Secrets of our leaders

In my last post, I invited you to think about what was causing a part of the Trongsa Dzong wall to be perpetually wet.

“Andrea” and “YPenjor” put forward some good guesses. But, alas, modern cement is not to blame. It isn’t a hidden lake. And sub-terrain water seepage is not the cause. Nor is leakage from the rooftop. Or seepage from recent plumbing.

The answer is history.  Yes, history!

No one could quite tell what was causing that particular part of the wall to stay wet throughout the year. And that wet patch would not be covered by modern cement or traditional clay or lime whitewash.

So finally, a small part of the inner wall was broken to investigate what was causing the wall to get wet. But it turned out that that wall was not the inner wall. Instead, it revealed a secret chamber, one that was full of rock salt!

Salt, as we all know, attracts moisture. And because the secret chamber stored salt, its outer wall was always wet.

During the old days, when our country was closed to the outside world, salt, which couldn’t be produced domestically, was a precious commodity. All of it was imported from Tibet in the form of rock salt. Our early rulers obviously stored as much of it as possible, to be used whenever the source was cut off.

The idea, it seems, was to ensure that excessive dependence did not compromise our sovereignty. If so, that idea is even more relevant today.

The inner wall, and its valuable contents, has since been resealed.

But the next time you visit the Chokhor Rabtentse Dzong in Trongsa, look for that wet patch. It’s on the wall facing the Taa Dzong. Imagine what other secrets lie within and behind those walls.

And marvel at the great extents our leaders have gone to, to nurture and protect our national security and sovereignty.

Portrait of a Leader

Ahead of her time

Mieko Nishimizu sat in silence, absorbing every word on her laptop screen.

It was the 16th of December 2006.  The sun had not yet risen over her home in the British Virgin Islands. And she’d just received the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s last Kasho – a simple announcement abdicating the Golden Throne and handing over the responsibilities of Druk Gyalpo to our new King, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

As tears welled up in her eyes, she reminded herself that she had anticipated this announcement, not in 2008 as most of us expected, but much earlier, on the National Day of 2006. And that she had been prepared.

She had been prepared, because she had been captivated by the quality of His Majesty’s leadership ever since she first visited Bhutan in October 1997. And she had long determined that His Majesty, being the great leader that he was, would “… know when to leave, and to act on that knowledge when the time is right – and to do so for nothing other than a higher purpose, bigger than life.”

During the year that followed the last Kasho, Dr Nishimizu – a former vice president of the World Bank, and self-styled “leadership mentor” – poured over that and the other royal decrees issued in the course of His Majesty’s 34 years of reign. The result was Portrait of a Leader – Through the Looking-Glass of His Majesty’s Decrees, a tribute to and a celebration of an extraordinary leader.

In Portrait of a Leader, Dr Nishimizu reproduces 51 of His Majesty’s decrees in the original Dzongkha versions and their English translations. And, because of their historical significance, she includes three Kuensel articles. But the book is more than just a compilation of the royal decrees and newspaper clippings. Instead, she draws on her personal experiences and powerful insights into the rare world of successful leadership to organize and present the decrees according to what she calls eight dimensions of leadership.

Dr Nishimizu introduces each of her eight leadership dimensions – foresight, humility, head-and-heart conviction, good management, emotional intelligence, sensing the closure, empowering the people, and the perfect departure – with a crisp account of the importance of that leadership dimension. She then illustrates how the royal decrees clearly signal that His Majesty was “truly ahead of the times” on every one of the eight dimensions of leadership.

On “head-and-heart conviction”, for example, she writes that the royal decrees confirm that His Majesty’s “body, speech and mind” are perfectly aligned, and that “The focus on the sovereignty and the people of Bhutan – along with an unvarying aspiration for their happiness – is evident throughout.”

On “true power” she details His Majesty’s “focus on devolution of power to the people” including the decentralization of authority to local governments, devolution of executive powers to an elected cabinet, establishment of constitutional bodies, drafting of the Constitution and the introduction of parliamentary democracy.

And on “humility”, she refers to His Majesty as the complete “servant-leader.”

Dr Nishimizu’s carefully crafted portrait of His Majesty as a leader ahead of the times is ultimately a gift to the people of Bhutan. She concludes her preface with a solemn wish “that the people of Bhutan and of nations beyond, both of today and of morrow, would look to His Majesty as their role model so that they too can exercise their own leadership.”

Today, the 11th of November, is the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s 55th birth anniversary. It is an auspicious occasion. And a fitting time to reflect on, and draw inspiration from, His Majesty’s golden reign … so that we too can exercise our own leadership.