Peter F Drucker once said “Leaders grow, they are not made”
Leadership today has become a very multi meaning term. Professionals from various disciplines have defined ‘Leadership’ in different ways. Paradigm shifts in the cultures of organisations and the consistent parallel and horizontal development of companies have raised the need to look at leadership in a new angle.
A strong company is the one that has leaders spread all across the company, not just at the top. The business world today needs both good leaders and good managers. However, because of the rapid change occurring in the industry today, a company needs far more leaders, not more managers.
Time after time again, businesses put the wrong person in charge. Unintentionally, they reward a "don't rock the boat" mentality. Conformity and status quo are the first steps leading down the staircase of a business disaster. Good leaders develop through a never ending process of self-study, education, training, and experience.
As correctly quoted by Ray Croc “The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves”. Effective leadership arises out of groups, organisations and communities that have built trust, and learned to collaborate and make decisions and solve problems constructively.
Let’s view a few examples. The Tata Group one of India's oldest, largest and most respected business conglomerates started in the 1870s & having businesses spread over seven business sectors, comprise of 91 companies with operations in six continents. It employs some 220,000 people and collectively has a shareholder base of over two million world over. Despite the seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the group remained cohesive, congenial, and mercifully alive—a fact that speaks not just to luck but to an unparalleled feat in leadership, a ‘Leadership of Trust’ as they love to address themselves. This ‘leadership of trust’, the years they call a ‘Century of Trust’, was set on five core values: integrity, understanding, excellence, unity and responsibility. These values, which have been part of the Group's beliefs and convictions from its earliest days, continue to guide and drive the business decisions of Tata companies even today.
True leadership is about taking people to a place they wouldn't go to by themselves. Good leaders don't merely supervise; they create a sense of purpose and direction for those they lead.
Organizations can only build great leaders in an environment that nurtures and supports that development. If they don’t have such an environment, they need to change their culture to create one. But organizations cannot change their culture without good leadership.
This was the catch-22 facing the U.S. Army’s Tank Automotive and Armaments Command, otherwise known as TACOM, when Maj. Gen. Ross Thompson assumed command there in October 2001. TACOM has 14,000 employees, primarily civilians, at 78 locations worldwide, which made it comparable to a midsize international corporation. Gen. Thompson set out to create that nurturing, supportive culture within TACOM. “We also knew many important elements of leadership,” he says. Thompson (with advice and assistance from Tampa, Fla.-based performance management firm Achieve Global) is building on that foundation, and creating a place where leaders can grow. The three simple principles he learnt during his undergraduate days helped him nurture and grow leadership at TACOM. These were 1) Do what’s right — legally and morally — every day. 2) Do the best you can at all times. 3) Treat others as you would have them treat you. He feels that if one can define one’s own leadership vision, and communicate it daily through actions and speech to one’s colleagues, that’s how one shall demonstrate his commitment to leadership development.”
Leaders need to "be present" and being literally; physically present is the fundamental meaning of that term. We're always surprised at how many leaders we encounter who spend most their time in their offices or on "executive row."
They seldom show themselves to those they lead. It has been over twenty years that the groundbreaking book ‘In Search of Excellence’ pointed out the virtues of "Management by Walking Around." Mayor Giuliani certainly demonstrated the wisdom of that practice.
But being present means more than just physical presence, important as that is. It means being present in the moment - focused totally and completely on what is happening right here and right now. It means, when you're with people, giving them your full attention, so that they will feel recognized and motivated. When you're not present to the people you lead, it weakens their willingness to commit.
Being present also means being flexible, able to deal spontaneously with rapid change. Think of being present as a focused but flexible dance with the world in which the leader can instantly change step or tempo as the music changes.
A crucial aspect of this kind of leadership became crystal clear when on September 11, 2001, as all of us watched the unfolding tragedy on television. It was comforting to see Mayor Rudy Giuliani of New York on the scene. His simple presence and concern gave the much sought after reassurance to the country. In contrast, everyone wondered about the President. Was he all right? Where was he? His absence left a void. Though for no fault of his own, President Bush was missing for most of the terrible day. Believing with good reason that the President was in danger, the Secret Service put him on Air Force One to take him out of harm's way. Unfortunately, the effect was to remove him from public view when the country desperately needed his visible presence.
Good leadership is also instrumental in avoiding employee burnout and reducing staff turnover. James Bradley lately pointed out that “Burnout is no longer the acknowledged domain of the highly pressured lawyer or doctor, but a condition that can hit anyone at any time in their career if they are faced with high productivity expectations in a hostile and unsupportive environment”. The key then, is a business philosophy that values its people and invests to nourish and support development through professional training, coaching and mentoring. Problems only arise when this is not set in place as a positive encouraging mechanism, but instead is used as a whip by ill-equipped management. It needs to inspire people, raise morale and restore a sense of purpose and self-worth, naturally leading to best performance.
As Natalie Calvert, MD, Calcom Group points out “Positivity and optimism in the workplace encourage tolerance and balanced judgement, and inspirational leadership enables access to those positive qualities that build our self-respect and contentment - the ultimate preventative medicine for burnout”.
Thus, the ‘leader today’ requires to stick to certain must do’s in order to be effective, successful and sustaining in this ever changing corporate governance. These essentials can be listed as:-
- Being there.
- Always remember, Communication is the key.
- Instilling optimism while staying grounded to reality.
- Tell the hard truths.
- Minimize status differences and insist on courtesy and mutual respect.
- Master conflict. Deal with anger in small doses and engage dissidents.
- Take care of yourself: Maintain your stamina and let go of guilt.
- Reinforce the team message constantly.
- Find something to celebrate and something to laugh about.
- Have the courage to take big risks, and more.
- Foster a spirit of tenacious creativity. Never give up—there’s always another move.