Fearless or Shameless

Thy Lead the Ship


Monday, September 21, 2009

Rajit Nair
State of the Art Consulting

The following is my view on leadership and it may differ from what is depicted in our management textbooks. My advice for our younger MBA aspirants is to look for real-life examples before you comprehend most of the textbooks and ‘gyans’ as they may not help you while facing real-time issues in business.

A leader is the one, who knows the pulse of the business, who could measure the heartbeat of his/her team and should be well versed in the articulation and implementation of action plans and importantly, upholds ethical values. In addition, he/she should have a big heart. In my opinion, these are the basic requisites.

Concisely, a leader is the person who leads from the front. Wikipedia defines “Leadership is and has been described as the “process of social influence in which one person can enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of a common task”. A definition more inclusive comes from former President of Sri Lanka Mrs.Chandrika Kumaratunga's keynote speech at the plenary session of the Rotary Institute on September 18, 2009. She said, “The good leaders are those who possess a vision for a better tomorrow, not only for one’s self, but also for others. I dare say that this must be based on a foundation of ethical values” (The New Indian Express Saturday, September 19, 2009).

So without an argument, a person when put into a team setup or placed at the reigns of a company should be leading or guiding the team from the front. All epics and holy books mention about leaders, basically the kings or emperors or great warriors who used to lead from the front to attack the opposition for good or bad causes.

I have seen many ‘leaders’ over the years, especially the chief executives who are the ”archangels” of their businesses. If I say all of them fit into the criteria of a leader, I am sure the readers will say, ‘this guy is a liar’.

Some are great leaders would die for their team, but for them business objectives comes second. I call them “losers”. Few at the top reign fake that they are true leaders, but in reality, they are just hypocrites. They don’t know anything about business, management; they don’t delegate (their ignorance leads them to become Control Freaks) and lack flair in people management. They just have mediocre knowledge and lack the clues to practical solutions. They pretend to be critical and strive for quality, even though they don’t have any yardstick to measure quality. The biggest asset they possess is to “Bull @***t”. I would call them “traitors” or “dictators” (if they are Control Freaks too). During crisis, such ‘leaders’ often have been seen dumping their team and company as well.

Some have an attitude of “not to hurt anyone” and I phrase them “survivors”. This attitude I have noticed in those who reached the highest positions through one of the ‘short-cuts’. So to hide their inadequacies, they would try to ‘buy in’ all subordinates through this “no hurt” policy. In such an environment, non-performers will also get rewarded, which sometimes hurts the performers and jeopardizes the team-ship.

Very few are “true or genuine leaders” who would manage his/her resources and the team professionally and drive the business to success. Unfortunately, I have seen some of such true or genuine leaders wither away due to lack of support from their own Board of Directors or investors. Regarding the quality of the people sitting on such Boards, I would spend another folio for that later under the series Fearless or Shameless

Leadership can be taught at Business Schools? Maybe to a certain degree! Like we have Film Institutes to teach acting. Possibly, we can instill the desired traits in a human being through a structured curriculum. The success ratio (number of them reaching greater heights) is debatable or researchable. Still, I strongly believe that like acting, leadership should also be a ‘built-in” trait.

You can judge a person’s leadership ability if you put him/her into a real-life situation which demands such a quality to excel. The Era of Recession provided an array of examples of those “losers”, “traitors” and “survivors” being swept away. Unfortunately, a few genuine “true or genuine leaders” also lost their battleground, not because of their faults.

How many leaders you may need in a company? At least one, I would say for a small sized company, but the person should be a true or genuine leader. If there is only one known leader in an organization (and that too not the business owner or the chief executive), then the company is at high risk. Upon exit of this leader, then many of his/her “followers” will also follow suit. This would be detrimental for the organization. Another scenario is that if there is no leader at all in an organization, many quality or smart employees will “pick the doors” much earlier once this fact is discovered and before the organization draws its shutters.

Friday September 25, 2009

BG writes:

I guess Rajit refers to leadership in corporate management rather than leadership in the general term.

The challenge is for the candidate to prepare, prepare and prepare for taking up as particularly relevant a band of tasks as s/he may be unsure of the leadership functions s/he may be called upon to take up. The basics will be already there as (I have mentioned this earlier) our basic 12 year schooling would have taken the candidate through the widest curriculum of academics.

An Indian matriculate is generally considered to be one of the better choices for candidacy to higher education. It is this education where emphasis has to be laid in allowing and providing for the identification of the student's skills. Right now, the sad thing is, most of the subject matter covered in the so called ivy league B - schools is nothing more than a glorified revision of the higher secondary humanities with math/stats thrown in. This is a mere re-generalization of an already generalized persona.

Candidacy enhancement

  • What particular skill-set in me would make me attractive?
  • What is/are the really new subject(S) that this B - school offering me to spotlight my speciality?

These are some of the real issues I guess, that the student and the educator must face. In my opinion a higher secondary polytechnic (where the real 'nuts & bolts' of all industry get trained!) curriculum added with courses in humanities and language(s) would better 'produce' more pre-qualified management material!

The real time issue Rajit refers may in reality be triggered not by personality traits of the incumbent, as much by the inability to tackle core business issues at hand. Issues may range from technical to marketing to debt collection. But where is the leadership skill to be applied?

In actual problem resolution or mere cosmetic workarounds?

Share your Thoughts on these very important questions

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