Cometh the hour; cometh the leader

The attributes of a leader is that he is a perpetual learner — a trait that will see him through challenging times

Illustration: Kishore Das

There has been a constant debate on the topic of ‘leaders’— are they born or are they made? Personally, I believe that leaders are made and they are mostly made from the environment that they encounter in their life, right from childhood. I don’t think there is a leader who has not gone through some tough challenges in life. That situation probably doesn’t exist. More often, leadership and challenges go hand-in-hand. You can’t be a leader unless you have faced and overcome challenging situations multiple times. Future leaders show early signs in their field of work. Their peers, colleagues, and seniors notice their ability of navigating difficult situations. They start getting noticed among others unknowingly, thus getting differentiated.

The early traits are typically of those who are go-getters, those who deliver beyond expectations and find innovative ways of solving problems. They develop courage in the early phases and become confident as they succeed more often. Then, there are those rare ones who face repeated failures and yet don’t give up till they succeed. This is where they learn much-needed skills such as teamwork, situation analysis and coming up with plans and their alternatives till they reach their cherished goals. During this early phase, they build the abilities of the kind of person who, for example, while on a fun trip to a forest with a team loses his way and takes the exceptional step of climbing a tree to find the direction in which the jungle thins out. The team would then instantly hoist him to the podium of leadership, earned in his/her own style, for the rescue act.

There is no doubt leaders have to lead from the front. No successful leader goes for a battle without an army or a team. One would require the appropriate leadership style depending on the situation. Coercive leadership will not work in a situation that demands a different approach such as a democratic or coaching or an affiliative approach. Top leaders get groomed as they face different challenging situations and adapt to different situational leadership styles in their journey of life

The learning curve

Top leaders are perpetual learners. While they learn when they win, they learn even more when they lose as the loss forces them to deeply analyse what went wrong and why they lost. This is where they learn the basic skills of getting into details. As they climb the ladder of success to a higher position, they learn to work with another skill – having a helicopter view of a situation. That’s how they develop vision. They ‘culture’ strategy and strategic thinking purely out of the necessity of surviving, in the first place, and then prospering towards a long-lasting future. Many of them do a ‘situational analysis’ of the future with multiple possibilities. Necessity is the mother of all invention, goes the saying. Anticipation of the future, that too of unknown hurdles, and putting it to use in your daily business model to make it sustainable is a strong DNA that will go a long way in preparing you to face a challenging situation.

It is not luck that makes leaders. They carve out success for their enterprises. Usually the more prepared you are, the less luck you will need. You or your enterprise can’t lead the market unless the enterprise completely understands the market and has thought of taking care of or mitigating all possible risks. It is probably better to work more on the details than to trust luck. That’s why leaders are usually very close to customers and listen to them. Successful leaders are great listeners. The market and the customers send out the same kind of signals to the suppliers or future suppliers. The ability of an enterprise to pick up and decode such signals depends on the culture set up by the leader and the organisation. Very few realise that the ultimate thing for an enterprise is a customer, particularly loyal customers who give the enterprise the podium it deserves.

It is said that leadership is not a one-man army. Successful leaders have, over the years, developed people and talent to take their enterprises to greater heights. Leaders give honest feedback in a positive way that creates energy in the team to perform better. They attract people. Even the competitor’s talents get attracted to him/her. Top leaders possess a very positive attitude. They emit positive vibes even in the most difficult times. Drooping shoulders doesn’t reflect a winning team or an army. You won’t win every race that way.

 Some leaders use humour as a skill to diffuse tense situations, particularly when you are expected to win but lose instead. No strategy is perfect and they don’t work in all situations. One has to experiment with options and hence, failure of one or more strategies is normal. An honest leader would admit to mistakes and apologise in order to be transparent to his/her troops. In return, the leader gets more than 100% energy and commitment to the chosen goal and a fighting spirit from the team. That’s how an organisation builds a ‘never say die’ spirit. This is an essential ingredient for sustainable leadership.

Stumbling blocks

It is said that change is the only thing constant in life. So are challenges. As individuals, we go through several challenges — both on a personal and professional front. Changes and challenges are triggered by the fear of unknowns and uncertainties. Each challenge is unique — it comes with its own set of issues and often brings out an unknown facet of our personality.

One may also face multiple changes simultaneously, which means that one could be tackling more than one problem at once. As a leader, one does not have the option of walking away from a challenge because he/she is addressing another ‘critical’ issue. Today, when changes can be rapid in a corporate as well as the external environment, challenges can also be complex and may require a multi-pronged approach. Leadership skills are tested and proven during such times. Leaders who see new opportunities during challenging times are the ones who have the skill to transform them into interesting times instead.

A leader never sticks to a role forever. They come with an expiry date. Only a few leave long-lasting footprints that the organisation always remembers. Such leaders are a rare breed in this world. Are you one of them?