Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Qualities of a Leader

There is an ongoing campaign by TOI (Times of India) called ‘Lead India’. I guess, the journalists at TOI are asked to come up with innovative ways to woo the audience to boost TOI’s sales and they are doing a good job. The present campaign is based on the slogan ‘DO’. I really like this slogan. But what I see is that they are ‘DO’ing a good job of increasing TOI readership and nothing more. Conducting debates, publishing nice speeches, and reporting SMS-based polls is not ACTING or DOING, but just TALKING. Here’s a piece on this by Ledzius at Desicritics.

What attracted my attention was the List that TOI published listing the qualities of leader. They are as follows according to the ranking (with votes for each).

1. Honesty (362)

2. Education (127)

3. Efficiency (112)

4. Vision (33)

5. Charisma (38)

6. Ability to listen and learn (65)

7. Ability to inspire, motivate (48)

Am I the only one who finds something really essential missing in here? Or do you feel the same? Leadership has been one of my favorite topics. I believe one of the most essential ingredients for a leader and which is completely missing from the above list is ‘the ability to take strong, bold and quick decisions and implement them with concrete action’. For some reason this was quite absent from the list gathered by the team at TOI. And this is not covered by any of the above listed qualities.

And one of the criteria listed by TOI looks so ludicrous- and that is education. Why is education a necessary qualification to be a leader? I am not sure about that. Does better education naturally translate into a better leader? Hmm… this seriously looks like a collection of qualities compiled from SMS-savvy folks who have recently graduated from colleges and schools. For those who are a bit experienced it goes without saying that education is not a criterion for leadership. Education has nothing to do with leadership- examples galore from human history suggest this again and again. The only reason it has found its way in is because of our journalists who are fascinated by lofty degrees (which they couldn’t achieve) and have a very high opinion of such educated folks. No wonder they keep writing about nonsensical achievements from ex-IIT, ex-IIM, ex-MS folks whose only achievement seems to be getting that degree itself.

And what is Charisma anyway? How does one hone this quality in oneself? Is it a quality one can work on? Charisma happens to be an attribute given to a person only in retrospection. Was Hitler really that charismatic since beginning? Many thought he was a loser. The same holds true for Abe Lincoln as well. Charisma is not something you can work on to grow it in yourself, but is seen as reflection by others when many other attributes are put together. A person turns charismatic when he has shown certain of these qualities in consistent manner for certain period of time and it is usually what others perceive of him. Sometimes, it can be also an attribute that a person exudes naturally (through birth or stature) without having worked towards it (Rajiv Gandhi, because he is son of Indira Gandhi; Sonia Gandhi, because she is wife of Rajiv Gandhi, Abhishek Bachchan because he is son of Amitabh Bachchan, etc). According to me, this is a redundant attribute and should not be included in the list.

How is efficiency a leadership quality? I am not sure who put this in there. Efficiency is a good quality of a worker, an engineer, a teacher. But is it an essential quality to make a leader? Efficiency is the ability to do lot of things in a short period of time. Should a leader be efficient? Or should he be having a team of followers who are efficient? It’s like saying a leader should be a GOOD person at heart. Is being good a necessary attribute of a leader? Don't we have enough examples of BAD leaders, aren't they leaders?

I do believe we need honest leaders in India. But honesty by itself is not an essential quality to be a leader. There could be an honest leader or a dishonest one. It’s like saying he is a good leader or bad leader, but at the end of the day he is still a leader. We are not talking about nice people here. We are talking about leadership. And TOI has completely missed the point. I personally believe that folks at TOI have no clue what leadership is all about. They have no clue what leaders are made of. Being the highest subscription in media does not necessarily translate into ability to define what leadership is. And what they are currently doing is a charade to increase their subscription in the garb of doing something to the society.

The only reason ‘Honesty’ features here is because most Indians find this completely missing in most of Indian leaders and therefore it has become the most important criteria. I think the same applies to ‘Education’.

To get to the right kind of qualities one should ask “what is that extra quality that you want to see in a person by so that you are ready to follow him?”

I have compiled my own list of qualities a leader should have. These are from my personal experiences. According to me the list is as follows:

1. Ability to take strong, bold and quick decisions and follow them up with concrete action.

2. Ability to take responsibility for one’s actions- both successes and failures (especially the failures).

3. Lead by setting examples.

4. Ability to pull up resources, inspire people, gather momentum, and change opinions, to get things done. (This is not efficiency).

5. Ability to delegate responsibilities to the right people and empower them to take decisions.

6. Integrity – strength of character in face of all upheavals, downfalls and crises. Especially, the ability to stay the course when everyone else is ready to run and hide!

7. Ability to think big (Vision). A company or a nation is limited by the vision of its leaders. Bigger the vision of the leader, bigger the chances for that country to fulfill that vision!


  1. Sujai

    I keep seeing some html scripts in the middle of your entries -

    why is that?

    ~ Vinod

  2. Sujai- Could you please pass it on to DesiCRITICs? Thanks.

    "It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out howthe strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat." - Teddy Roosevelt

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Having a list or some kind of cook-book for leadership itself is a joke. Do 1 to 7 or have 1 through 6 and you will be a leader. I find it amusing when they say "top-10 qualities of a leader". If leadership was as simple as a recipe for khichdi we could build robotic leaders.

    What is the difference between honesty (that you ridiculed) and integrity (which is number 6 in your list)?

    No 1 for you is - "Ability to take strong, bold and quick decisions and follow them up with concrete action. "

    I agree with strong, bold and action part of it. "Quick decisions" like many good things in life depends on the situation. In some cases a leadership style built on consensus (which takes a lot of time) works better. While in different situations it might need you to make decisions within seconds and building consensus is not an option. So, it depends!

    Instead of "cookbooks" or top-10s try to find your framework since leadership is not as black-and-white as you would like it to be otherwise we would have machines leading us with the ten step algorithm. Refer to Bill George's books (True North and Authentic Leadership) for details. Narayan Murty is one of the leaders featured there.

    One needs to find very own "style" of leadership. Just trying to follow the top-10s lists and emulate somebody will not help. What works for Sujai might not work for Vinod.

    Watch this -


  5. The seven points which you have mentioned are in a slight sync with the 7 points what TOI has mentioned.

    Honesty is a common word; a politician might be an honest person to his people. A terrorist might be an honest source for that organization. Now what is the wrong point you see with the single word “Honesty” in the TOI’s list? Moreover I don’t find any difference between the words Honesty and the Integrity which you have mentioned. Please clarify.

    To me a leader should be

    1. Sincere,
    2. Hard Working,
    3. Patient when you are supposed to be and aggressive when you are required to be
    4. An Example,
    5. Know what to speak and where to
    6. A Motivator
    7. Should be master in what you lead [Technically, Functionally]

  6. Sridhar:

    The whole idea I wrote this blog is to convey why I did not agree with traits that TOI has listed. Yet, you ask me the same question. My article is self-explanatory.

    I have already talked about why I do not see honesty as an essential feature.

    Moreover I don’t find any difference between the words Honesty and the Integrity which you have mentioned. Please clarify.

    I have defined what integrity is in the list above.

    Thanks for providing your list.


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