What is true leadership? Is it the tried and the tested, i.e.managerial acumen or is it something else?
Organisational efficiency is about doing things faster and with optimal use of resources. But the concept has been interpreted to make leadership a subset of it. This is incorrect because leadership existed before organisational efficiency was theorised. Organisational efficiency has led management to focus on predictability, which is about keeping things safe and operating with whatever is at hand. As a result, most leadership theories fall within the broader idea of management. These theories rely on/suggest certain sets of competencies to assess leaders.
Management looks at segmenting and creating efficiency and so it has created a framework within which leadership is measured. This is often referred to as competency assessment, which measures performance on various parameters.
Leadership is about taking action, which should create a new possibility that is not an extension of your past. If you decide to continue doing things the way they have been done, then it’s an extension of the past, as you’re not creating a completely new reality or a future. For example, if our country resolves to send a man to the moon at the end of this decade, then it is not an extension of the past because it is unprecedented. It’s a new possibility. Any action qualifies as a leadership action only if it produces a new possibility.
Leadership action is also about unpredictability. If it’s predictable, then it falls in the realm of managerial action. The action model of leadership can be seen in life. In fact, all of us get a call for action or call for adventure. Fifty per cent of us think it is a missed call and don’t do anything. Another 30 per cent know it’s not a missed call but lack the courage to take action. It is leadership only if it’s unknown because it’s tough to leave the known and get into the unknown.
However, it is not necessary that you act. Not each one of us has to demonstrate leadership. We have the choice not to act based on the assessment of the situation. Yet, this freedom of choice also entails that we might later regret our decision not to act. Similarly, our actions don’t guarantee any desired outcome; so, we might also end up regretting our actions. Thus, true leadership means taking into account the chances of failure and being held responsible for it.
If you want to demonstrate leadership, you should be willing to stand on something bigger than yourself, which has the potential to create a new possibility for you, your family, your organisation, your country or the world. You should also be willing to take responsibility for your action and not believe that you are only the effect of someone else’s actions. For example, developed and third-world countries alike blame each other for global warming. But leadership action is defined by you accepting the responsibility for global warming and taking that as an impetus to do your own bit for fighting the problem.
The rate at which we are progressing is matched by the violence, inequality and hatred around us. One would have assumed that the world has ascended to a slightly higher level of consciousness, but that’s not happening. There’s an ecological divide where the global commons are being expropriated from the majority by a few, who are also responsible for a social divide based on economic divide. Most people in our country are eking out a living, infrastructure and basic goods are beyond the reach of the needy and our farmers are being pushed towards suicide by desperation. We are spiritually disconnected from who we truly are, which has created impersonal and utilitarian relationships devoid of any compassion or empathy. Despite progress, religious divide is pushing society to the edge. We are intolerant of ideas different from ours, however sound they might be.
These are real and immediate problems that call for leadership that is not circumscribed by the need to demonstrate some core competencies removed from the realities of our age. Yet, there’s no specific definition of leadership outlining a particular set of skills or methods via which we can address our problems. Leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs, Sardar Patel or Abdul Kalam were unique in a way that defies any conventional definition of leadership. But they stepped up to the challenges of their time and solved/tried solving problems based on their particular abilities and perception of change. Similarly, each one of you will lead based on who you are and your core skills.
To recap, you should be willing to stand on something bigger than yourself. You should believe in your ability to do something that will change the way your organisation, society and family function and create a new and better possibility for them. You need to have an eye on the future and act in a way that might lead to a better tomorrow and you must take responsibility for the current state of affairs around you.
About the author:
Santosh Babu is the Chairman and Founder, OD Alternatives.