Who is a Leader?
While writing this post I was browsing through several definitions of “A Leader”. I think John C. Maxwell’s definition sums it up beautifully. He says and I quote “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” I think this articulates who a leader is accurately, though; I’d like to add a few extra words to his definition, which would be “depending on where he or she is.” The reason I add these six extra words is to further highlight the fact that leaders can be made and not just born. The connection I’m trying to draw here pertains to two factors. The first factor is that a leader does not necessarily have to be someone who is at the top of an organizational hierarchy or political or social movement. They can be at a lower level but entrusted with leader like responsibilities for their team / unit / colleagues. The second factor is with regard to the material and non-material environment that a person has to operate in. For example, some people are blessed with the good fortune to be a part of companies that are cordial in nature in terms of their physical surroundings, employees and corporate systems, while other companies may just be the opposite. These two factors play a strong role in making or breaking a person who may be the next “Mover or Shaker.”
Off late, I’ve been asking myself continuously what makes a good business leader. It somehow seemed so easy way back in college to chalk out all the essential and ideal qualities that a “Good” or “Great” leader should possess. Looking back on those definitions both from classroom discussions to management books, I find that they seem to be disconnected in many ways in terms of guiding management aspirants towards becoming effective leaders.
Hence, I’d like to reanalyze this without sounding too boring; and start with a basic question - Why do we need a leader? Sounds silly I know, but in order to build up a concrete model we need begin by building a strong foundation or hypothesis. I can say that we need leaders because they need to mobilize individuals or groups, define the way forward, encourage us by keeping our spirits up, determine who needs help in order to keep up with the rest, prioritize our short term and long term goals, mentor, create channels of communication, rebuke and reprimand if necessary and above all makes us advance towards a higher realm of operating. A tall order you may ask? Yes, it sounds that way and I am also sure there are so many more points that could be included here. But with these points in mind, we can now ask if a leader is able to get to do all this then everything should work fine right? Well it might, but honestly there are a few elements that need to be included here that would make a difference in tipping the scales in a more favorable manner.
What makes a Good Leader?
From a business point of view there are a multitude of traits and qualities professed by management guru’s and the like but the following traits are what I feel will make all the difference. To begin with, what makes a good leader is “Observation.” The ability to observe and adapt to what you have to work with helps to shape the final outcome of your leadership skills. It may sound simple enough but you won’t believe how many people try to keep this point in mind and yet continue to fall into the trap of “it’s my way or the highway, so why should I change my style.” You need to if you want to have greater success.
Following this is “Self-Motivation. I feel this is very crucial because there are endless moments that a leader may encounter that can just destroy their drive to continue the corporate race. Some individuals are naturally gifted and are truly dedicated to their work and people, like my friend Nikhil. But for those who do not have that gift, you just have to find a way to get yourself interested and back in the game. Two things drive this. One is reminding yourself of the “Long term vision” you have for the team and yourself. The second is to feel like “you got something to prove every moment.”
Going hand in hand with this is the need to “Always keep learning.” If anyone on this planet claims that they know everything they had to know about their profession then I’d consider them to be a product of an over generous God or the Greatest corporate lie. The fact is that the world is changing. What worked before may not work in the future. More importantly, knowledge truly is power. Theoretical and Practical Knowledge go hand in hand. Never let anyone fool you and make you think they don’t or one is superior to the other. Combining both will serve in propelling you forward.
Going in sync with this is a little thing called “Fun.” Most people are under the impression, and not wrongly so, that a leader can’t have fun or too much of it. By fun I don’t just mean a team get to together or an office party. Instead, just making everyone have a blast or celebration each day will go far in increasing team productivity. However, many feel that such an approach would taint a leader’s image in front of his / her subordinates or colleagues. Being seen as someone who indulges in fun activities, hilarious behavior or wild antics, in a good and decent way of course, would make people seem less likely to take you seriously and adhere to your commands and instructions when required. However, I don’t think this is true. There are so many leaders who have managed to maintain a commendable balance of discipline and fun. Most prominent on the list is Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin Group. Also, another person in the same league is his close friend Tony Fernandes, CEO of Air Asia.
Interlinked to this trait is another that any good leader should learn how to cultivate, which is “not to take things too seriously.” I agree that there is an enormous amount of pressure, stress and weight that can make even the highest spirited person feel bogged down and irritated. But finding a useful outlet or method to shed that unnecessary baggage of inner turmoil is essential. That way you can still stay afloat on the seas of adversity through which each business person and corporate sails through each day. The aim is to feel charged up and see the bigger picture constantly because losing sight of it could spell disaster for either one’s ability to work effectively or lead.
This brings me to the real tricky part that every leader has to deal with. It’s the “Work culture.” And the work culture consists of a set of elements called human beings, who summed up, are the people who are your colleagues, superiors and subordinates. This is the real challenge. Everything you may list about a leader is human oriented I agree, but what a good leader really needs to understand and do really well in is this: know each person in your team, know how they operate, know whose sincere and whose not, know what your superior wants and not what you think you can give him or her and know who you are. The latter is probably is most essential because you may get an indication of how people in your organization are but you can never tell how they may change or what lurks under the surface. However, knowing yourself and re-orienting yourself to suit your team and corporate work culture are what will make all the difference. If, for instance, a person is too soft by nature then surviving or being taken sincerely by his or her colleagues in say advertising, public relations or retail for example may lead to mixed or sub-standard results. What I mean here is that if one feels disinclined to be strict when required and chooses a diplomatic approach constantly, then things won’t work. They need to change themselves to suit their work culture.
By doing this they’d understand “what makes their organization tick” and know what are the right moves to make that will help boost their team and organizational productivity. Along with this they too will go beyond their usual ambit of operating.
However, a good leader needs one final element to make all the above work. The X factor is called “Commitment”, towards yourself and towards your team. If a person genuinely wants to go the distance and conquer new frontiers, then having a strong and unshakable level of commitment will tip the balance between success and failure and thereby allow one to truly “Lead The Way!” Next Take please!