Recently, as part of administering our proprietary process to help develop CEO brand, I was interviewing the CEO of a leading company. During the freewheeling discussion, we reached a stage where he needed to talk about inspirational leaders who have had a deep impact on his life. We had a very engaging discussion on this topic. And, one unusual occurrence was that despite repeatedly prodding, none of the leaders that the CEO spoke about were from the corporate world. Also, he wasn’t forthcoming on what was the impact (if any!) of these leaders’ styles on the evolution of the CEO’s own leadership style.
The discussion prompted me to explore similarities between success mantras of political / social leaders and those followed by effective corporate leaders. I decided to look at lessons from lives of leaders that I admire the most (Mahatma Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln) and connect with the styles followed by corporate leaders that I have had the good fortune of working with. Given below are the five common lessons that emerged:
- Integrity: People follow leaders because they trust them. Can you imagine anyone trusting a leader who is not honest and doesn’t have high moral standards? Gandhi was able to mobilise the masses as they believed in him. They knew that he was working for the greater good and would never betray them. In the corporate sector also, leaders who are honest and have high moral standards are able to evoke long term loyalty among the employees. Their teams support them in good times and well as when the going is not good. In the corporate sector, we have all witnessed temporary loyalty to undeserving leaders. However, we all know that it is driven by lack of choice and is temporary. I would call Integrity as a ‘Trust magnet’, which leads to true loyalty.
- Clarity: Another amazing quality exhibited by successful leaders is that they have absolute clarity of vision. It could be about achieving big, hairy and audacious goals such as gaining independence or abolishing slavery or could also be about realising mundane corporate goals such as achieving the target set in the three-year strategy plan! Leaders who have clarity of vision are able to chart out a clear roadmap to achieve that vision. Visions are fuzzy and general public or regular employees will be unable to follow a vision unless it is backed by a clear roadmap. A well-defined plan makes the employees understand the vision and also their role in achieving that vision.
Another benefit is that Leaders who have complete clarity of purpose and a roadmap, are usually extremely passionate about their vision. This passion also rubs off on their teams, who are able to give in their best to achieve the vision.
- Fearlessness: Effective leaders are fearless! Sounds a bit incredulous and out of a superhero movie, but it is not! Fearlessness that I am talking about is not the absence of fear, but having the courage to take risks and fail. Overcoming the fear of failure is extremely important for a leader. None of us like to fail, but failure is an integral part of becoming successful. If one cannot overcome the fear of failure, there is no way one can become an effective leader. And, fearlessness is also equally about not getting fazed by failures and learning to quickly bounce back from failures. Effective leaders learn from their failures, quickly make course corrections and then go back to the tough grind of trying to achieve their goals.
- Dispassionate action: It is about will power and not buckling under pressure from others. Effective leaders are able to take tough decisions, which are essential to achieve the objectives. Some of the leaders that I have worked with, always ‘did the right thing’ despite the actions being tough, despite facing pressure from their peers, and despite those tough actions making them unpopular. The flip side is that these leaders also judge their teams with the same high standards that they have set for themselves. Sometimes, it is difficult for people to adjust to these high standards.
- Empathy: Last but not the least, empathy is a great asset for any leader. Being empathetic means having the skill to understand other people’s feeling and perspective. Leaders who are unable to focus on how others are feeling will not know what drives them. Hence, they may not be able to get their teams aligned to the common objective.
The last two points are tricky and are, in some sense, contrarian. Hence, smart leaders need to maintain a fine balance between the two. They cannot be too soft and emotional and also, they cannot always be tough as they need to take their teams along.
Being a good leader is nothing short of being a Mahatma!
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