Thank you very much Dr. Chauhan and Dr. Singh for your kind introduction and for welcoming me here today. This is my first visit to Amity University, and I am most pleased to be here. It brings back many fond memories of my days in college, law school, and graduate school – a time in one’s life that is full of enthusiasm and opportunity.
It is a privilege for me to speak to such a distinguished audience of professors, educators, researchers, innovators, and, most of all, students who will be tomorrow’s leaders. I have been asked to talk about a very big topic: “Leadership in Diverse Cultural Contexts, Especially in the Context of U.S.-India Relations.”
There is, of course, a large literature on the subject of “leadership.” There are even courses taught about leadership in our universities. But, in my view, to really understand good leadership, you have to experience it. I have been extremely fortunate in my career to have had a broad range of varied experiences and, through them, have come to see and admire great leaders. So I would like to reflect briefly this morning on those experiences and offer some thoughts on the subject of leadership.
My career has involved work in both the public and private sectors. In the public sector, I have worked at the National Security Council and the National Economic Council in the White House, at the Department of State (the U.S. equivalent of the Ministry of External Affairs), at the Department of Commerce, and now, of course, as the United States Ambassador to India, living in your remarkable country. And in the private sector, I have worked at a large, multinational law firm, at a leading software technology company, and at a global investment firm. Throughout all of these endeavors, I have worked in the international context, occasionally living abroad and extensively dealing with other countries. Collectively, this has given me an opportunity to observe both good and not-so-good leaders, and to draw some lessons from that experience.
Leadership differs in various contexts and cultures. The skillset to lead a company or an organization that is vertically structured is different from the skillset appropriate to lead a partnership or a neighborhood community that is horizontally structured. And leading a complex, multinational organization, or especially a large country, has its own set of challenges. But, in my view, all great leaders have some of the same fundamental qualities regardless of the type of entity being led, or its historical or cultural context. Based on my experience, let me briefly try to describe these qualities, which I will divide into three segments – approach to life, personal qualities, and interactions with others.
First, in terms of approach to life, leaders must have a vision of where they want to go. What is the destination and how do I move my organization toward it? A leader must to be able to articulate that vision in a persuasive manner, inspiring others to follow. A good leader does not accept his environment as it is, but seeks to shape that environment into what it should be. A leader does not dwell on the many problems that arise, but focuses instead on finding solutions to them. A leader seeks results and is willing to take risks to get them. In my view, it is much worse to fail because you choose not to act, than to fail because you take a calculated risk and it simply does not work out.
A second set of qualities relates to an individual’s personal character. A leader is someone who has a strong sense of integrity – with strong ethical principles and high standards of excellence. A good leader is honest and honorable. She takes responsibility for her actions, is reliable in her commitments, and is willing to be held accountable for them. All of these personal characteristics engender respect.
Finally, it is important how a leader interacts with others. A good leader inspires confidence in others. A good leader earns that confidence, in part, by inspiring others to see their work as important, giving credit where it is due – and sometimes even when it is not fully due. He genuinely cares about others and pursues objectives that are for the broader benefit of the group, rather than for narrow self-interest.
This, in my view, is a good – though abstract – description of some of the essential qualities of great leaders. Let me now give these abstract qualities some context by referring to two specific moments in the U.S.-India relationship over the last 20 years that have presented challenges and required leadership.
The Transformation of U.S.-India Relations
First, I want to take us back to the time frame of 2001. It was during this period that the transformation of the U.S.-India relationship truly began and pointed us toward our strategic partnership of today. It was the vision of our two leaders at the time – Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Bush – who stimulated this transformation. President Bush had the simple, yet visionary, idea that the world’s oldest democracy – the United States – and the world’s largest democracy – India – should get along much better than they had until that time. These two democracies shared many of the same values, and there was a natural connection between our people. Prime Minister Vajpayee, for his part, referred to the United States and India as “natural allies.” He too was wedded to the notion that our two nations should have a much closer and more significant relationship. It was the simplicity and the clarity of this vision – persuasively articulated by our two leaders – that propelled our relationship forward.
I was fortunate to be involved in the early years of this transformation when I was Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce. One of the key policy issues at the time involved India’s desire to readily receive increasingly sensitive levels and quantities of “dual-use” U.S. technology – that is, technology that can be used for military and civilian purposes. This was a challenging and complicated issue for both countries. While India sought increased access to this technology, the United States needed to ensure that the technology would be used solely by the designated recipients for the agreed-upon purposes. This required a sophisticated system of export controls – which, candidly, India did not have at the time.
