When I listed the qualities that I would like to see in a leader, I got some critical remarks from a lady who teaches ‘Leadership’ to some of the top companies in the world. She decided that a leader by its innate definition has to be good, and therefore people like Hitler, etc, should not be considered leaders. Hmm… may be, one should call him Fuhrer then! [More about such instructors later]
Anyway, I am beginning to realize that some people are a bit confused by my definitions. My list of qualities did not come out of the blue, trying to satisfy 4Es, 9Cs, or 7Ps, or something like that. It was not a deliberate attempt to come up with exact seven either. It was not like I had to think too much to put the list together. I have been dealing with such leadership issues on a day-to-day basis in my organization. I had been fascinated by the topic of leadership for quite long and hence I guess it was an understanding that I had taken for granted.
To illustrate my understandings, I have created these scenarios.
Imagine two people X and Y. Imagine both are honest and highly educated. Both are genuinely nice people and quite efficient. They have consistently delivered on what was expected of them. But X can take strong and bold decisions and execute them while Y is always unsure of which path to follow and is usually indecisive at every crossroad. Who will make a better leader?
That’s the first quality. “Ability to take strong, bold and quick decisions and follow them up with concrete action.”
Now, imagine there are two people Z and W (who are similar to X from the previous case). Both are able to take strong, bold and quick decisions and are able to follow them up with concrete action. But Z will not own up responsibility when things go wrong as an outcome of his earlier decisions. He is adept at finding the scapegoats for things that go wrong. He blames others for wrong results. Whereas W would step forward to say, ‘I take the responsibility for this mess. It was my decision that landed us up in this trouble’. Who will make a better leader?
That’s the second quality. “Ability to take responsibility for one’s actions- both successes and failures (especially the failures).”
Now, imagine there are two people U and V (who are similar to W from the previous case). Both own up responsibility, especially the failures. U expects his subordinates to behave in certain way but does not actually practice what he preaches. He expects everyone to work late, but he consistently leaves early. He thinks that the rules that apply to others do not apply to him. While he preaches diversity, he does not practice it himself. While he preaches promotion of excellence, he ensures certain excellent people are not promoted to eliminate threat to him. On the other hand, V practices what he preaches. He believes that whatever he does, even when no one is watching, is setting an example. He ensures that he makes a constant habit to set right examples in all his actions, behaviors and decisions. Who will make a better leader?
That’s how I come up with the third quality. “Lead by setting examples.”
Now, imagine there are two people S and T (who are similar to V from the previous case). Both lead by example. They practice what they preach. But S is someone who has difficulty in convincing people to follow his direction. He is not able to inspire people to roll up the sleeves and act. He is not able to influence his superior officers to make his case. Whereas T can inspire his team, can bring in the right talent to do the right kind of work, hold the team together, and influence people to follow his direction. Who will make a better leader?
That’s how I come up with the fourth quality. “Ability to pull up resou
Now, imagine there are two people Q and R (who are similar to T from the previous case). Q does not delegate responsibility. He wants to make all the decisions. He wants the information to flow only through him. He believes that any delegation might result in loss of power for him. He works hard, overworks in fact, and wants to participate in all decision-making activities. On the other hand, R usually empowers the right people allowing them to make decisions. He encourages them to take decisions, and in turn encourages them to own up responsibility for such decisions. He congratulates them on their successes and questions them on failures. Who makes a better leader?
That’s how I come up with the fifth quality. “Ability to delegate responsibilities to the right people and empower them to take decisions.”
The next attribute, integrity, is one of the most confusing qualities that I have known so far. In my experiences many top leaders of big organizations have not been able to articulate the definition of integrity. When a CEO of a top Indian company was asked ‘what’s integrity?’ in an open forum, he completely fumbled on the answer, and kept repeating the word ‘integrity’ while trying to define it. He completely lost the audience making it confusing for everyone.
According to me, it is the strength of the character; it’s the ability to stay the course; it’s the ability to be consistent in your frame of definition. That character could be good or bad, moral or immoral, virtuous or not. One of the best examples I could think of is from the movie, Scent of a woman. Please read through the ‘Dialogue’ section.
While two people could have the above listed qualities to make leaders, a person who displays integrity is bound to go long way in leading his people. This is not a necessary quality, but a desired attribute. There could be leaders satisfying the first five qualities while failing on this.
That’s the sixth attribute. “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!”
[As I began to google it up, I found a good explanation here on Integrity (the kind of definition I agree with).]
The next attribute, vision, is what makes a good leader a great leader. Bigger the vision bigger the influence!
Hence the seventh attribute. “Ability to think big (Vision).”
I do not profess to be an expert on this subject. These are my learning, my own way. I could be grossly wrong but these definitions are good enough for me.
The qualities I listed here are not to be seen in a sequence. They are not in decreasing or increasing order. I call the first 5 as desired qualities and the last 2 as desired attributes. A person could have only some of the qualities and be a great man. There are philosophers, teachers, catalysts, and kingmakers, who have some of these qualities but are not necessarily leaders.
We could talk about other attributes, such as honesty, efficiency, goodness, education, morality, humility, etc. Aren’t these qualities desirable in a leader? These are good to have, may be, but these attributes by themselves do not make a leader. Many a times, we want a leader to be moral, which is quite subjective. Osama Bin Laden and George Bush (Junior) would satisfy all the 5 qualities that I listed here and even the other two attributes, but they might be immoral according to certain societies while they are moral according to few others. In the same way, humility is expected of certain leaders but is it a quality by which a leader is made? Not really. Some leaders are humble while few are downright arrogant.