Leadership, as I see it!

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All of us, at sometime or the other in our lives, will hear someone say, “You are the future leaders of the organization” or “As leaders of tomorrow….”. I suspect that in many such instances, the comment would be made (and received) in passing. After all, there would be, at that moment, action items to be completed, fires to be fought and issues to be addressed.

However, such statements – upon subsequent reflection – have always prompted in me the question: OK, so what is leadership and what do leaders do? What is it that I did till yesterday that now makes me a ‘future leader’? And how does one transition from a ‘future leader’ to a ‘leader’? My view was that it definitely cannot be a title/role that you play in a company because that would imply an ‘organizational blessing’ to you being a leader.

This note is only an attempt to provide my perspective on leadership without any of the boiler plate terms such as vision, strategy, intent etc…. By no means do I claim that I am right. However, after coming across varying examples on leadership, I have concluded if one wants to come up with two pages of points on leadership, (s)he still would not be any wiser.

My leadership attributes are therefore culled from just three sources among the few that I have read. And these three, I believe, are clear, simple & concise (at least for me).

Seth Godin was first. His essential question in his book ‘Tribes – We Need You to Lead Us’ was “Do you want to be a leader or do you want to be a manager?” and followed up with “Leaders lead, Managers manage”. Simple, yet powerful.

Harvard Business Review opined that there were only 4 attributes of a leader:

1. Leaders always have the TRUST of the people they work with.

2. Leaders always have the ability to HOLD the ATTENTION of their group.

3. Leaders always COMMUNICATE the approach, direction and way forward.

4. Leaders always KNOW how/what to DEPLOY resources at their disposal.

Lou Gerstner in ‘Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance’ outlined that successful executives just had 3 attributes viz. superb focus, superb execution and superb personal leadership. Focus pertains to developing steely detailed strategies and commiting resources to make them work. Execution talks of measurements (people respect only what you inspect), world-class processes and enabling a high-performance culture. Personal leadership includes passion and integrity, and I suppose you could add the 4 points from HBR above.

Before I forget, if you still have not read ‘Good to Great’ by Jim Collins, please do so. So far, my note only tells you about WHAT makes a leader. For HOW to get there, Jim Collins is your guide.

Arun Kumar is an industry thought leader and a product /platform evangelist. He is an external contributor on Leadership. You can reach out to him here

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