Perhaps one aspect of human quality or trait that drives into management of people is the subject of leadership, upon which the most has been said and written. The word ‘leader’ is one that has magical effect upon our eardrums. Overtime, it has come to be associated more with power. And power is that single characteristic that has driven psychologists and management scientists to delve into change of human behaviour, once anyone is blessed with it or one acquires it, either on dejure basis or defacto basis.
There is general confusion between management and leadership. The two are not synonymous. Management skills do not bring naturally ‘leadership’ traits nor does leadership qualities bestow automatically the management skills. The simplest explanation of management is deriving results through other people. It follows that since a manager cannot do all things by himself or herself, he/she finds and builds a team of people to do so. The entire purpose is to make people productive. The manager essentially has a role to create balanced working environment for efficiency, productivity within the sphere of well-defined financial objectives and constraints. While leadership has many more dimensions beyond the necessary managerial skills.
People are the most difficult asset to monitor and manage in any entity. They need to plan, organise, seek direction and offer themselves for control and accountability. How well it is done, creates difference between sales and profit figures amongst the comity of competition and markets. Leadership is all about inspiration and motivation, qualities that a manager should possess too. Leaders and managers have distinguishable roles to perform. The overlap in the wanted traits does not in any manner confer an irrevocable right to be a leader/manager; the two will remain different.
Since leaders and leadership styles are different, researchers and writers have gone overboard in determining what qualities a leader must necessarily possess. Each day, we find new adjectives being added to the never ending list. The search is for a ‘Superman’. The indulgence of scholars to create an over drive into hair splitting of the concept of leadership has brought home, titles like, ‘inspirational leadership’, ‘spiritual leadership’, ‘quiet leadership’ and believe it or not ‘authentic leadership’. I have not come across while reading business and otherwise history, where an individual could be ‘adulterated’ in his thinking and yet be recognised as a ‘leader’. The various appellations to the word ‘leadership’ do not in my view give any new dimension to the understanding of human psyche.
Leadership is either black or white. There can’t be any grey areas. If there are patches of grey, then the title of leader automatically gets withdrawn. To further confound the subject of leadership we find volumes on the humble leader, the thought leader, the servant leader, the transactional leader, the contextual leader, the transformational leader, the popular leader… and the list just grows. Knowing more and more of less and less is no gateway to understanding human behaviour and traits. In fact, there is no single theory maxim or doctrine about leadership that can withstand to scientific challenge and scrutiny.
Leadership is all about inspiration. And it is all about vision. Some American president had remarked in a speech that leadership is about taking people where when left on their ownselves they wouldn’t go. In corporate parlance it means to get people to do work (productive) which otherwise they wouldn’t.
Leadership is about performance and not position. The ability to excite about the unknown and the unseen fruit is the basic quality of leader. A boss is a mechanic working with processes and procedures for attainment of results; he does most effectively when armed with ‘hiring and firing’ authority. Managers or bosses rely heavily on dejure authority while a leader has to possess defacto authority of influence. Who would you classify as a great leader, Emperor Shah Jahan or the architect of Taj Mahal? Shah Jahan like a true manager/entrepreneur provided for capital and labour. It was the architect who mobilised the workers to build his vision into reality. Only the architect knew how the Taj would look in its finality. (May be some element of fear too of the Emperor!) It is the architect who took people to do, what they wouldn’t have done on their own. Shah Jehan was the boss (Emperor) but the unsung architect in my view is the leader- he had vision matched by talent to produce the desired result. It therefore establishes that position or title does not bestow leadership.
Leadership does not require fancy corporate titles of managing directors, chairman, CEOs, president, general managers, etc. A leader does not have to be at the apex of the hierarchy. Anybody with foresight, vision and direction can be a leader. Moses instilled faith for the people to cross the Nile. Only leadership can make you do things which rationality will attempt to impede with ruthlessness. Leaders have singularity of purpose and hence succeed.
Having been CEO for over a decade at multiple institutions, I looked at myself as a leader! (falsely) While in the midst of running the entity I realised that my role was ‘management of leaders’ operating at various levels in the corporate structure. The job was to make available to them resources, enabling environment and faith in their objectives. The job was done. Financial results reflected that leaders were many while the ‘boss’ was only one! Only when I took colleagues to go and do what they were hesitant to do; did I realise the power of inspiration. The ability to appeal to the emotions of your workforce is the main ingredient of leadership. In my personal study of organisation and entity, I have been surprised to conclude that people can be at the top but not leading and some who are at the bottom of the rung are found to be leading.
By and large bosses are incompetent. They bully and believe they are leaders. Bullying and intimidation are not weapons of leadership however they can be for the manager. We must keep distinction between intimidation and inspiration when evaluating leadership. Leaders at all times are artists. Leaders are dream merchants. Peddlers of hope! Managers are doers and executioners. The leader will grow business. The manager will manage and stagnate. The leader inspires to deliver business results.
Let us get out of the rut of looking at bosses as leaders. They by their very nature are different. Bosses have egos as large as any helium filled balloon. Leaders do not compromise between growth and costs; they rely on balance. Sheep and wolves are different. Sheep by divine will are easy to shepherd, that is to lead. Not every colleague or manager is a sheep and therefore to make them follow is a challenge. Followership is difficult to obtain but perhaps partnership and companionship is relatively easy to get from colleagues. It is the ordinary roles of leadership that demand efficient and imaginative command. The secretary general of United Nations, a Swedish by Nationality, Dag Hammarskjold, who died in an air crash in 1958 had recorded the following thoughts which were published posthumously titled “Markings”, he wrote, “Your position never gives you the right to command. It only imposes on you the duty of so living your life that others can receive your orders without being humiliated.”
Bosses beware. Your title does not make you a leader. To be so, requires a paradigm shift in thinking, leading to development of faculties that will unleash itself with unannounced fury upon the followers.
The writer is a freelance columnist