Leadership as a concept and subject is mostly in the realm of management romanticism. And romance has many nuances, dimensions, facets and manifestations. So does leadership has within itself several aspects attending to it.
Leadership means different things to different people. There is often a confused and misplaced thought that leadership is about having and wielding power. Nothing can be more grievously wrong than to embrace such premise of thought. If leadership, as a frozen idea is to make people follow, then even the Pied Piper had a large following of rats / mice, that he led them to their Waterloo, literally, into the icy waters of the North Sea. A leader is one who spots, recognises, and has within him, a sharpened emotion of knowing what type of followership would be required.
Leadership is of different types; and each type requires some similar but many dis-similar traits. Conceptually, there is the political, social, military and corporate leadership. (Out of better judgment for this piece, I am refraining to refer to any form of religious leadership.) The common thread that runs through these types is that the person must be recognised as a leader, from his / her constituents. This recognition may come through a de-jure status or a de facto status. All these segments have room for the growth and emergence of de-facto leadership, barring the military.
The unity of command in a military hierarchy has to be clearly spelt out with zero ambiguity, and hence it does not in any manner permit the presence of de-facto leadership. The rank gives and bestows upon an individual, the authority; those junior in rank, cannot question or reason or rhyme, with seniors. A general, if he so deems fit, can seek the opinion of his subordinates, as a gesture of seeking participation; however, no junior can as a matter of right offer an opinion, let alone an alternative opinion of his own accord. Further, there is no room for dissent to a command. Doing so would tantamount to mutiny and rebellion. In short, in a military hierarchy, where the chain of command is clearly enshrined, there isn't and shouldn’t be any room for “democracy”. No army can fight based on popular vote within its ranks – the decision by high command has to be executed; as versed in ‘The charge of the Brigade’, “not to reason, or rhyme but to do and die”.
Leadership in all segments of society and economy have borrowed the principle of unity in the chain of command. However, there has emerged concepts of diversified and participative leadership. In particular, there has been induction of a democratic thought in the corporate sector. Even in the military set up, at least within the peer group of a specified rank that is based at the apex of the hierarchy, the commander-in-chief, seeks opinion; however the decisions I believe are not necessarily made by consensus. The person at the apex of the pyramid decides, with full authority and an equal assumption of responsibility; others must fall in line.
The source of power for each type of the leadership is different, not merely in the methodology of selection of the leader, but also in terms of the distinction in the composition of those that are led. The commander-in-chief is not elected to the position; he /she is chosen as per the process laid down in the constitution or other related legislations or statutes. Once nominated, he assumes the de-jure position.
In the corporate world, the numero uno position is again not occupied by the ‘most popular executive’. The position is filled through a well-defined process of selection, where besides the respective nominating board, the nominee has to pass the fit and proper test /criteria as laid down in the various code(s) of corporate governance. In both the military and corporate setup, it is the competent, intelligent and the incisively sharp, who gets the highest pedestal of office. They have to meet several criteria(s) to be considered fit, of which one basic element, is the level of education (this is to ensure that he / she is literate).
In sharp contrast to the emergence of this type of leadership, is the assumption of the mantle of political leadership. Politicians, singular source of power is the masses, they claim to both lead as well have them as committed followers. Anyone can be a politician. There is no requirement of any minimum number of years of formal college or university education. President Musharraf tried to impose a minimum qualification for the parliamentarians to have at least a college degree – he had to backtrack. So, by implication, in our beloved land of the pure, the entire parliament, depending upon popular vote can be of illiterates. Further, there is no minimum requirement of any past public service experience; hence anyone who can manage to get the requisite votes, qualifies for the position of leadership. Even the offspring of the old guard of politicians can become overnight leaders. We have these type of leaders too. The dynastic democracies of the sub-continent are a case in point. By deduction, leadership in the political arena can be had without being literate or competent – the only requirement is they have to be “popular” with the masses. (Recommended reading by this scribe is George Orwell’s Animal Farm).
For those who vie or get catapulted into a leadership position within the domain of societal set up, yet again, have no minimum criteria(s) of either education or competencies to fulfill to be recognised as a leader. The society has to merely place a stamp of approval that the individual is known for his / her honesty and nobility. However, even a corrupt to the core philanthropist can be a leader, depending on what standards the society has set up for itself. Robinhood and his merry men are popular in most societies. We also have them. But on the far end of the spectrum, on the opposite pole are the likes of Mother Teresa and our very own Abdul Sattar Edhi. (I wonder if Edhi sahib attended any university, but what a noble soul.) Both were great social leaders.
The CEO (leader) of a business organisation has to have sound knowledge of the segment of the economy, he / she leads, coupled with expertise and technical proficiency. By and large, they must also remain in possession of management maturity. The characteristics that ought to be prominent in a Managing Director / CEO, are uprightness in every facet of life, be a good listener and most significantly be guarded in speech. These characteristics by their inherent nature cannot be made a compulsory requirement for political leadership; any misadventure of wanting to adopt these, will render the politician, incapacitated to be a leader.
Politicians and social leaders pass no test or exam for competence. Corporate and military leadership hinges upon qualities of heart, mind and soul. They also have to undergo an examination for proving their mettle both in the field of technical proficiency and in the management of human resources. Their word is their honor; they cannot say one thing on a television channel and say just the opposite on another channel, with no remorse, guilt or consternation. Politicians do it, every single day – they are major subscribers to the thought that ‘consistency is virtue of small minds’. All of us are witness to the innumerable inconsistencies played out in the print and electronic media, each single day of our lives. Politicians, across all geographies are dealers in hope, regardless of how ‘hopeless’ their claims may be; the masses in the fallacy of being committed followers, believe these demagogues. Said in a lighter vein, nothing is impossible for that leader who doesn’t have to do it himself. If any is a leader because of the many weaknesses and inadequacies of the followers, then it is best recognised urgently for their own benefit, that they aren't... a leader.
Political leadership over commits for lack of understanding of the issues. Before getting entrapped into the office of “leadership”, individuals must value the many benefits of visualisation, which is an essential ingredient of leadership. What are war games? These are at best visualisations of how to be in a state of preparedness against a presumed attack from the enemy. It is another matter that the results of war games and the theater of war are never the same. The real life situations demand a new on the spot approach, thinking and action for delivery.
Despite the many divergent and opposite requirements for each type of leadership, there are several planes, upon which there can be a creation of harmony. To acquire the title of a “leader” the common basics between the various types are aplenty too.
Those who cannot obey, can never be leaders. Do not command if you cannot enforce. No follower should adopt what he dislikes in the leader. If you command wisely, you will be followed cheerfully. A leader guides, he rarely leads. Leaders ought to possess a sense of history; they must remain cognizant of what legacy they would leave behind.
A leader is one who finds and avails himself of intelligent persons / followers, who necessarily have to be better than own self. Leadership is not about navigating in calm waters, it is best seen and tested only against fresh torrent of currents and stormy weather.
For anyone to be respected as a leader, he / she must not compromise the state, values, inherent strength and weakness. Leadership demands consistency in principles. There is no room for flexibility in either values or principles.
The writer is a banker and a freelance contributor