Ever wondered why the Armed Forces are able to produce excellent leaders batch after batch and year after year? The rank and file always adhere to the orders of their senior officers, sometimes to the extent of fatally harming somebody else (Remember ‘Code Red’ in the Hollywood movie “A Few Good Men”). “Leading from the front” and “Commanding” (not demanding) are phrases that have perhaps come from the Armed Forces. The Commanders lead their regiment based on a strategy that has been developed keeping in mind the objective/ goal. What will happen to the Armed Forces if we have Managers instead of “Commanders”?
If the term of reference is a corporation or the corporate world, then a leader is one who brings value to and is well respected by all the stakeholders including the employees, the shareholders, the customers, the vendors, the community and is remembered in a positive way long after he/ she has moved on.
Leaders will normally evoke extreme positive and negative reactions whereas managers will always get a ‘somewhat’ positive and a ‘somewhat’ negative response. A Manager will have excellent skills to complete the job or excel in the job entrusted to him whereas Leaders will always have that extra edge in the ‘soft skills’ department besides having excellent all-round skills. Good Managers will have an ‘eye’ for detail but Leaders will have a ‘vision’.
Can a good manager become a good leader or are leaders always born with such qualities? The training modules in Armed Forces are built around the concept of ‘producing’ Leaders and not ‘choosing’ Leaders. I firmly believe that Managers in the corporate world can do a planned ‘self-training’ and ‘introspection’ over a period of time (extending to months and years) and change themselves into becoming good if not great leaders. Here are a few practical pointers towards making you a good or ‘good enough’ leader…
• Start by understanding more about your Company, products, people, culture. Learn, understand and apply yourself in all the functions namely Strategy, Sales, Marketing, Operations, Supply Chain, Technical aspects, HR, Finance, Accounts, EHS, Corporate communication, CSR activities, so that your knowledge is more than or equal to anyone else in your business/ company. Attend ‘good’ training sessions to improve above skills. Sharpen your memory by starting to write down discussed points. Knowledge and memory are key to successful leadership.
• Keep the larger company and business goals in mind and make all efforts to ‘beat’ your own expectations. An easy way to understand this is to know your Supervisor’s Goal or KRA, link it to your goal and try to achieve it without ‘bothering your supervisor’. The Supervisors of CEOs, MDs, Chairperson’s are the shareholders and the same holds true for them.
• Know when and how to take risks: ‘Take risks!’ does not mean becoming a jockey when one has never seen a horse. Take calculated risks based on facts, figures, history, capabilities, strengths, experience, gut feel. Start with projects/ issues with minor impact on business and slowly rev it up for larger impact projects.
• Start changing your attitude towards people and mould yourself into a more humble and amenable person not only with Subordinates but also with Supervisors, Peers and Support staff internally and with Customers, Suppliers, Vendors externally. This is behavioural and extremely difficult to change so it needs to be cultivated over a long period of time. Humility can get you much more than you can imagine. The thumb rule is to behave in the same way at home, socially, in public and in office.
• Relationships are best left at home. A Leader will only have a bias towards performance and not for or against an individual. To succeed, one has to be completely free of any bias and also look to be impartial. One has to be free of any bias not only during the performance appraisal but also during meetings, while interacting individually or in groups. This aspect also needs to be cultivated over a period of time and much unlearning needs to be done in most cases.
• Learn to guide your team, encourage them, reward them, promote them and publicise their achievements as much as possible and be willing to take the responsibility if things go wrong. This is the only way to create a strong bench-strength of leaders. A leader will always create a second line of leadership and not get threatened by a good subordinate who is an achiever. If a Company has to hire a CEO then it can be safely assumed that the previous CEO was at best a good Manager.
• Network extensively within and outside your organisation. Become members of ‘good’, ‘worthwhile’ associations and develop relationships without considering the hierarchy. One important aspect is to cultivate these relationships over a period of time. Keep in touch with them even when you have changed your job or your industry.
• Keep your ‘cool’ at all times. Learn to remain calm under most adverse circumstances. Get yourself “pressure cooked” rather than passing it on to your team. There are many therapies suggested including laughter therapy (may look ridiculous in office) or ‘move away’ therapy (go out, have a coffee) or ‘pee’ therapy (go to the loo) or just keep quiet for a couple of minutes. Pick one of these or devise one of your own and practice it over a long period of time. If the car engine gets hot then the car stops moving so keep it ‘cool’.
To summarise, one must get rid of all biases, remain calm, respectful, improve knowledge, gain experience, network extensively, have a long stint in a company and think about the benefit you could possibly bring to the organisation and its people in order to transform yourself into a Leader.
Suggestions: Read “My Experiments with truth” by M.K.Gandhi. Watch Hollywood movie “Executive Decision” and Hindi movie “Lagaan” to understand more about Leadership.
“Provoke your inner energy, challenge yourself and you will achieve greatness”