What’s All The Fuss About Leadership?
Let’s cut to the chase.
Wherever you go in the world, whatever you do, you’ll invariably come across this word – leadership. It’s one of those commonly used words, like communication, but its significance and entirety is often overshadowed by wrong connotations. Perhaps this is why a stupendous majority believe that leadership is a privilege only a few can enjoy. I find this rather disconcerting.
Usually, our idea of a leader is someone who comes to a business, a society, or a nation that’s completely broken and somehow manages to fix everything regardless of how insurmountable the challenges appear to be. When all hell is breaking loose, when nothing seems to work and everyone is dead scared, a leader comes in, and not only takes care of the problem but inspires a brighter vision, a bigger purpose and revives hope in people. That is what top scholars of leadership and psychology at Stanford University have found the typical image of a leader to be for an average person. Now, someone like that is indeed a leader, but being a leader need not entail making changes of colossal magnitudes like we often imagine.
What’s more useful is to find out if leaders across all disciplines tend to have common traits that we, too, could inculcate in our lives, to get similar results as they do. And, every expert in leadership will tell you, real leaders have resounding similarities in their traits and skills.
Here are four qualities that are found to be common among successful leaders.
Leaders are hungry, they don’t settle down for anything less than what they think is absolutely the best for them. This means when everyone else gives up, they continue their grind; when everyone chooses a safe path, they are determined to make it through; when everyone loses patience, leaders keep their focus on the outcomes. Their hunger for the success of the mission surpasses all odds, and that intensity of passion is what brings excellence in their work.
Most people aim for a goal, work very hard, achieve the goal, rejoice the victory for a while, then have no clue what to do next and simply coast through the passage of time. Leaders, too, aim for particular outcomes, but when they do achieve it, they move onto something else very quickly – one achievement, one success or one big gig, no matter how big, doesn’t stop them from moving on.
Leaders are forever trying to improve themselves, to learn new skills, to catch up to the latest developments, and to network with pros. Look at some of the richest people in the world, they are the most hardworking people. People like Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the richest man on the planet currently, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, they are all billionaires – they have everything in the material world that a man can ever imagine. Yet, these are the very people known for putting in 100, 120 hours of the work week. They don’t have to work at all, they have enough wealth to buy a few countries, they’ve secured enough to take care of themselves and the next 15 generations of their families, but still, they are work day and night. That’s because they were never in the game for one specific outcome – money, fame, power or anything else. They did it because they are always hungry to go the next level, they did it because they wanted to leave a legacy in it, they did it because of their hunger to do more never satiated.
Take another example of a very famous rapper, Little Wayne, a very controversial figure in the rap industry, but one whom no one dares undermine. Here’s a man who is a true epitome of hunger and hard work. He earned enough wealth, enough fame and enough power a long, long time back, but he never stopped the grind. Filled with tattoos and a cocky attitude, he has a reputation in the industry for writing music and singing up to 18 hours a day. Asked why he works so hard, he said he can’t imagine letting down his fans, and he was absolutely never bothered about money, fame or leisure in life – not even when he had no money. That’s hunger – that will last forever because it’s not affected by external change like episodes of success or failure or the change of government or politics or economy. Its hunger, driven purely by his love for the craft, which will continue to inspire him, even if all else collapses.
- High Standards
Leaders have high standards. They demand more out of themselves than anyone else does from them. Take an example of someone like Tiger Woods, a man who at one point in his career became synonymous to the game itself, just like Pele was to football.
At the height of his success in golf, when he was almost invincible, he did something no golfer in the history had ever bothered to do. He became the first golfer ever to start lifting weights to improve his swing and take better care of his body. Other top golfers said he was going crazy and advised him to just stick to golf – but he later confessed that although he won all the games, he felt like his performance had stagnated for a while and he wanted to push himself to new disciplines.
Talk about the irony here – an average person sleeps around 7/8 hours a day, looks forward to the weekend all week, has a lot of focus tied up to what s/he will be eating that day and still considers himself/herself to be doing just fine in life – yet, here you’ve a legend, right at the pinnace of human triumph, and he thinks he has to raise his standards!
