I often ask this question to most of the youngsters that I meet: “What’s your perspective on becoming a leader?” Surprisingly, the answers more or less center-around the same mundane aspects such as handling a big team, running big operations, heading sales or delivery, operations and so on. This clearly illustrates how falsely people perceive that heading a function or operation automatically entitles them to be a leader.
What is True Leadership then? Let’s dive into the depths of this topic a bit and find out the intricacies of leadership which is a trait known to many, learnt by few and perfected by even fewer. Let me try to throw some light on the deltas one would need from the typical behavioral model such as walk the talk to integrity and responsibility that could build a true leader in us.
In this age of information-overload, it’s common for us to hear many stories on leadership being described as a combination of skill sets such as analytical skills, mathematical skills, and domain-knowledge; various personality traits and IQ/EQ, SQ etc. And yes, all these aspects do contribute to leadership. However, being a leader in today’s business world where change is the only constant requires unconventional thinking, ability to switch between a generalist and a specialist, common-sense and most importantly a dose of permission to figure things out for yourself in critical situations. Being a leader does not call for having huge followers; it is about producing leaders alike. It’s about having unshakable faith in your vision and conviction in your capability to change the tide in your favor, and not leave the turf out of fear. In an organizational set-up it’s common to find employees who simply fail to appreciate the positives of their jobs and continue searching for that elusive “something better”. Alas, what they do not realize is that most-often, everything we are searching for lies exactly inside us! It’s when we start digging a little deeper, try a little harder than before that we discover things happening in our favor. And this is what true leadership is: leading yourself first before you start making others follow you. Richard Lorenzen, the CEO of New York public relations and media firm, Fifth Avenue Brands echoed this by saying that the most important and most difficult person to lead will always be yourself. It is the aspect of leadership that will require the most discipline, commitment and determination. However, it is also the aspect that will reap the greatest rewards.
Let’s take a look at the other dimensions of leadership. I strongly believe that being a leader is about being innovative, unconventional and futuristic by approach. It’s about having a vision and aspiring to achieve them rather than looking at the present only and giving quick fixes. Do remember Peter Senge’s Systems Thinking approach in which he clearly mentions that today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions. A leader understands this and ensures that he/she works with a vision and more importantly shares the vision with the team.
People often tend to confuse leadership with being populist. Yes, as a matter of fact, leadership is largely about people orientation, however, that surely doesn’t mean that it should be taken as appeasement and taking populist measures. Being a leader is an act of tightrope-walking; managing a fine balance between his/her loyalty towards the organizational goals and responsibilities towards the employees. And this is undoubtedly one of the toughest arts to learn for a leader. When you, as a leader, bring loyalty to the company, you will have to take decisions which may involve people developing a dislike for you personally. But this is what leadership demands and commands: doing the right-things and not things-right. Remember, a leader is a visionary and hence he/she must take decisions which might appear a tad tough now, but will deliver greater dividends in the long run.
I’ve always believed that leaders are rarely (if ever) born. They’re always made; made by the circumstances and made by their sheer persistence. So move forward and discover the gem inside you and be a great leader.