On Leadership

lead·er·ship : noun – : an act or instance of leading; guidance; direction


Probably the most abused word in the corporate worlds of these days.

Leadership is a great quality. Very few people have the true potential of being great, if not good leaders – but is there a stereotype? An exact definition of what makes a good leader?

The only way i see one can know whether someone is a good leader or not, is by knowing the team or the people he leads – whether they deliver the results expected of the team (including the leader) or not. The results, can be in any form – be it the overall happiness/satisfaction of the team – or the fact that they reach the specified target in an efficient or timely manner – whether they are happy by the drive they get from their leader or not.

A leader, according to me – is the driver of a team – not an engine. And just like drivers on roads, leaders, as i see, are of many kinds.

Lets think of some great leaders – the ones that prominently come to my mind are – Gandhi, Vince Lombardi (heard of the Green Bay Packers?), Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Captain Kirk (remember Star Trek?), and lastly Adolf Hitler (You might not agree with his goals – but he certainly led.. and led well.)

All of these have only one thing in common – they had followers – who followed them, whether they were physically present or not. They motivated, inspired, and then stood back and only directed – they sowed the seeds, and then let their followers and teams reach the goals. All of them had different methods – and different ways of leading – but all of them worked – for those specific people, and their personalities.

There is no wrong or right method of leadership – it all depends on the leader – what he is comfortable with, and what he is confident of.

You can either keep whipping a horse till he reaches the finish line, or you can train the horse to reach there anyways. And there are downsides to both these broadly defined methods. With the first one – the moment you stop whipping – the horse will stop (and this is a very very old school method) – and with the latter, your horses might just not be willing to reach the target on their own. And this is where as a leader – you have to take a prerogative on what suits you – and the ‘horse’ – you might just be good at training the horse. Any horse. And confident of it.

A good leader is i guess one which can inspire and motivate any horse (sorry for the analogy – but this is the best i could come up with) to follow – everytime. Not just when kicked in the ass. Otherwise, the Indian Independence drive (think Gandhi) would have ended in a few days – not lasted 20 odd years and succeeded.

None of the leaders mentioned above used the harsh method (except Hitler – and he wasnt very successful in the long run, was he?) – all they did was tell people what they wanted out of them – give them a platform – show them the goal, and leave them to themselves – motivate them on the way, and be there when they needed them. MOTIVATION, does not come by aggressiveness, nor does inspiration – both these things come out of actually the very opposite of being agressive – subtleness – where you as a leader has the ability to show and prove to your team what is right – and why they should reach that ‘right’ goal – it comes by showing direction and letting the team work as one to get the results – but not by constantly telling the team that failure is not acceptable. All agressive drivers cause an accident sooner or later.

Gloria Steinmen said – The best kind of leader: one who creates independence, not dependence.”

Your team should be able to work independently – without you – because this is when brains start getting used – a free work environment fosters creativity – and some of the brightest ideas come from teams and individuals who are being led in an environment of independence. Where they are not under constant pressure.

Think of any great sporting team – and think of the leader (Coach / Captain) they gained success under – Think of The Titans under Coach Herman Boone, think of Ferrari under Jon Todt, think of Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan – and you will understand what i am trying to say. Herman Boone might have been agressive when it came to the football training regime – but it was pure inspiration to get two different races at that time to play together and win. Jon Todt got the right people together – set them their goals – motivated them enough to win 5 straight championships for Ferrari. The interesting thing is – that without these leaders, the teams could never perform as well. All of these leaders, gave their teams independence when it came to performing. Herman Boone never interfered in the way the team wanted to do a play in a game – as long as everyone was happy doing it – he was there to help them if needed, but he mostly left the decision making to the team.  Jon Todt never interfered between the drivers and the technical directors – he let them be – he was confident that the people he had could reach the target – and he let them be independent on how they would reach it. The result is important. Not how a leader makes his team reach it. (As long as the methods used are ethical)

Vince lombardy once said – and i quote – “The leader can never close the gap between himself and the group. If he does, he is no longer what he must be. He must walk a tightrope between the consent he must win and the control he must exert.”

And finally, Nelson Mandela sums it up quite well – “A leader is like a shepherd. He stays behind the flock, letting the most nimble go out ahead, whereupon the others follow, not realizing that all along they are being directed from behind.”

What kind of leader do you want to be? – An agressive bully, who might gain success in the short term – show everyone what he can achieve by trampling on the teams success as a whole.. or.. a person who motivate and inspires – gives credit to the team everywhere – supports the team?

Everybody thinks they are good leaders – but that – is only an opinion only that the team you lead has the right to give. It is they who decide whether they want to follow you – or not.

What do you think is the right way?

Comments are welcome.

2 comments for “On Leadership

  1. Mom
    February 8, 2011 at 7:17 am

    Loved this post! Apart from the fact that your writing style is extremely readable – your insights are truly remarkable!

  2. bhavna
    March 16, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Really really love your post.what i really liked is the way u dived in the apology to the example used… (which cud hav been misunderstood…) and the elaborate explanations to every examples given…. very well written !!

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