Just like many other topics of self-development, Leadership is also one of the most difficult ones to comprehend and reduce it to cookbook size approach for implementation. During my recent experience of designing and conducting a leadership development program for senior executives and writing a book on Pragmatic Leadership, my mind was swarming with a lot of questions; one of them was, “Are leaders born or developed?” I am one of those firm believers of the theory “Leaders are developed”. According to me, “Leadership is not a position but a state of a being”. During my research, I found that many successful leaders are not from the B-schools of repute; but they have developed themselves into leaders over their lifetime; they have learned, observed, shifted their attitude, brought about desired behavioral skills and transformed themselves into leaders.
During the same training program, one of the participants asked me a very simple question, “What do I do differently, when I go back to my usual life after this leadership training, from Monday morning onwards?” It was a fair question from an inquisitive participant who wanted the formula for becoming a leader. This article is an attempt to simplify the application of leadership skills in daily life.
Trade off between Expert & Leader:
Growing up as a technical expert till my mid 40s, I was hoping to reach the pinnacle of corporate ladder very soon. But, I was in for a rude shock when my seniors informed me that I was an “Expert” and not a “Leader” and that I lacked general management skills. Over the time, I realized that leaders are the ones who manage even the experts, even if they themselves are not experts. It took a while for me to come out of the shock and realize that I had missed the bus already. There are very few positions on the top of the corporate hierarchy, and understandably so. And one needs to learn when to relinquish the urge to be an expert and acquire the skills to become a leader. This transition is extremely difficult, as it requires a “Let go” attitude at an appropriate time. When one is climbing Mount Everest, it is the last few steps that are the most difficult to climb; as even your garments weigh you down and unless you throw them away, you cannot reach the tallest point on this planet. Similarly, relinquishing your urge for technical expertize is the key for becoming a corporate leader.
10 Principles of Leadership:
I am detailing below 10 easy-to-understand tips on leadership which are easy to follow and practice on a daily basis and which allow you to keep a log to check your leadership behavior.
Principle-1: Love for people
Abraham Lincoln said, “Love and leadership are inseparable”, one cannot become a leader if one hates people. A lone person can’t be a leader and a leader works with the people and for the people. Along the way, he inspires and develops other people into future leaders. So a true leader has to love people and he can’t afford to hate people and yet pretend to be a leader. If you examine all great leaders, including the prophets, they have made a great difference to mankind and have transformed this planet. Please examine your genuine love and respect towards people and cultivate an attitude that this universe is one integrated entity and that everything you use throughout the day is made by someone else working somewhere else; right from the toothbrush to the ‘n’ other things you use throughout the day. As they say, charity begins at home. Start by showing your unconditional love to people around you.
Benjamin Franklin, in his notes to himself on Humility, stated “Imitate Jesus” and at the end of each day he would evaluate himself and see on how many occasions he felt proud and on how many occasions he felt arrogant about his behavior. Humility is a state of a being and not a skill to practice. One of the Vedic seers, without disclosing his identity, once said, “More that I know; I come to know, I don’t know”. Lord Krishna in Bhagawat Gita said, “All that I have preached Arjuna was not my knowledge and it was there even before the Sun God came into existence”. Pride is the folly of ignorant people. Avvaiyar, one of the great thinkers of all times, once said, “What I learned is equivalent to a handful of sand; whereas what I haven’t learned is like the rest of the sand in the entire World”. Leaders may or may not be experts but they know how to work with experts to achieve their vision. They acknowledge the fact that they lack expertise with all humility; and this is the hallmark of a true leader.
Adaptability is one of the virtues of the Leader. In this universe everything around us is constantly in a flux of change; if you look at all those modern gadgets and conveniences around us which were not there thirty years ago, you will see how rapidly things change around us – internet, satellite communication, cell phones, ipads and so on. If one cannot adapt them, he or she becomes obsolete. In fact, it is believed that many animals have become extinct due to their inability to adapt to the changing environments. Only human beings are believed to have continued for so long without extinction due to their adaptability to change. Although adaptability is a common virtue for us, many of us are averse to any kind of change and thus become victims of change. There are three categories of people – people who become the reason for change - the Leaders, then people those who adapt to the change and finally the third category of people who are the victims of change. Leaders foresee the changing environment and orchestrate change by rocking their boats.
Principle-4: Positive attitude
Attitude is the GPS that shows the way for progress in life and Leaders are always found with a positive outlook of life. For some unknown reasons, some of us are highly negative and always believe that the future is going to be bleak. Unfortunately, the universe creates what we intrinsically believe; if we believe health, we become healthy; if we program ourselves for disease, we end up in hospital. Shiv Khera defines competency as knowledge, skills plus attitude; if one possess knowledge & skills but wrong attitude, he/she never performs well. Unfortunately, those who have attitude issues can’t see this and are often blindfolded; you cannot act on something that is not known to you in the first place and lies in “I know not that I know not” domain. As Leadership is creating a future, it is impossible to create one without believing in it.
