Amit Lodha has won the President’s Police Medal for gallantry, the President's Police Medal for meritorious service, and an Internal Security Medal. So famous are this cop's real-life exploits in chasing dreaded gangsters in Bihar that they make the plot of his debut bestselling book Bihar Diaries – which is being made into a Bollywood thriller by Neeraj Pandey. Lodha, now deputy inspector general, Border Security Force, has converted his lessons as a permanently stressed cop with little resources and often worried about the safety of his family into a series of management lessons on team and time management. He spoke about these to Fortune India.
Tell us about your most challenging and daring exploit and what did you learn about efficiency, resource allocation and time management from it?
The most challenging task was the arrest of the man I have named Samant Pratap (alias) in my book. I was going through a personal crises, a mildly depressing phase, when I was posted to Sheikhpura, a really small and underdeveloped area (in Bihar) to arrest Samant who had killed an entire family few days ago. Samant was a feared criminal who was wanted in the murder of at least 40 people, including an ex-Member of Parliament, a block development officer and a few policemen. He ruled with an iron fist in at least four districts of Bihar. Our resources were limited and the police was constantly worried where would Samant strike again. I had to use of lot of unconventional methods of policing considering the limited resources. I also used mobile technology to the fore. A core team of just three trusted police would report to me every day on the progress of the case. It was a race against time as Samant could strike in any village at any time. I practically did not sleep for three months as I was always listening on mobile phones or going out to raid the hideouts of Samant. And in the middle of all this mayhem, I also took some time out to play with my 6-month-old daughter. Of course, there has been a grave risk to life in our encounters with Naxalites and even in facing mobs.
What lessons of stress management have you learnt from the threats you have faced to you and your family's life?
A risk to my life or for that matter any policeman’s life is a professional hazard that all policemen have signed up for. In the heat of things, in grave crises or any dangerous mission a policeman doesn’t think much. It’s a part of his job. We prepare as professionals after assessing the situation, plan and organize backup depending on the available time. Of course, we work as a team which is extremely important. And yes, sometimes we do get concerned about our family’s safety as there is still a clear and present danger to my family.
What are the key leadership lessons that you have learnt and from which experience through your career?
To be a good leader, you should lead by example. Simple. I can’t and should not expect my men to do things which I can’t. For instance, if my men used to go the Naxal-infested jungles every day of the week, then I would also lead an operation at least once a week. I also experienced very well that a subordinate policeman will lay this life for the senior. But that loyalty had to be earned. You can’t demand it. As a senior police officer, one has to stand by his subordinates, defend their actions if fair and legal. A senior officer should praise the lower functionaries in police and give them due credit. Of course, they have to be reprimanded in private.
How do you apply these leadership lessons every day?
I make a schedule and try to plan for exigency. Though an unforeseen situation can occur anytime for a policeman, even then we can bring things under control if we work in a professional manner. For example, for the Lok Sabha election in Gaya I started working four months in advance. I prioritise my work as I know very well that I cannot solve all the humongous problems a district faces. I also delegate work to my subordinates accordingly to their expertise and give them a reasonable time frame to deliver results. And I keep my faith in my juniors.
What is your thinking on how organisations are structured based on your real life experiences?
Policing is one of the most challenging yet immensely satisfying jobs. In my humble opinion, a lot of corporates and professionals can learn from the efficiency and effectiveness of the police. The limited resources, the constant race against time, constant scrutiny of media and the public put tremendous pressure on an average policeman, yet when the police decide to solve a problem, it invariably succeeds. Though the Indian police is not ideal it is doing a reasonable job in tackling a plethora of problems despite one of the lowest police to public ratios in the world.