I have often questioned and pondered over this most oft repeated used and abused term- ‘leadership’ and what exactly does it really mean?
After years of being in various leadership positions which actually started off quite early for me- on the playing field during school and university days- being the captain of the hockey team/vice-captain of the football team, leading school debate teams etc and which then naturally flowed into my work scenarios over time.
Is it just leading a team? Asserting one’s authority as a leader? Being aggressive and tough? Doing the right thing? Is it about business as usual? Myopic and misplaced opportunism or optimism? Problem solving skills? Or is it something much more than all of this?
How can a leader lead? How does a leader know the difference between the right thing that everyone expects out of a leader to do or the True thing that a leader must in any given situation? How does a leader even know and understand this crucial difference?
Millions of books have been written, countless seminars and workshops on leadership and yet somehow we fail to deeply truly understand the quality of what this means.
How about bringing in values of transparency, open-ness, absolute honesty, tenderness, compassion, and an honouring that is bigger and grander than the job description itself?
In my humble experience over time I now consistently endeavour to bring certain key values on being a strong and effective leader no matter what the responsibilities of being in that position bring.
Call them ‘leadership hacks’ if you choose to- so read on…
1. Practice awareness.
Great leaders don’t act holier-than-thou, or high and mighty. In fact the higher the position the greater the responsibility to reflect the values of the organisation and the larger expanded vision. This for me means being aware of myself on a daily basis- how I move, think, talk, behave in my interactions with my colleagues, associates, clients and also in my interpersonal relationships. A conscious presence of my own self and where I am at, what I am feeling in each and every scenario moment to moment is the key to being a leader who can lead with gravitas.
2. Walking the walk.
As a leader, it is crucial to reflect a high level of trust and transparency in all one’s dealings. This is important because it does not just drive results, but, more significantly, it tells people that you can be trusted to get the job done. Hypocrisy is something that’s part of our lives and most of us do not enjoy the lack of trust that we experience in our daily working moments as well. But this hypocrisy need not be as walking the walk and the talk means being able to effectively communicate that as a leader you will always stand up for values, stand up for your team and the vision that is a collaborative effort from the top to the bottom. Being radically honest with oneself here is the key driver.
3. Being Active is being proactive.
True leaders hate to sit back and do nothing. Make things happen in your company or organization by taking charge, and make sure to persevere along the way to success. Leadership in this new decade of 2020 is about having the courage to front foot unforeseen challenges that may be lurking around the next curve. It’s about driving forward a change that involves everyone around you, engaging and building, disrupting false ideals and structures that hamper growth both for the organisation and the individual. A culture of inclusivity and diversity is being increasingly brought into action and this is what being a leader is all about.
4. Stay bold.
Leaders face constant self-doubt- either it is from within- or from others outside. But a true leader is bold and brave and at the same time has the ability to bring wisdom to action. The true mark of a leader is the willingness to stick with his decision- an unconventional business strategy, a unique product development road map, an out of the box marketing campaign and the ability to carry it through even if the world wonders why he/she is not playing to the status quo. The ability to treat each decision has a learning whether it’s success or failure is a value worth cultivating as a leader.
This has been my greatest strength over time- to be able to tap into my innate ability to feel compassion rather than sympathy. To me being a leader is all about bringing out the same in everyone around me. Granted that not every individual has the capability to be a leader as some would prefer to just follow, and this is cool too. Using compassion as a key value tool unlocks the ability to be able to assess one’s team- their strengths, understanding their limitations, and setting time aside to assist them to develop their professional skills wherever it is needed and whatever that looks like. But Compassion also means to be sensitive to where one’s team/associates are in their own personal life journey. Are they challenged in their homes in any manner, what are their stress levels? Are they feeling overworked, underpaid, underappreciated- as all of these eventually will slow down any company that is looking to grow. SO nip it in the bud by bringing compassion to oneself and others around you each day. This is my ethos for every working day of the week.
