Leadership is how you look at things

Over the last few years, being a leader has gotten tougher and tougher. Being a CEO was probably never so stressful as it has now become. But leadership does not necessarily suggest a CXO. It also is about everyone part of an organization. And things aren’t really easy for them either.

An editorial that appeared in April 2009 on Harvard Business Review titled Leadership In Hard Times summed it up just perfectly in its opening words –

Leadership is never easy, but it’s incredibly tough right now…

The editorial actually talks not about leaders alone but also about the team that they are betting on – here’s a brief quote from the article –

Hire the best possible people to work for you, even if they fought you for your job. Surround yourself with a team of people who can challenge your thinking and whose strengths make up for your deficits. Share credit with your closest colleagues, so that they’re fully committed to your mission. Be sure to communicate, often and authentically, with your larger public. And don’t forget to relax. (Franklin D Roosevelt hosted a cocktail hour every evening, during which it was forbidden to discuss either politics or the war.)

When you do all that – choose the right people, bet on them, train them, empower them and then set them free, and, let’s say, return to work after a month of absence, you might be pleasantly surprised with the rather agreeable way things have managed themselves without you.

That is a definitive moment of silent joy you will experience as you see the result of your efforts as a leader and a mentor. But that moment fades away rapidly as you begin to realize they may not need you anymore.

Congrats. You may have just made yourself redundant.

So here is a big question to you: while we can theorize and make a big deal of grooming others and showing them the way, it does little in real situations to help the leader in question. Does he really want to stand by the end of the road and usher in throngs of people along the right path and let them grow and prosper while he is riveted to the same spot?

Answer, of course, is no. Obviously.

So what’s in it for you?

If you really analyze that, cut out all the noise, the core becomes clear and so does the answer. We all look for a certain gratification from our jobs. To take an example, as a young recruit, you might look for affirmation from your boss and acceptance from your peers. But as you grow professionally and as an individual, you get over those and look for gratification in things that go beyond these.

Problem with a majority of our so called ‘leaders’ is that the gratification they seek does not widen, deepen or mature as they grow older and move up the ladder.  The gratification they look for is stunted and they are trapped in a pursuit that coincides with pursuits of people 1, 2, or maybe even more levels below them. They may become too indifferent to good performers, or become too eager to please subordinates. They may find it difficult to wholeheartedly mentor, coach, guide or even appreciate their subordinates, and in my opinion, this is the real reason some of the bad ones suck.

Go on and take this test. Apply this theory to those ‘leaders’ you have seen in your career. See if this explains the good ones and bad ones. In fact, it is very likely that their bosses had a big influence in the way they scored in your test.

Develop 20/20 vision

As you grow – both in the organization and in your mind, the gratification you seek must also deepen. And that is really what will let you spot things beyond the mundane, give you the ability to look at the larger picture, form a vision, come to terms with your weaknesses as much as your strengths, identify hidden opportunities, spot talent and capability in others without feeling threatened, interact and collaborate with seniors, peers and juniors without any negativity.

That is really what will lift you above petty office politics and put you in a position from where you command respect without seeking it.

That is really when you will really achieve more growth without having to craftily engineer it.

And that is when you will have created more able leaders and, even though it may seem to make you redundant, you actually become more and more valuable. The success from the leaders you create will compound and roll up to become your own, but at a different level.

And then you truly find more joy and fulfillment.

That’s what they mean by vision of a leader. Vision seldom is about how you view the objectives of the organization. It was always about how you look at things.

Anything. Everything.

It’s a matter of perspective as much as ability.

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Categories: Human Resources, Leadership, Learning, Workplace Reality

Author:Jaisundar Venkat

Jaisundar Venkat is a process professional specialized in Business Process Management. Jaisundar leads BPM Consulting at a large technology firm and is on a mission to help companies achieve the fundamental promise of BPM. His areas of interest include BPM, CRM, SFA, Sales Performance Optimization, Corporate Performance Management and general IT industry developments & trends. He writes on these topics at his own blog, BouncingThoughts.com and also writes for a few popular sites specializing on Business Technology trends, specifically the crucial intersection between Business and IT.

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2 Comments on “Leadership is how you look at things”

  1. Robin Gilthorpe
    August 6, 2012 at 6:18 pm #

    Great post: almost every leadership quality I have developed over the years and still practice today is because it was coached into me. No, not always a comfortable experience, but always comfortable enough that the message didn’t get lost in the medium or method. Conversely, those gaps I still have are where I have failed to identify and establish a good mentoring relationship with a leader who lives those traits every day. From experience, I would say that it’s easy to talk about principled leadership, but like art, music and sport, you can’t read, wish or soundbite your way there. And the critical first step is self-reflection, which is in direct tension with the cartoonish stereotype of narcissistic emperor-executive.

    • August 7, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

      Absolutely right, Robin. Self-reflection has the unenviable position of being the most important part of leadership and the most elusive. Sometimes I wonder, does leadership require a kind of hubris that we often see or is it something that comes as a result (cause or effect)?

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