Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Leadership is about making an impact

Due to a busy schedule saketvaani couldn’t come up with any post in the month of January to ignite the discussion. So this is the first blog of the New Year and even though a bit late, I’ll take this opportunity to wish you all a happy new year. In this blog our point of discussion will be leadership. I’ll share some of my learnings from a course on leadership which I must say has been a very enriching experience.

Let us first define leadership. Leadership is about doing meaningful things or making your people see meaning in things. If you ask me the single biggest thing that’s important to leaders then my answer would be "their ability to make an impact". This is the parameter on which they are judged. So we may debate whether Hitler was a success or a failure but what we can say with certainty that he had an impact.

With most firms preferring leaders rather than managers while recruiting, the line between the two may seem to blur but the difference nevertheless is there. Some notable ones are: Leader is guided by vision but a manager is guided by objective. A leader is judged by his or her effectiveness but its efficiency that matters to a manager. A leader copes with changes whereas a manger deals with complexities. Add to that a leader has followers while a manger has subordinates.

So what are the important qualities that a leader should possess? First of all he should possess an ability to simplify things for his followers i.e. provide clarity and meaning. For example a scientist may have myriad of things to say about a human expedition to the planet Mars be it the spacecraft, the technology etc. but a leader would simply say to the common man, “it’s about putting our countryman on the Mars”. A leader should possess the ability to utilise the power of informal channels i.e. s/he should be good at networking with people. A generalist i.e. a person with a wide array of knowledge stands to have a better chance than a specialist to succeed as a leader. Leadership is about context so the qualities required to be a political leader could be vastly different from the qualities required to captain a cricket team. Some qualities may be generic to most leaders but it’s these specific qualities that determine whether one will make an impact. I’ll now discuss a few different contexts and try to focus on qualities that matter in those circumstances.

Politics: We may be losing respect for our politicians but there is no doubt that being a political leader is not everybody’s cup of tea. And the tougher aspect isn’t limited to money and muscle power even in the Indian scenario as these are resources not qualities. One of the most important qualities that’s needed is his/her ability to mobilise the followers as well as resources. Isn’t it hard to imagine a successful election rally without large number of people? The second quality is the ability to exploit the ignorance of the masses. Studies have shown that political leaders are usually better educated than the people that they lead. The third quality of utmost importance is to have a social network that isn’t necessarily limited to their constituency.

MNCs: “Leadership pipeline” is the buzzword nowadays in various MNCs. This can be attributed to the need felt across organizations to manage change. Even though most successful MNCs were started by entrepreneurs who were colleges dropouts but while hiring such firms do look for educational qualifications. So it would be safe to assume that a premier college degree would help. As MNCs call for managing activities across the globe, so being entrepreneurial is becoming a necessity. S/he has to have risk-taking abilities which an entrepreneur possesses.  Another quality that helps is the ability to manage relations. After all s/he has to deal with governments, local communities, partners etc.

Self Managed Groups (SMG): The reason why I am discussing SMGs is that they don’t rely on leaders to guide them as they are supposed to self-manage their activities. But how do they manage it? The answer lies in professionalism. A profession is characterized by common body of knowledge, a code of ethics and formal training. SMGs like paramedics can manage themselves on their own as leadership is replaced by training, clearly defined tasks and pre-defined process.

 But any discussion on leadership would be incomplete without discussing the followers. So is there any golden rule to know how many followers or what kind of followers do you need to make an impact? Well I am not sure about the quantity but surely their quality is of utmost importance. As they say, “a small minority of committed and active followers can effectively carry along a large but passive population”. Now you can make out whether you are a leader. Isn't it?

Looking forward to your comments to enrich this discussion.


  1. Leadership is also a bit about followers. A leader might have vision and inspiring skills but there might still be apprehension amongst its followers.

    Once a certain number of followers is reached, more followers are more than ready to join in, and they think less about the apprehensions than making the jump. A Tipping Point effect, call it if you might.

    So a leader has to carefully nurture its intial followers with more respect and sharing of ideals etc than he moght have to do in future.

    So its a fibonacci kind of scheme, once you are past the initial stage, the priorities should change. such as motivation and marketing of ideals give way to momentum sustenance, and effective realising of goals.

    So i guess, even in the life of a leader at various stages, he requires various skills. And even if he does not have all the skills required he might still reach a certain stage and be successful till that point. OF there is learning experience etc.

    - Srinjoy

  2. @ Srinj, I agree with your view that the followers are very important for a leadership style to flourish. I mentioned that their commitment and involvement is more important than their numbers as you would see with most movements e.g. Nazi that a bunch of people led by Hitler could wreak such havoc. Same applies to other efforts.
    And you rightly talked about the grooming of the leader and his or her learning curve as he matures in his role.

  3. Nice post Saket...recently heard this line on leadership, which sums up my defn of it... "Leadership is the ability of knowin the way, going the way n showin the day" :)

    Hope it helps :)

  4. Thanks Raj for the value adding quote. It summarizes leadership quite aptly.