There are certain physical and spiritual laws that govern this universe; a law is the one that exists whether you believe in it or not; e.g. law of gravity. It cannot cease to exist or fail to act just because you don’t believe in it. A spiritual law is one that governs the cause and effects; say “what you sow that you reap” is an example of a spiritual law. When you hate someone, you have already made a choice of him or her hating you in return. When you decide to drink, you have already made a choice of a hangover for the next day! When you violate temperance and over eat, you have made the choice to feel sluggish. Examples can be multiplied; it means that “principles” are unwritten laws that run this universe. Leaders are principle-centered and they let these principles manifest in their life and their behavior Integrity is one of the principles that leaders follow; what you think, what you say and how you behave are aligned.
Amongst all the creatures in this world, it is only human beings who have the sense of self-awareness. It means they at any given point of time, are aware of where they are and what is happening around them. This higher faculty, which animals don’t possess, enables humans to visualize a future state and work towards creating it. Although it seems ridiculously simple and even when it is a common wisdom of all human beings, we rarely come across people who visualize a lofty future and inspire others to join them in creating it; People like Abraham Lincoln of the USA who dreamt of freedom or Mahatma Gandhi of India who visualized a free nation are hard to come by. Most of the human beings dream only for their own material prosperity, and do not really think much about the entire mankind or serving some higher purpose. When someone dreams about purposes larger than their own selfish motives, the whole universe conspires to help them achieve it. Strangely, the kind of followership the social reformers enjoy is not really seen much in the corporate world. This is mainly because the focus is limited to making money and this only inspires or engages people up to a point. If you wish to unite people, you need to pursue a vision and purpose that are larger than just making money.
Vivekananda described Integrity as, “Integration of your thought, speech and actions”. Lord Krishna defined hypocrisy as “Non-alignment of thought and actions”. One of the most important qualities of a Leader is integrity, which in management language translates as, “walking-the-talk”. As we go higher up the corporate ladder, what we really need to improve is our own behavior as at higher levels we are more involved in inspiring, guiding and motivating others than in “doing” office routine. ‘Do as you preach,’ they say. A father who smokes, loses his right to stop his son from smoking. The leader who never shows up on time loses his right to expect his people to be punctual. Integrity is the most important virtue of a leader. If a leader is faking, it won’t take long for the followers to realize this and to stop following him.
A leader always tries to see things ahead of their time, which others do not care to see! “Seeing is a physical process and envisioning is an intellectual process,” as I have said in our previous issue. It is this quality of a person that makes him/her a leader, ie “Visualizing something which others are unable to”. Mahatma could see that India could become a free country even after 250 years of slavery and he passionately believed that Satyagraha was the route. He used to say this, “They will insult you, punish you, hurt you and then will accept you”. Associates of Gandhi were unable to see what he could vividly see. For uniting and engaging all people, the leader has to communicate his thoughts and has to have patience and persuasiveness to get their buy-in. In corporate world today, many a times, the second line of managers do not believe what the CEO visualizes and trusting their silence in the boardroom is suicidal. The leader needs to persuade his senior management to align to their corporate vision and goals.
Mr. Narayan Murthy once said, LQ – Learning Quotient is the most important virtue for a Leader. I would say IQ is the least important attribute for a leader as he/she is not expected to be an expert but is expected to manage experts in achieving corporate vision. LQ is the sixth sense that helps us to decide what to learn, how to learn and how much to learn. As a leader, one must be abreast with all the developments and must know his/her place in the larger scheme of things. For example, a Leader in our space of work should know what is Lean or Six Sigma and how it fits in his/her agenda to improve the organization. He / She needs to have the working knowledge of the subject; he/she doesn’t necessarily have to be a Master Black belt. LQ keeps a leader ahead of time and makes him / her act like a guide to other people.
A leader contributes while still remaining as a non-doer; very paradoxical but true. Then how can one contribute without doing anything? As one moves up the hierarchy, he is not expected to be involved in everyday working of the business and the trivia. He has a bigger role, he has to envision the future for his organization and create a suitable road map to achieve it, and he / she has to worry about the allocation of resources and other such things. At the pinnacle of the corporate hierarchy, his only job is that of envisioning, strategizing, setting goals, communicating, motivating and reviewing progress. All great leaders are remembered for their significant contributions. Gandhi is remembered as Mahatma for his great contribution to India. If a person is not able to contribute substantially to the organization during his tenure, he would hardly be called a leader or be remembered.
In summary, there could be 100 different attributes of a leader, which are mostly personality ethics, but these above ten are attributes, which a principle-centered leader should follow for making a difference to his organization and community at large. Wish you a great leadership career.