Leadership is not merely a trait; it is an attitude. We have before us the several types of leadership expounded by management scientists; ranging from born leaders to situational leaders; from transactional leaders to transformational leaders. In my study of “Leadership” as a subject of inquiry and learning, I came across the audacious “authentic leadership” too! It is difficult to imagine a leader who will not be authentic. It is true that goodness of man and leadership quality are neither synonymous in meaning nor are they even distant cousins. In history of men, there have been leaders who were great achievers of their own set of goals and objectives, but were not necessarily good men. (Readers disregard the male gender used here in this piece; it is certainly not to indicate any bias).
Leadership requires knowledge of the basic tenets of management but that’s not all, it demands abilities of conviction and faith in oneself. To be acceptable to others, one has to be acceptable to ownself. Richard Nixon referred to management as prose and leadership as poetry. In coining such a thought, it is obvious, that in his judgment, prose is easy and everybody can dabble in it; but poetry is difficult and requires a different level of imagination and completely distinct height in its expression. So, there is some romanticism and idealism attached to the concept of leadership. Hence, the quest of every thinking person to be a leader. There is no harm to pursue a position of leadership. In fact, every professional, including professional politicians should aspire for recognition as leader.
Since the subject of leadership is so vast with no boundaries or frontiers, here, I would like to dwell upon some obvious and basics of leadership, with focus on corporate leadership.
In a country or an entity, can a single person change everything himself? Not very difficult to conclude, that none can. A person who recognises this simple fact, has in him/ her the basic ingredient of leadership; because from this premise, begins the journey to find the like-minded; the talented, the hardworking, the virtuous - an assembly of people with diverse and different qualities that would ultimately lead to the emergence of a cohesive team. The ability to pitch best brains and have them surround is an essential for any leader. Abraham Lincoln inducted in his cabinet, the most formidable of his adversaries as he believed, they would best serve the interests of the country. Can we imagine this happening in our land of pure! “You are either with me or against me” is the mantra of most; leaving no room for middle road or the moderates. Typically, in a business entity, dissent to the “leader” is talked about, more as lip service, than as real requirement.
A manager, who by designation is a leader of people, and must therefore, be above board in handling business issues and internal conflicts. He must possess the knack to distinguish without sounding prejudiced or biased, between “issues” and the “personalities” involved. Most falter because of the lack of this ability; our preferences rules our minds while taking corporate decisions. Once the manager takes a decision, the minimum expectation, is that all colleagues will fall in line and as such their responses, will not be different from himself. A manager who shows no flexibility to listening to views of the team mates is essentially an obstinate person who subscribes not to diversity of opinion. My way or the high way is their slogan pasted in bold letters on their foreheads. Any colleague attempting to do contrary to his belief and attitude is with lightening speed waylaid.
Those lodging claims for being a leader cannot ill-afford the attitude of not handing out appreciation to colleagues. A good leader knows the true value of public and private recognition of the efforts of colleagues. This is a major tool of motivation that costs nothing in monetary terms, but yields the highest of returns to the organisation, both in short- and long-term. Those managers who fail to appreciate, actually, succeed to de-motivate. Leaders cannot be de-motivators. They will eventually lose the title of leader, whether acquired on de-jure basis or de-facto recognition. Inspiring other towards common cause is an essential leadership trait.
Have witnessed, some leaders in business, in a work environment who are actually wolves in sheep’s clothing - they are extremely pleasant, at least on the exterior, but within they are a reservoir of resentment to any who usher to progress in the organisation. They would never teach or impart a skill, talent, knowledge or technique; their modus operandi is prima-facie friendly, where they display an attitude of “let me do it for you”! He (manager) does and therefore keeps knowledge to himself. These types of leaders are actually self immolating. They disappear fast from the scene.
Leadership that displays a nature of being a control freak does not allow the blossoming of other colleagues. Such leaders do not believe in having or even suggesting, about any from their team’s as their logical successor. There is no “second in command”; the first and the last position on the organisation chart is occupied by a single person. These are essentially “insecure leaders” who either by stroke of luck or by dubious means have been catapulted into an office, without having the essentials of leadership present in their persona. Control freak leaders burn themselves out. They snuff themselves, with little contribution from the environment.
Most of us also witness at workplace managers (leaders) who are slaves to routine, systems, procedures and policies. They are unwilling to turn over any leaf to look at issues with fresh, new and different perspectives. This is how we have always done, and this is the way we will do it. They detest creativity. Leadership requires flexibility of both action and thought. What is lost in such attitude is that every single policy or the basic premise of thought backing up systems and procedures, has inbuilt ability to be re-hashed, re-looked upon, rethinking and re-doing. Leaders have to be flowing water and not frozen slabs of ice. They have to be in search of opportunities.
No one expects, leaders, to be astrologists or be of the clan who believe that everything happens due to the science of numerology; yet they are expected to have a “vision”. They have to be in possession of skills and talent to forecast, fore-tell and for-see. Coupled with this, leaders have to demonstrate dexterity to change gears of direction, should there be clouds of turbulence or even clear air turbulence; those who cannot and remain obsessive with the view, usually perish within the cocoon of their limited thinking.
All leaders must have defined goals, objectives and a cause to pursue; which must be the shared aim of all his followers. Lack of vision in business would make the organisation rudderless; floating with no ports of destination. To be recognised as a leader, it is expected that such a person will do something that is first in its class or arena; or even be at least of the clan that has skill to amend or alter, the existing thought or even the process. Creativity should come naturally to a leader.
Those who will not challenge the status quo will render themselves for subjugation to existing and out-dated methodology and concept. In the political world, before assumption of office, tall claims are made of “changing” the system; but a few months into the office, the leader begins to see the many advantages of the continuity of the rotten system, they inherit; and hence no change, visible or otherwise, is seen.
Dilemma of all third world countries and all corporates, across geographies! Vision, conceptually can and must not have any limitations; its inherent nature has to be of perpetuity and continuity; however strategy must have clearly defined objectives; and the end has to be in mind. Budget is not strategy.
Financial results each year are mere frozen pictures of an organisation’s perpetual journey. Once the vision, with its aims and objectives, is enshrined by the leadership, then the job is to have it communicated through all layers of the organisation. Failure to communicate by the leader, will leave the team in armless disarray.
Leaders must necessarily be good communicators, both verbally and in writing. They must remain in possession of all the facets of effective communication, ranging from silence to sharing. Good leaders are good communicators, not because they are demagogues, but because they know the importance of listening as part of a leader’s communication apparatus.
Leader cannot be loners. They must be team makers. The path to divide the rule is meant for the world for diabolical politics, never for the business organisation. Here, the members have to be kept well-oiled, as part of a cohesive team, that share and aspire for similar ideals.
Visible maturity and confidence is a hall mark of great leadership. The feature of unshakable and unflinching faith of the leader in his pursuits is so essentially significant for buy-in, of all those members, who would have to play critical role, in the achievement of corporate objective. Leaders have to be exemplary, humble and self confident. Their persona cannot carry any stains of impropriety of any nature. They must come clean. Leaders must be paragons of virtue and grace; no less.
The writer is a banker and freelance contributor