IS leadership overrated? I have often grappled with this question. The fact that one holds a position barely qualifies one to be a leader. Some folks manage to deceive themselves into believing that they are leaders. Why? Because they hold a position?
In my life, I have worked with leaders who served for a cause. Some served as heads of businesses that operated across geographies in multiple countries and many continents.
Some leaders I thought I knew withered away after we moved on – out of sight, out of mind. We barely kept in touch. Then there were those who I truly respected, who turned out to be friends for life. I heard someone say, “… you may join a company – but when you move on – you leave a boss …”
Many consultants preach about how to become a great leader. Once we tear down the facade and peel away the layers, it comes down to what is left in the bare and naked form of humanity: the human personality. After all, you can’t teach people to be nice. Leadership traits are the same; either you have them, or you don’t. You can’t fake it for long. In some instances, I have seen how the dynamics of power-play work. Actions speak louder than words. Most often, people see games people play. I have witnessed how power-hungry managers wield power by inspiring a few for some time before the disillusion sets in.
In my experience, I witnessed my former boss and his uncanny skill at radiating a sense of anxiety—an illusion that transmitted unpredictability. On his retirement, my farewell words to him in my in-person chat said it all: “While our corporate signature line is Leadership with Trust— you symbolized Leadership with Thrust. Your pyrotechnics hidden in your false temper – simulation of stress you orchestrated was perhaps only to extract results from people you lead.” My words brought a smile to him. Despite his uncanny unpredictable ways, his ability to pay heed to genuine hearts was uncanny. His responsibility spanned vast geography that included regions under unrest. As the CEO, he was faced with a dilemma. One of his managers was kidnapped while on his way to the office, and the militants demanded a ransom. The demands were refused, and negotiations went on for over a year. Running the business and achieving profitability despite all odds was a business as usual challenge. The unusual part was in managing this crisis that attracted national headlines. It tested leadership mettle. His modulation of genuine concern on one extreme and pyrotechnic to manage anxiety and unpredictability on the other – for some, it continues to baffle. Perhaps it qualifies for an in-depth research study.
I know that fear, on the one hand, is a mediocre drug that treats a symptom that is best suited for lesser mortals. Inspiration, on the other hand, is the magic potion that develops leaders, thereby boundlessly uplifting the spirits that heal the soul – thus transcending its impact across generations with a lasting legacy.
I was fortunate to have worked with several leaders who lead with compassion and grace. A promise is a promise was their unspoken shackle bonded with truth and trust. I once asked my senior about leading with trust, since he served on several boards. He was conferred the Honorary Knighthood by Elizabeth II, along with several civilian awards that he was bestowed over time. His accolades are countless. His demeanor is humble. It was in the early years of my career when we had developed the corporate branding signature line: ‘Leadership with Trust.’ It was about reaffirming leadership in sectors in which the conglomerate operated. My simple question to him was: “You as a leader – what can you do to ensure we live by the corporate signature line of ‘Leadership with Trust?’” His response was simple. He said that he personally could not do much about trust directly, but what he strives to do is keep his word. Over time, he hopes that it will build personal credibility. He explained, “Trust, as I see, is an outcome,” over which he had no direct control. He explained that he has a much better influence over credibility. And so, I see it now that one must do what one has to do. Never give a diplomatic, soft-pedaling answer. Folks can see through it. After all, you can only be a leader if you have followers. You will have followers only if you can inspire, and you can inspire if you don’t try to fake it with a pep talk and rehearsed talk lines. You can’t preach people to be ethical and have moral standards and then show off a falsehood of high morality and ethics.
To be a great leader, you have to work hard to alter your personality to be worthy of being called a leader. Only on your tombstone and at your funeral will you know from the conversations others have about you, besides the eulogy, if you were liked for what you were or was only a fatal attraction about your position and the goodies you had as the paraphernalia of the leadership position you held.
About the Author:
Raghu Kalé is an accomplished communications professional who has positively impacted
business outcomes by supporting corporate and operational strategy. Formerly the Vice President in the Office of the Brand Custodian of Tata Sons, Mr. Kalé has supported brand and marketing thought leadership initiatives for over 25 years. He lives in New Jersey with his wife Ywin Shin, their two daughters, and a wise-eyed beagle named Skye. Loyalty & Sacrifice: Ushering New Horizons for Business Leaders in the Digital Age is his first book.