Our initial exchanges on this subject were quite formal and somewhat strained, due to the wide gulf between our positions. However, we soon developed a series of reciprocal steps to enable us to gain confidence and move forward. And what a long way we have come. Today, India celebrates its membership in three of the four multilateral export control regimes. At the same time, the United States has gone from a restrictive policy regarding the export of dual-use items to India to a much more liberal one.
This change came about because of the way we approached each other and conducted our negotiations. It began with respect. While U.S. and Indian diplomats certainly pursued their respective national interests, we always listened carefully to each other, sought to understand each other’s point of view, and searched for commonalities and mutually-beneficial solutions. Even when we disagreed, we still trusted and accepted each other because of the fundamental set of interests we shared. This enabled us to work through disagreements and move forward without animosity or rancor, and certainly without jeopardizing our relationship.
Another critical attribute of our approach was confidence. Because we believed in each other’s good intentions, we felt confident in occasionally taking risks – even big risks – that could ultimately help us reach our desired destination. And, finally, we demonstrated resilience. We appreciated the big picture, and bounced back from disappointments or setbacks that inevitably occurred along the way. And, of course, it certainly helped to have a good sense of humor.
These qualities – respect, trust, acceptance, confidence, resilience, and good humor – were critical to the success we achieved. And, in my view, they exemplified some of the best qualities of leadership.
Principles for the Indo-Pacific Region
Let us now move forward 18 years – about the age of some of you here today – to the present and discuss a new challenge in U.S.-India relations. The tectonic plates of world affairs have been shifting in the last few years, especially in the region we now refer to as the Indo-Pacific. This region, which stretches from the east coast of Africa to the west coast of the United States, encompasses the world’s largest and fastest-growing economies, and its most populous nations. Its waters contain many of the vital chokepoints for global trade. Its geography is rich in natural resources. And it is fast becoming the center of gravity of the evolving international system.
We have witnessed over the last several years the rapid rise of China. This includes its strong economic growth, the modernization of its military, and its increased presence and influence in areas beyond its borders, including the Indian Ocean and the countries of South Asia. Many of China’s neighbors and other countries in the region are uncomfortable with how Beijing uses its new-found power. All of this poses questions for the future of the Indo-Pacific.
Of course, India and the United States are situated in this region differently – both geographically and historically. India has China on its border and has a long history of interaction with the Chinese going back thousands of years. The United States, on the other hand, though having a significant presence in the Indo-Pacific region, has its major land mass at a large geographic distance from the region and, as a relatively young country, has a much less extensive history.
In light of these circumstances, our two countries do not always approach every issue in the Indo-Pacific in the same manner. Yet, over the last few years, we have seen that our leaders share a common set of concerns and interests, which has led to them to articulate a common vision for this region. It is a vision of ensuring a free and open Indo-Pacific, operating under a rules-based order. It is a vision that promotes respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, and guarantees freedom of navigation, over-flight, and commerce. It is a vision that ensures that territorial and maritime disputes are resolved peacefully, consistent with international law. It is a vision that seeks to promote free and fair trade, the use of responsible debt-financing practices, and the transparent development of infrastructure. And, of course, it is a vision that seeks to preserve regional security, prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and eliminate the awful scourge of terrorism.
The leaders of our two countries are in the early stages of articulating these principles and seeking to build an architecture for the peaceful and open development of the Indo-Pacific. Both countries have made clear that these principles are inclusive, and we welcome working with any nation that embraces them.
The challenge now is to build out the architecture that supports these principles. The actions that we and other like-minded countries take over the next few years will have a significant impact on how this region – and, indeed, how the world – will look 15, 25, and even 50 years from now. To be honest, I am not exactly sure how this will all play out. But it is up to those of us in India, the United States, and other like-minded countries to build this architecture brick-by-brick, so that what we construct will be an enduring structure that contributes to the peace, security, and prosperity of the region and the world.
The great advantage that the United States and India have in meeting this challenge is the extensive people-to-people relationship that exists between our two countries. That relationship is perhaps best exemplified by the large Indian diaspora in the United States that fully engages in American life, yet still maintains close ties to India.
Those here in this auditorium – especially the students – are the future custodians of these strong people-to-people ties. Through your education, through your opportunities to travel and participate in exchange programs, through your interactions via technology and other means, young Indians and young Americans can profoundly affect the future of the Indo-Pacific and the world.
It is therefore my fervent hope that you will embrace the leadership qualities that we have discussed today, so that, together, we can build a better tomorrow.
Thank you very much.