6. Reflect Appreciation.
Act as a source of positive energy. Being appreciative of others comes from being appreciative within oneself and this is a value we more often than not fail to truly imbibe in our lives- leader or not. But as a leader this becomes even more important as appreciative leaders bring teams together to operate as one- which naturally and eventually lead to quality results. Appreciation rather than criticism is how I practice leadership but at the same time- it does not mean one has to pander or molly coddle when the need to make a tough call is staring at one’s face. Being appreciative is being altruistic and pulls everyone to go above and beyond the call of duty. Altruistic leadership leads innovation first always.
7. Stepping into the Unknown
Leaders are often seen as very confident and being in control. But, leadership inevitably requires stepping into the unknown. The question is whether a leader should wait for such a challenge to present itself, or bring in a culture of pushing the edges and boundaries of what feels comfortable. Practising a relationship with the unknown for me has been a journey of understanding and uncovering my own deep-seated fears, blind spots, relinquishing control, not being too hard on myself for decisions that did not see the intended results etc. A leader is about stepping out of the comfort zone into the unknown with the ability to take it as a life enhancing experience, to new and unexpected learnings and stretching the horizons for oneself as well others.
8. Practice decisiveness.
Leadership isn’t always going to be sunshine and rainbows. And the pathway is often paved with dilemmas, confrontations, constant ongoing challenges where tough decisions need to be taken and sometimes taken fast. Fostering a collaborative decision making process takes away from carrying a heavy mantle on one’s shoulders just cause one is a leader- one need not go it alone as it’s often seen. By definition leadership means integrating needs and goals, resolving differences and perspectives within the team and the ability to not be dragged under the pressure of time. But this can only happen when a leader is able to recognise his own innate strengths, his own limitations, and the ability to constantly be in touch with the real stuff which are the values that lead everyone from here and now to the future.
And talking about the future brings us the most important part-
Reshaping The Present is Shaping The Future
Transformational leaderships always start with having a vision and yet the wisdom to know that reshaping the present is shaping the future.
Is it possible to lead and be a strong leader without falling into the mold? Can a leader influence others without being tall, white, male, outspoken, assertive and surrounded by the symbols of power that are often associated with the idea of being in charge? Can a leader resist the temptation of simply succumbing to the status quo.
A true leader is more than just how they look or sound, but also about a genuine willingness and the passion to listen to diverse voices and deconstruct archaic ideals and beliefs.
Undoing the mold to foster growth and make true progress, is key to the process of leading in our increasingly complex world. Take Andrés Manuel López Obrador who “travels in economy class and refuses to live in the presidential mansion” as he continues to fight corruption in Mexico, and Abiy Ahmed and “his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea.” Obrador was not afraid to forego the symbols of power to promote a new ethical culture while Ahmed was willing to move past profound differences to bring about unity and peace.
It is easy to see, the world’s narrow focus on being a leader as the short-term interests seem very tantalising- to both the leader (chances of success) and also advancing one’s own group as versus a society, a community, the world!
Hence some hold on to power and others lead in ways that are Extraordinary in the ordinary.
A leader who can have a profound impact on everyone around him is the one with the vision to keep moving against all odds, to keep evolving himself/herself and everyone else as much as possible. It’s not about being perfect but about being transparent and responsible.
As we look back, right from the ancient times- there have been leaders who have led countries, leaders who have risen above religions to unite communities and people, leaders who have sacrificed themselves for the larger life altering world, leaders who have changed politics from being oppressive to all encompassing, leaders who have not been driven by profits but by a strong passion to leave lasting legacies with a vision to uplift others rather than the survival and the prospering of just their own.
In doing so, they taught us something about ourselves, and the incredible things that we, as men and women can be more than just human.
We are all Leaders who are all meant to lead one way or the other- this to me is leadership and the best leaders lead with humility.
At Elixir both Rosalie (Co-founder) and I endeavour to uphold the values of true leadership.
Our ethos @Elixir is that we love to give back to the world by working with our clients and fostering long term relationships.
Our brand founder and author of this blog Chetan Jha is leading not just change but also innovation across the board through best practises that echo compassion understanding and reflection. To know more, email us: [email protected]