Have high standards in everything. Expect more from yourself than you do from others, because you can never take a person to a place you haven’t been yourself first; you can never delegate a task you haven’t mastered yourself; and you can never teach something you haven’t learnt yet.
Ask yourself, in any aspect of your life – your health, your finances, your relationships, and your profession – where could you raise your standard, what could you do better?
Leaders maximise resourcefulness – the ability to use resources that all of us are endowed with internally. Resources, like money, people and technology are external, their availability and reach is often beyond our control and constantly changing, but what is always, entirely within our control is how well we use our internal resources. Our emotions, our hopes, our beliefs, our convictions, our passions, our love and our inspirations, how we make use of them is entirely up to us and this is what leaders maximise to gain creativity, strength, conviction and certainty at difficult times.
When people are finding everything that’s wrong in the environment and complaining about how things are failing, a leader reaches inside to find his own strength. Instead of complaining, he digs deep inside of himself, his creativity, his passions and his insights to find solutions. And when complaining is not an option at all, a solution is usually found.
If you have all the resources in the world, but you aren’t resourceful, resources become of no substantial use. That is why, often, some of the greatest heroes and leaders of the world have come from some of the most challenged societies. Whether they have adequate resources at their disposal or they lack it, leaders are highly resourceful.
The core foundation of leadership comes down to one quality – influence. We are often misled to believe that we have control over others, but unless you’re Kim Jong Un of North Korea or unless you lived before 1865 when slavery was legal in the USA, in a free capitalist democracy, you have no control over anyone, none whatsoever. Everyone has their own will, their own rights. The most you have a shot at is influence. And the ability to influence, to change people’s mindset/opinion/attitude, while the finest of human arts, is at its core a skill that can be learned by practice.
When Barack Obama’s elder daughter, Malia said she wanted to have a tattoo, the Obamas were concerned. As a serving President of the United States, generally considered to be the world’s most powerful person, guess how Obama dealt with his teen age daughter? He could have just said you’re not having a tattoo and that’s the end of it, like most parents probably would, but as a truly intelligent man and a highly respected leader, he was too wise for such a rash folly.
Instead of saying you can’t do that, he said, “You can get whatever tattoo you want, where ever you want it, but there’s only one condition – both me and your mum will also get exactly the same tattoo, exactly where you get it in your body.” And that was the end of it, she never got a tattoo. See, Obama knew that his daughter loved them both very much and would never even think about doing something that would cause them inconvenience in life. If you know what’s important to someone, influence becomes easy. So, if you want to influence someone, you better find out what influences them first.
Authority, Designation and Fear
Notice, although we’re discussing leadership, I haven’t once mentioned authority or official designation yet. That is because you can lead by authority, by fear and by demand, but you’ll never have influence in the long run. This is where managers are separated from leaders, boys from men! This is where things usually go haywire.
A dad smokes regularly but tells his kid smoking is bad. Despite his loving intentions, there’s no way his kids are going to take him seriously. A boss always comes to the meeting late and demands everyone always be prompt – what are the chances of employees obliging? It’s only a matter of time before someone loses his cool and says, “Well, how come you are never on time?”
None of these will work in the long run, because all of them are missing the special ingredient called influence. Let me share with you a true story and a world class example of what it takes to be influential.
Back when Gandhi was still only Mohandas Karamchand Gandi and had not yet received the tittle of a Mahamta, a mother desperate to save her little boy, who idolised Gandhi like a God, decided to visit him. Her little son had severe diabetes but no matter how much they tried, the little boy being a child, would always find a way to devour fistfuls of sugar anytime he could sneak into the kitchen. Worried that she would lose him, the mother took a train for almost 3 days and queued before dawn to meet Gandhi.
Standing on a long queue, bearing the scorching heat of the afternoon sun, she waited for hours patiently. When she finally got to Gandhi, she explained her child’s situation and requested Gandhi to tell him never to eat sugar again. Gandhi listened to the mother carefully, looked at her child and then said, “Ok, meet me after 3 months in this very place.” Surprised, the mother said, “What, why? Just tell him now,” but Gandhi denied it and asked her come back in 3 months with the boy. Hurt, bitter and angry, the mother took her child and went back home, wondering how someone could be so cruel. But she had no choice, she knew Gandhi was her last hope to save her son. So, she made the journey again to see him after three months.
