of the required amount.
  3. He devised the reverse clock theory at work so that all the tasks are completed which reflects his effective project management skills. This helped complete the project on time. A day’s delay would cost the Delhi metro Rs. 2.5 crores. Cost overrun means increased price of ride for the public.
  4. He set a work ethic for all employees and himself which included respect for time, punctuality, professional and social competence, and integrity. He always kept team morale high and his subordinates looked up to him.
  5. The team maintained a project planning software. The daily activities, cost analysis, schedule adherences were all documented in it. He personally maintained the project with daily site visits and stock taking, keeping everyone on their toes.
  6. Another example of his leadership is when the under-construction flyover in Delhi collapsed killing six people. Taking moral responsibility, he tendered his resignation to the then CM of Delhi.
  7. One time a vigilance inquiry was set up to investigate one of his subordinates. Dr. Sreedharan stepped in saying that he had acted on his instructions and hence the investigation must be against him. The investigating committee went through the case and sent him a commendation letter for the way he acted and supported his subordinate.

innovation leadership

As of today, Delhi metro is 327 kilometer in length, and it has given impetus to plan and construct the regional rapid transit trains in the same lines as S-Bahn of Germany. Delhi metro has taken many innovative approaches over the years like using driverless trains and going fully solar because of it came to be called as the, “World’s First Green Metro”.

Against all odds, he made the dream of Delhites come true. It stands as a testament to Dr. Sreedharan’s display of effective leadership traits, perseverance and innovation in project management.

Leave a comment

©2021 ADCO. All rights reserved