Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Hallmarks of Good Leadership

THERE are tomes written about how to lead and how to follow, and as with all things, paradoxically people end up reading these through one eye and blinking away the learning through the other. The end is that, to play on what dear old Polonius said to his son: Neither a follower, nor a leader be, for following often loses both its way and trends, and leading dulls the edge of brigandry. In the mad desire to clear my musty mind of (mis)conceptions about how to be a leader, I went into several ancient treatises on the subject and hit on Sun Tzu's `Art of War', Adolf Hitler's `Mein Kampf' and Genghis Khan's guttural growls (to say nothing of large lashings from Krishna's advice to Arjuna) to distil the essence of efficient leadership and proactive following.

Attribute #1: Leaders must have courage to take decisions, and followers must have the courage to do as they are told. While leadership has the problem of carrying the can at the end of the day, followers have the advantage of whining away to each other about the vicissitudes of their day's work. All the while keeping in mind Attribute #2 below

Attribute #2: Followers can crib all they want... to each other and not to everybody that comes their way, especially those that do not belong to the organisation. Doing so is disloyal and should be rooted out buckle and thong. Disagreement is not disloyalty. Disobeying is. A leader is disloyal to his followers if he does not back them up to his fullest ability. A person that has another view should be allowed to explain it. Indeed leaders and followers should listen. Neither should show any bias, even if the explanation is unusual and seems unsound. Attempts should be made to understand the divergent view

Attribute #3: Leaders should want to be leaders. There are some people who were excellent field men, but make useless managers. They think like field men and cannot marshal a group of field men from headquarters. Similarly, followers that want to be leaders out of turn, often turn out to be utter failures because they don't know how to follow properly and make followers happy to follow

Attribute #4: Leaders should be able to manage their own emotions and those of their followers. If a leader is devastated by a failed deadline or target, he is not inspiring enough to energise his followers to better performance the next time around. Followers should not allow their own disappointment to alloy the will of their teams and erode the quality of output. A leader should feel for the individuals in his care. By doing so, he ensures loyalty from his followers

Attribute #5: Leadership is not a cushy job. It requires high levels of energy and drive. If these are missing, no corporate house will succeed. A leader should lead by personal example. Only an energetic leader can enthuse a group of followers to be energetic. An energetic group of followers is a dynamic, productive and result-oriented group of followers

Attribute #6: Leadership is all about dynamism and the ability to choose the right path from the analysis of the facts before him. A leader cannot afford to be ambivalent. He must be decisive and bold enough to follow through on his decision. Lack of decision confuses and frustrates followers. Followers should follow with a will for their efforts to be successful

Attribute #7: Leadership involves anticipating the course of events with an educated instinct. Good followers learn to anticipate the wishes of their leader and support him in his decision. Anticipation of issues by leaders involves risk, the character of a leader should be able to accept and take that risk. Leader should anticipate the timing of their actions too. This they can often learn to do by learning from the failures they have had

Attribute #8: A leader should never be content to lose. Winning should be the goal every time since it inspires followers to perform well time and again. Understanding the adversary is crucial and should be one of the top priorities of a leader. A follower needs to appreciate his leader's assessment of the situation and the threats that face a strategy

Attribute #9: A leader has to show and be self-confident. He has to be because he needs the strength of his convictions to be successful. He has to display his self-confidence because he needs to convey the sensation to his followers. A successful leader is one that does well when things are going well and does better when things get rough. Persistence in the face of difficulty is essential

Attribute #10: A leader should praise a follower if he has done well, but in moderation. Over-praise is worse than no praise at all because it inflates the ego of the recipient and undermines his future efforts. It might also make the follower less of a follower. Similarly, leaders should be able to take the blame and not lay it at the doors of their followers. A good follower performs well because he has been well led. He performs badly because he has been badly led. Giving all the credit to a follower is as bad as blaming him for the failure of the team. In the final analysis, the leader is responsible for the success or failure of his group

Attribute #11: Leaders should have integrity so that both follower and other leaders can have faith in him. Indeed the best leader has integrity that is admired by his adversaries as well. A good follower should respect his leader's integrity and model his credibility on that of his leader

Attribute #12: Leaders should lead by encouraging loyalty, trust and dependability. Followers should be guided, trained and developed into sub-leaders. Punishment should not be harsh; it should be swift and just and should not take the form of humiliation. Punishment by exclusion is more powerful than punishment by humiliation. A follower that has been excluded will wish to return to favour. A humiliated follower will wish to distance himself from the group and may join the competitor. A good follower should be aware of personal wrongdoing. A wise follower will go to his leader before discovery and ask for remedial advice

They had it right you know, all the prehistoric corporate moguls (or Mongols), and the lessons we learn from them is as enduring today as it was several thousand years ago. Which goes to show, nothing has really changed since then, and as long as leaders and followers are human, they will continue to lead and be led in the same way they have always been. Call it whatever you want, but it will always be the same - only the frills and furbelows might look different. On the surface

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