This time when she met Gandhi, he recognized her immediately, and said, “Oh you’ve come back,” and before she could answer, he looked at the little boy, got close to him, and screamed on his face, “Don’t you ever, ever, ever eat sugar again, is that clear?”
Scared, almost puzzled, the boy nodded yes and promised he’d never let Gandhi down by eating sugar as he loved him very much. The mother knew from his son’s expression that he was not going to touch sugar anytime soon and was deeply relieved. But before leaving, she looked up to Gandhi and asked, “Why didn’t you just do that three months back, when we last met you?” Gandhi looked at her and replied, “Because three months back, I was still eating sugar.”
That is authenticity. You see, Gandhi wanted to make sure he could live without sugar before telling that boy to stop eating it. When you live by such a high level of personal integrity, the ability to influence and to lead becomes completely effortless.
So, Can We All Be Leaders, Can We All Be Our Own Heroes?
We all love heroes, don’t we?
Do you want to be a hero, too? Here’s a simple, infallible recipe – be a servant!
Hear me out now.
The word Hero has surprising etymological origin; it originates from the Latin word, Seruāre, which means to be the protector, the guardian, and the servant. Can you believe it – a hero, a leader is actually a servant! How could that be so?
A hero is so focused, so devoted to a cause greater than himself, that he works tirelessly, just like a servant and does whatever it takes to fulfill the mission. He is not bothered about his pride, his own needs, other’s judgement about him – the success and fruition of the mission is so meaningful to him, that he forgets himself. While he works like a servant, his selfless dedication wins everyone’s heart and they call him a hero.
But the cause, the mission, the purpose need not be a humongous one. If you’re writing an email, make that your purpose, your mission, for as long as you’re writing it, give it all that you have. If you’re talking to your child, give all of yourself to that child until you’re with him/her. If you can approach any activity with that sort of attitude, it’ll lead to lasting changes in your life and you never know when you’ll turn out to be a hero.
I remember an interesting story I read a while back. Beyonce, a beloved global singing and dancing icon, was working on a set to complete her music video under a deadline. As she went for a short break, someone asked, “Beyonce, when did you last eat, none of us have seen you eat anything at all?” That’s when she realized, it’d been three days since she’d last eaten any food. She had forgotten to eat for three days! As unlikely as it appears to be, it is indeed a real event. Sounds insane, doesn’t it? Well, there’s something about finding a mission, a purpose and giving all of yourself to it that it really seems to set you on fire.
Quiet Leaders Change the World
All across the world, wherever you go, you’ll invariably come across people, who I call, quiet leaders. A mother sacrificing her sleep, her peace of mind, everything about herself for her child’s wellbeing; a father working day and night to offer better opportunities for the child; a volunteer working selflessly to help others; a doctor giving up his time with his family, his sleep and his food to cure the sick; a business man putting in 13/14 hour days thinking and rethinking strategies, developing the right teams to grow the company so his/her employees are given the best they deserve; a teacher marking papers until midnight, making sure he gives his students the best feedback for their improvement – they are all leaders. You’ll not see them in TV or in social media, they don’t manage a big company, they don’t have a lot of power but, by any measure, all of them are leaders. They are all making an impact in the world with their time, their energy, and their skills.
Some of the biggest leaders we see today were quiet leaders at one point – honing their craft, working day and night to improve themselves, their skills and their performance. J K Rowilng, arguably one of the most successful writers in the history, was always hungry to write. She kept getting fired from one job to another, but she never stopped writing; publishers rejected her left, right and centre, but she kept writing; she went through abject poverty as a single mom, but she never stopped working. And look where she stands today!
If you start thinking and working like a leader, you never know when you’ll turn out to be a great one. Leadership starts with yourself; first you lead and change yourself, only then a possibility of leading others might exist. We are not all leaders, but if we try consciously, we can be. If we start making small, subtle and quiet changes today, with sincerity and consistency over time, we are bound to be so good and get so far ahead of others that we will most likely have the option of leading other people too.