What is leadership?

Managing is about systems and procedures, leading is about vision and direction. “Manager works in the system; leadership works on the system” -. Stephen Covey.

Before retirement from international cricket, Steve Waugh played a Test match against England with a leg injury. He scored a century without asking for a runner, though he limped through his innings. While fielding, he spent the whole day without a substitute. This type of leadership prompted his teammates to remark that they would run through a brick: wall for .a leader like Steve. This is leadership by example. More recently, Mahinder Singh Dhoni demonstrated leadership by example in the finals of the world cup against Sri Lanka. He was ready to expose himself to the most critical situation when he could have easily held himself back in the batting line up; rather he promoted himself in the batting order even above Yuvraj who was in the running for the Man of the series award. This way he showed that there is no way out except to assume 100% responsibility.

Nelson Mandela recalled a lesson he had learned as a boy. “When you want a herd to move in a certain direction, you stand at the back with a stick. Then a few of the more energetic cattle move to the front and the rest of the cattle follow. You are really guiding them from behind. That is how a leader should do his work.” In the District Governor’s style of leadership, this is called delegation. You need a lot of confidence to delegate. The weak District Governor abdicates the strong District Governor delegates. What this means is that you encourage those of your team who have initiative to act. Others will follow.

“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” – Theodore Roosevelt. It is the best definition of delegating. Pick good men, brief them, agree on check points and let them get on.

How do you surround yourself, not with “yes” men, but with skills that complement yours? It. is said that Indian Cricket Coach helped Virender Sehwag reach his full potential. He used to make 40 – 50 runs in quick time and chuck his wicket. He would still get cheered. Wright sat with him one day and told him that he was batting in a spot sacrificed by

Sachin Tendulker – a spot where Sachin scored a 100 every 3 matches.

This changed the way Sehwag benchmarked himself. You may have to. counsel particularly the young and head-strong members who may not heed elders’ caution.

And what standards will you set? R.M.Lala, In “A Touch of Greatness”, writes about an interview with JRD Tata. “Of course, Sir, you believe in excellence”. JRD retorted sharply, “Not excellence. Perfection. You aim for perfection, you will attain excellence. If you aim for excellence, you will go lower.” So if you aim always for the highest level to be achieved, the actual will be well above average.

And how will you lead? “To lead, people walk beside. Then…..As for the best leaders, people do not notice their existence. The next best, the people honor and praise. The next, the people fear; and the next, the people hate. When the best leaders’ work is done, the people say, ‘We did it ourselves” – Lao-Tzu, Chinese Philosopher. All followers need to feel that you are always with them. Not taking the credit, but giving them the credit. This way, they will feel they own the task. This is also the way you build potential leaders. If you handle every initiative, then you will be like a huge banyan tree under which nothing grows.

General Motors grew to become the largest company in the world. The founder Alfred Sloan, merged over 30 organizations to create it… Once he suggested a plan to his Board of Directors. They unanimously approved it. He promptly adjourned the meeting saying “if everybody agrees there must be something wrong with the plan.” Encourage opinion, particularly dissent. You must have the ability to listen to contradiction and arguments to move towards the best course of action. Remember that unanimous approval may mean that nobody has scrutinized the proposal, or that all are trying to please you instead of studying the course of action. So encourage contrarian views and such arguments. That way, every idea is examined before acceptance. In all meetings of lions clubs, we seem to have developed a special kind of liking for unanimous views. Sometimes we take pride in saying that all decisions taken during a particular year were unanimous. More important than unanimity is unity. The discussions should be frank and candid. Each participant should be encouraged to speak out one’s mind, even the most revolutionary and imaginative ideas. Once that is done, we will succeed in creating ownership of decisions. Otherwise people may keep quiet during the meetings but their commitment to the decisions taken will be questionable.

There are many role models. You have the mentor or guru model ­Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar. You could be flexible like Kerry Packer or self-sacrificing, like Mother Teresa. You could also follow the Bhishma model, whose life lay in empowering others.

