From the time people start their corporate career, many aspire to be leaders even without quite knowing what it entails. It just sounds a nice, high up place to be. For a celebrity hungry nation, being a leader represents a position of power and being one-up on the hoi polloi. In this blog, I am not delving into the frequent debate about leadership versus management as those are fairly well documented by several people.
During the many years that I have worked in corporate jobs and then in my own ventures in software and search, I have seen this oft repeated, many times ludicrously so. The search industry for one seems to be full of the latter. The moment a person crosses a year or two in this industry, he is now a natural born leader of men! I am a team leader, he says, pompously. Of course, there are very few real leaders out there and that’s the way it has always been. So what makes someone a leader and someone else, as qualified or experienced, not?
There are obviously traits people are either born with or are socialized with early – physical appearance, intelligence, authority, charisma etc. Tough to train one self on these but there are other leadership traits that one can internalize with mindfulness and practice. Leadership is of many kinds so not all of it needs you to be a strapping 6-footer with a booming voice and a high IQ. Not that those things hurt!
I will list a few of these based on my own observations over the years, as all my blogs are. Some of these are (not an exhaustive list):
- Empathy: Understanding other people’s concerns and motivators will help you in relating to them better and them to you and earns their loyalty.
- Attention: The devil is always in the detail and the more you are able to drill down the tasks for your team the more likely that it’s well understood and executed.
- Helpfulness: People with a genuine desire to help others will earn the respect of their team members rather than a selfish person who wants only to look good at the cost of others.
- Assertiveness: There are tasks that need to be done for the team to succeed and restating these firmly but politely makes sure that everyone is on the same page. Being populist or aggressive will either make you a doormat or a bully and either way tasks will suffer.
- Goal Orientation: Having clearly stated goals is one of leadership’s key tasks starting from the super-ordinate goal to the minutest one and then ensuring that the team sticks to the path which moves it forward towards these goals. Broad, vague or non-existent goals will mean sure fire failure of leadership.
- Integrity: Do any of us genuinely respect a dishonest leader, even if we fear some of them? Even people who themselves are not fully honest will respect someone with high integrity to look up to. MK Gandhi and other great leaders have this in common. So stick to the core principles of ethics, fairness etc and you will earn your stripes as a leader.
Good luck with your journey into leadership and remember, to be a good leader you need to be a good follower first.