Friday, 13 January 2012

Leadership Series - Part 1

Leadership is a huge subject that cannot be covered in one article…and hence, this is first part in a three part series on leadership.

Let's deal with key questions up front:
·         What is leadership? and
·         What makes a good leader?

Leadership is a term that we often associate with leaders, but most leaders lack leadership.

What is leadership?

When we pose this question, the usual explanations are about styles of leadership or qualities one expects in a leader.

Leadership entails:
·         Inspiring people to take action;
·         Doing the right thing for the right reason;
·         taking tough decisions in the face of adversity without trying to be populist;
·         having the humility and the courage to accept that they do not have all the answers;
·         helping others to succeed

Leadership is NOT about:
·         the Leader
·         being the most popular or trying to win popularity contest; (the more one tries to be populist, the more the alienate themselves!)
·         your business title or size of your office;
·         seniority or power or having answer for everything

So having defined leadership as what it is and what is not, let’s examine what makes a good leader and the typical qualities one looks up to in a leader.

So what makes a good leader?

What makes a good leader largely depends on the degrees to which an individual’s qualities match the demands of the situation / context.  More importantly, the leader should be able to adapt his style to the nature of the demands of the times and inspire people into action.  They should be able to make the people feel that they are very core to the task and each one of them makes a difference to the success of the enterprise.  The greatest myth is that the leaders are born.  Most leaders have emerged because of the circumstances and their courage.

A very good example that comes to mind is Winston Churchill and his inexorable attitude during WW II. A sense of urgency was created in the course of very few days and no delays were condoned; telephone switchboards quadrupled their efficiency; the Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Planning Staff were in almost constant session; regular office hours ceased to exist and weekends disappeared with them.
Churchill’s robust optimism is excellently showcased in a speech he made in the House of Commons on June 4, 1940, when he spoke these famous words:

“We shall go on to the end.  We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.  We shall fight on beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

Yet, he steadfastly refused to take the credit for the victory.  When commended for the victory, he responded, “I have never accepted what many people have kindly said, namely that I inspired the nation.  It was a nation and race dwelling all round that had the lion heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.”

There were many great leaders in the 20th century who inspired people to give everything for the cause, viz. Gandhi, MLK Jr,, Mother Teresa, Swami Vivekananda, Florence Nightingale, Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev and many more…

…core qualities that makes a good leader…

No matter what, there are some leadership qualities that are context-independent, that is essential to be a good leader.  Some of these qualities that a good leader to have would be:

Act with Integrity
Above all have a good sense of humour

In Summary

Leadership is situational and a good leader is one who can adapt himself to the demands of the situation.

We shall explore more on leadership styles and its effectiveness to a given situation in my next part… 


  1. Good compilation and research, right choice of examples as leaders are very appropriate, good work please keep it up ,eagerly waiting for the second part. I love the ending in onesentence "Leadership is situational:"

    Good Luck

  2. The situational aspect of leadership is limited only to the early stage of one's growth. Thereafter it has to become a habit, else one will have to term the first leadership as a flash in the pan. The fact that leaders are made and not born means that one needs to constantly grow to remain a leader.

  3. Thanks Sethu...

    Raj - Leadership styles will have to be situational as not one style would be apt in all situations. An Army General in a conflict cannot be adopting a consultative or participative style while similarly in a brainstorming session for new ideas one cannot adopt an executive style...

    And it is not easy to switch from one style to another as leaders do have a default approach that develops over a number of years...there in is the challenge...more about it in my second part!:)

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. This is great! i have always wanted to know where all the yummy Vegan places were and now i can easily eat out at these place or order in! thanks so much!
    leadership training in toronto