Leaders also model on Christ – Service with humility. Lord Christ’s service with utmost humility at the final supper is one of the greatest leadership lessons. Or on Alexander – lead from the front; on Gandhi – strict code of morals, one who believed that the conscience of every person could be invoked to awaken; on Mandela with ­no prejudices or pre-judgments, one who believed in building South Africa as a safe nation for its citizens irrespective of the color of the individuals even after such long stints behind bars. Or initiate relationships like Vajpayee; radiate wisdom like the Buddha, or be flexible and willing to change like Gorbachev for who can forget the challenge he faced when he introduced the radical changes that dramatically brought down the iron curtain. These are all leaders who provide us models. For each situation a different model may be appropriate.

It is a common phenomenon that the whole district is dependent on you. That real test is when you mature your members from dependence to independence and finally to inter-dependence. This means, initially, people depend on you. Gradually they may find independence. But the highest level is when they realize how much they need others and others need them.

Again, on two perpendicular planes of co-operation and trust, the lowest is a stage with low level achievements as the team members do not have mutual faith; halfway is compromise where better results begin to show; and the highest in synergy where the levels of performance far exceed what may even have been thought of.

Your leadership can be evaluated using three interlocking scales. The value and purpose, the vision and strategy, and the community. If there is only vision and strategy for the community, the risk is the despot or tyrant. If there is value and purpose, and also vision and strategy, but no degree- of community involvement, the risk of anarchy is high. If value and purpose… vision and strategy, and the community, all are taken to­gether, performance can result.

Before we end this chapter, one semi-final word on managing the’ district versus leading ~.” The manager does things right, the leader does the right things.” The manager’s obsession is planning, control and predictability. The leader, on the other hand, is concerned with transformation through commitment and empowerment of members.

Another great pitfall is the absence of information, or worse, only good news. Bad news never comes to bad leaders. One may get surrounded by people who do not allow the real feelings and feedback of the members to reach the governor. That situation can be fatal. Temporarily, that is intended to please the District Governor, and may be dangerous. People must feel encouraged to report factually and in time, without worrying that you will get upset, or attribute motives to the messenger. The moment any governor gets in a position where real feedback is kept away from him because of his inability to accept the same and his reaction that may not be absolutely justified, it becomes a serious issue.

A young man and his adoring wife stood by the seaside. In a poetic mood, he announced “Roll on thou dark blue ocean, roll.” His wife looked at the sea for a minute and then turned to her husband and wondered, “Darling, it is doing exactly what you asked it to do!” Beware of sycophancy.

Let’s put leadership in context as a practical skill set.

First of all leaders develop a vision. A vision is not a prophecy – it is a concept of what is possible, and it has a challenge or “stretch” built in. Next, the leader communicates the vision to all stake-holders. Not just informs and instructs, but infects and inflames, till people are enthused and excited. A vision statement is not just a few words or lines that are framed and put up on the walls of the offices. They are like the unseen magnetic fields that influence every activity and each individual. We never get to see these fields, but we know that they exist and that every planned initiative needs to be validated as per their properties.

Even before you take office, you will become aware that there a thousand issues – some trivial, some routine, that need your time and attention. How you will rise beyond administering to transformation will test your abilities.

Communication is the life blood of a Non-Government / Non-Profit Organization. When people don’t know what is happening, why it is happening, when and where – the usual fall-out is speculation, rumor and lack of involvement. This can lead to alienation and even hostility. You must encourage free and frank information-flow, whether pleasant or unpleasant. Transparency is not an option anymore; that is the only way organizations work and survive today. At one point of time, information was elite commodity; today it is available at the click of a mouse; and in this scenario, it is interpretation of information that is more critical.

You are obliged, not just to lecture or inform, but actually discuss the pros and cons till people feel informed, involved and committed.

Remember, there will always be yes-men around any centre of power. Critics will be less frequent but more useful.