In my personal analysis of leadership, anybody who is in pursuit of immortality of his skills and fame thereof is really nowhere close to being a “leader”. In the following short write-up, I will explain myself of what the opening lines mean or suggest.
Politicians are not necessarily leaders; the exceptions in the history are but a few. Most are opportunists. A prevailing situation or circumstance makes them look like leaders. The many wars and battles in human history are all adventures of the human mind that is negatively possessed and hence beckons to perish the weak, with sheer power and strength. Rarely have, the have-nots perished the have’s…… If the annals of history have such recordings, where the weak and oppressed have vanquished the powerful; these are largely within the realm of religious wars. In crusades, the drive and motivation is of a different kind and nature. It is not a quest of worldly gain and fame; the objective is much higher on an entirely different plane of thought and belief. I believe any objective bereft of personal acclaim is a worthy cause, and that is more likely to produce “true leadership”.
Who is a leader? As a student of management, I remain hopelessly confused. It isn’t possible to come up or even conjure a precise definition, of who is to be looked upon and considered as “leader”. We have seen the concept of leadership in the last two decades or so, come under the hammer of scrutiny of specialisation as against generalisation, which allows a very vast canvas to inquire upon and learn from; specialisation is the study of a subject, where one has to keep oneself abreast of more and more, of less and less.
Consequent to that, there has been a hair splitting of leadership concept, into “situational leader”, born leader”, “aspiring leader”, “entrepreneurial leader”, “self made leader”, “transactional leader”, “transformational leader”, “thought Leader”, and as a sore icing on the cake, “authentic leader”… what ? Authentic! Is there a likelihood of a leader, of any sort, from any discipline, to be “not authentic”? This play with semantics in my view has made a mockery of leadership, as a noble concept.
As a citizen, not of the world, but of say my beloved Islamic Republic, I often ask myself, who is my leader? Is it the President? Is it the Prime minister? Or is it the chief justice or the chief of armed forces? (only a Pakistani mind, will ask this!) Quite clearly none of them are my leaders. They are position holders. The position has made them look like leaders. Their job is specific to their sphere; some of them affect me directly; some indirectly and mostly their performance does not influence or affect the building of my personal traits and characteristics, as either a follower or even a leader.
The recently witnessed dichotomy between office held and behavior delivered to the misperceived followers is a major dampener to accept public office or any position holder, as “my leader”. Leaders need no position, rank or title. Leadership is not about having a Prime Minister run away from the clutches of law, or about a PM languishing on charges, correct or incorrect, of financial corruption; and several others of them - who stand ‘disqualified’… how can they be looked upon, through even a dirty lens, as leaders. Nay, they are politicians and opportunists. They are not “guides”. Elections do not produce leaders. That’s a fact. Look around on the global canvass many of the popular with the electorate have ended up ultimately in confinements, of one sort or other.
If leadership was merely about “followers” then between Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler, the latter in spite of his diminutive stature and comical physical looks, will stand taller. He had “blind following”; Churchill had both followers and critics. But the “following”, Hitler created, was devoid of human values; to each of them, I am certain he through sheer demagoguery had impregnated the thought that it is virtuous to be anti-Semitic and killing them was even nobler. Because, his thought was crusted within ignoble objectives, shunned of values, history condemns him, as an evil man -not even an “evil leader”. No, evil man should be called a leader. Nikita Khrushchev had once remarked to J.F. Kennedy, “In the next war, the survivors will envy the dead”. Such, was the mind of a man, not a politician, who led the then powerful USSR. Shameful and indelible stains of inhumanity have dimmed many a star that has shone brightly on the horizon of history.
Being a corporate person, all my career, I have been “led” or have had to “lead”. So, the many managers/ supervisors/CEOs, “bosses” or by whatever title and definition, all those who ranked higher on the hierarchy should be classified by me, as “my leaders” and me, as their “follower”. Unfortunately, no, not all of them I saw as my leaders. All of them were skilled and professional supervisors, whose job was to plan an assignment for me; delegate me with authority to work; direct me; organise me; control me and thence hold me accountable for productivity. Is this leadership? No, on hindsight of experience, I answer to myself. Leadership is beyond the text book concepts of Samuel Taylor and likes thereof -the post industrialisation era, created this mundane definition of leadership. While, I believe, “leadership is about values”.
