In management sciences, a leader is referred to and held in adulation as an individual who is possessed of innumerable and multiple qualities, covering both, technical and the inherent or developed through training and studies, impeccable personality traits. A super human being. A demigod. Such individuals are considered as leaders who can do no wrong; they know where they are leading their followers to; they know how to navigate through paths of peril and danger, to arrive at the shores of achievement. Essentially, a person who can be liberally labelled as “Mr./ Ms. Know-All”. However, the pages of human history have a different tale recorded, where each page is bloodied and riddled by the indiscretions of leaders, that range from the mundane incompetence to the very serious mental imbalances, which drove them to the highest levels of lunacy, while they were making judgement calls upon their followers. Such leaders begin to feel and operate as “infallible” and “indispensables”.
King of Persia, the self nominated claimant to being a descendent of Cyrus The Great, Emperor Raza Shah Pahalevi of Iran, is a perfect example of this human condition. His miserable (not to glee upon) end is a great lesson in history of how delusional a leader can become, leading to self destruction. Raza Shah is not just one case in point, there are so many others, whose leadership quality and abilities resided in agitated minds, and hence who met similar fate.
Leadership, be it in the arena of politics or business, must have demonstrable skills of management of all types of resources, through active and fresh knowledge of methodologies, involving, planning, organising, delegating and controlling, ranging from human resources to finances. Leaders are expected to possess quality of management, involving the tangible and intangible assets. In view of the changes in the past two decades, which have emerged owing to globalisation, deregulation and privatisation, there is a visible movement in thinking from the paradigm of industrial assembly line of thought process to more flexible thinking process. The development of intellectual capital and its possession by businesses has today acquired greater significance than ever before.
Today any country’s progress is dependent upon its state of knowledge economy. The emphasis is upon concepts of Artificial Intelligence ( AI), algorithms, Chatgpt, etc, that facilitate the induction of steps towards developing a pool of intellectual capital.
Of the many personality traits that must attend to the persona of a leader/ manager, it is the ability to demonstrate calmness in stormy conditions. The real test of leadership begins when faced with challenges of uncertainty and adversity. Leaders are not chiseled in stable conditions, it is the continual change of opportunities and circumstances that draws out the individuals real mettle of management skills. It is most easy to govern in the Pacific state; it is difficult to remain in command of situations, in choppy waters.
Behavioral sereneness in a leader is a virtue, it surpasses all types of learnings. Such leaders win the hearts and imagination of their teams. An attitude of peaceful calm is the best remedy for handling relationship sores. Without internal tranquility there cannot be external placidity. ‘Calmness is always godlike’ (Emerson).
There are some leaders who only manage well, when faced with insurmountable challenges, they make a mess of themselves in placid conditions. The flow of adrenaline is caused in them only by the presence of uncertainties; in normal business conditions, their strengths go into a sleep mode. These types of leaders are often classified under the banner of ‘situational leadership’. World War II made Winston Churchill a great leader and prime minister; however in peace times, he lost the bid to regain residency at 10 Downing Street.
It is often remarked that when the going gets tough, the tough gets going; this is attributed, incorrectly, I believe, to J.F. Kennedy. The idiom means, in difficult situations, strong people are able to bring forth all their capacities and skills, to face and handle crises. The ability to manage while the going is good, is no test of leadership; personality traits emerge the best in contradiction; and if the leader loses the shirt, then it becomes obvious that the capacity to remain calm, doesn’t exist.
If Leaders exhibit anxiety or nervousness, while responding to dynamics of change, then obviously, they will have a herd of the most unsure followers . Leading formidable and confidently guaranteed committed followership. Any signs of tentativeness in a leader signal, to the followers, doubt and distrust. Leaders must never lose their peace and calm, particularly, on the shop floor.
Being obsessed with cricket, I have been an ardent admirer of M.S. Dhoni, as a class wicket keeper and a dependable destroyer of any bowling attack, while batting. But, of late, I have begun to admire him for his amazing “calmness”, while leading as a captain of any team. In last weekend final of IPL at Ahmedabad, the stadiums walls were bursting by the pressure of a record crowd of spectators, when his team was taken to the launderers by the Gujrat Titains -- whilst the massacre of his bowling attack was happening, not once he shouted upon them or the fielders; he merely stared and kept giving directions on where to bowl and where to set, the fielders -- this was done with a placid face, that showed no sign of pain or anxiety. He used no expletives at missed chances or dropped catches. Dhoni was leading without noise or signs of apprehension -- while the stadium at 1 a.m. in the morning was capacity filled, who must have broken many decibels, by the power of their vocal chords. His team was chasing a reduced score, owing to rains, yet it was still a huge ask; 171 runs in 15 overs. In the final over it came down to scoring ten runs of the last two balls of the over. The camera often was focusing on Dhoni, who was “calmly seated” in the dressing room, with eyes shut; on the penultimate ball, a towering six was scored; there was no reaction from him; and on the last ball when the boundary was cracked, by a fine shot that ran over the ropes, he still remained, “unmoved”. It was impressive to see the ‘graceful quietude’ he exhibited. In victory too, he was gracefully calm. That’s leadership; to have faith in destiny and skills of the followers and secondly to demonstrate modesty and grace, both in victory or loss.
Inside an entity or the office, the manager must behave like Dhoni, remain calm while dealing with challenges. Why is it important for a leader/manager to be placid and calm with the handling of emotions and sentiments? The need for emotional maturity and stability is imperative, for it sends strong signals of confidence to the teammates, that faith in their abilities, has not been lost and that the quality of effort must take precedence over, “results”.
Great inspirational leaders make a special effort to reveal or mask any weaknesses; some do with their strengths too. By doing so, they remain calm. There are no signs of agitation in their actions. Our Quaid kept his ill health condition a complete secret from his followers and detractors. He knew this weakness had the potential to be exploited by the British and the Indian National Congress. By his ( Mr. Jinnah) demeanor nobody ever could guess that he was a chronic patient of tuberculosis.
A leader who is calm and serene would never accept mediocrity of performance from his followers. They do not succumb to either internal or external circumstances that may run contrary to the achievement desired. They possess a great sense of abandon and initiative; consequently they do not enter the area of frustration or breaking point. They are quick to replace tension with hope; they trap for good any sentiments of insidious nature that can have a debilitating effect on their resolve and efforts. By calmness is peace, and in peace is plenty.
The writer is a senior banker and a freelance columnist