Leaders, who change the outdated and misfit school of organisation of cultures, are the most successful. Collective and inclusive mind-set for the development of collective culture, where values reign supreme, is a critical aspect of leadership’s responsibility. Those individuals, who emerge from the bedrock of such vein of training and thought, are far and few between. None of this type of leaders ever wanted to steal any show, nor did they wish to accumulate wealth, nor were they driven by the lust for more. They did not weigh activities on the scale of money or worldly success. In the present day sense of our convoluted understanding of leadership- they were “leaders” - selfless and devoted. Disharmony, in personal and organisational goals, will lead mostly towards an entrapment, within the cobwebs of more misunderstanding, about, what leadership is? Leaders don’t do acts of spoliations as virtuous acts. The recital of cruelty upon the impoverished, the innocent, and the dispossessed cannot be referred to acts of leadership.
In the estimation done over long years of career, I have come to accept (almost!) with faith, about who I would look as leaders in my life. My leaders were/are many. These leaders are, my parents, my siblings, my family, my school, college, university; my dad’s office boy Jehangir (who went to no school), who would sometimes drop me off to school on his bike, whilst he kept reciting verses from the Holy Book; my maid (never went to school), who narrated each night a bed-time story to me, that invariably had some moral underlying the narration; my mathematics tutor, who was paid for imparting me tuitions in advanced mathematics and who instead besides doing what was required of him; taught me holy verses; my Catholic Rector, Brothers, Sisters, Mother Superior at School; my large circle of friends, who taught me many things of profundity, without much knowledge to me. These are my leaders; and many more, whose role and description does not match the classical definition of leadership. The scribe is not surprised, if you as a reader are wondering as to what is the common denominating factor, between all the mentioned and unmentioned people? The answer is in a single word, “values”. Yes, they gave me values. And these “values” aren’t those that are written as part of vision and mission statement, and then mostly forgotten, as vulgar corporate hoodwinking. These values received from various relationships have been enduring. They are stable and consistent. They are not malleable to suit expediency. They are non-negotiable. They are part of existence. These values help shape responses to situations, as against shaping values to suit different situations. These values are based on universal truths. They guide. They give action. They allow steadfastness. So, the question, ought to be, what are “values”?
Values are about ethics and social responsibility -values give us insight about what is right, just, and what is wrong and unjust; and doing what is right and not doing what is wrong, is a matter of ethics.
Leadership is about high moral ground. Jack Profumo, the secretary of state for war in the British prime minister Harold Macmillan cabinet, whose affair with the demimondaine, Christine Keeler in 1963, had him say this in his letter to Macmillan: “… I have come to realise that by this deception, I have been guilty of a grave misdemeanour and despite the fact that there is no truth whatsoever in the other charges, I cannot remain a member of your administration nor of the House of Commons. I cannot tell you of my deep remorse for the embarrassment, I have caused to you, to my colleagues in the Cabinet, to my constituents, to the party…” Now, which “leader” (?) in my beloved homeland would have the moral courage to accept their numerous and staggering types of lapses, ranging from personal lack of ethics, morality to financial corruption? Possibly none. Hence, these can’t be leaders. Leaders are made and moulded, when in a society there are fathers like Lorenzo, the Magnificent , who on 23rd March 1492 AD, wrote the following to his sixteen year old son, Giovanni De Medici, who had then become the youngest ever cardinal in the history of Catholic Church: “The first thing I want to impress upon you is that you ought to be grateful to God, remembering always that is not through your merits, or your wisdom that you have gained this dignity, but through His favour. Show your Thankfulness by a holy, exemplary, chaste life … in going to live in Rome, which is a sink of iniquity (In a population of 50,000, the declared “women of sale” were 7000), you will find it hard to follow this advice because there will be many there who will try to corrupt you and incite you to vice, and because your promotion to the cardinalate at your early age arouse much envy … when you are in assembly, you must be the most unassuming and the most humble … Silk and jewels are seldom suitable to those in your station. Much better to collect antiques and beautiful books and to maintain a learned and a well-regulated household rather than a grand one. Invite others to your house more often than you accept invitations to theirs, but not too often. Eat plain food…”.
I wonder, but remain sure that no politician’s father wrote any such letter of advice to the many progeny they unleash upon this hapless nation. All that is exhorted by Lorenzo Medici is applicable to the corporate floor too.
On a final note, I am convinced Lorenzo had access to and had read, “Peaks of Eloquence -Najahul Balaga” by Hazrat Ali (RA) and the letters of Omar bin Abdul Aziz (RA), the simple caliph, written to his administration's functionaries.
The writer is a senior banker and freelance contributor