Making Of A Leader…Part 2

Men make history & not the other way round. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. – Harry S. Truman

Leadership is not merely a term or designation. It is the driving force that makes people work not only towards a cause or goal, but also for themselves. Leadership cannot have a single definition, it should not have have a single definition. One size cannot fit all here. What we must look to identify are leadership traits & principles that enable in creating a leader.

Elliott Peterson in his article, “Improve Employee Relationship with Ideas Borrowed from the Military” talks about 13 traits that are the bedrock of leadership.

  1. Judgement  M_Id_339213_Indian_Army
  2. Justice
  3. Decisiveness
  4. Integrity
  5. Dependability
  6. Tact
  7. Endurance
  8. Bearing
  9. Unselfishness
  10. Courage
  11. Knowledge
  12. Loyalty
  13. Enthusiasm

Principles of Leadership

Principles of leadership are basic guidelines explaining how a leader will apply/implement the above mentioned traits. World over, the armed forces follow certain basic leadership principles. First principle is to know oneself, learn & constantly seek self improvement. Second principle is to know your soldiers and look after their welfare. Third principle is to ensure that the assigned task is understood correctly, undertaken, supervised & accomplished.

A Successful Military Leader

A corporate leader can learn a lot from a military leader. Korn Ferry International, a global executive search firm has researched & written about “Military Experience & CEOs”. They share statistics that show the average tenure of a CEO with a military background is 7.2 years as opposed to the tenure of a CEO without a military background, that is 4.6 years.

  1. Building a Personal Relationship – a leader in the armed forces knows the members of his unit up close. He/she knows their personal backgrounds, their potential and also how they will react given a situation. It is his/her duty to motivate the unit members & improve their performance; be it physical tests, exams they have to pass or overall knowledge acquisition – the responsibility lies with the leader. This can only be done if there is a personal rapport between the leader & the men. A corporate leader can imbibe the same tenets and understand the team he/she is leading. Very often, in the corporate world business & personal lives are so strongly compartmentalised that leaders don’t even know where the team member lives.
  2. Decision Making – Taking decisions and taking right decisions at the right time is one of the most important tasks of a leader. Both, easy & tough decisions have to be made by a leader. The decision to choose the right people for the right task; the right strategy to implement for the desired results; decision to delegate correctly and the quick, timely decisions so as not to miss the opportunities presented. Every officer of the armed forces is schooled & groomed for this. Unfortunately, our education system does not allow for this. Hence, one of the biggest handicaps of corporate leadership is the ability to take decisions; taking right decisions at the right time is a step way, way ahead.
  3. Mission First & Always – in the armed forces everything revolves around the mission at hand. A leader there is driven by the mission he is striving for. The focus is completely on the mission. He/she has to follow orders to complete the mission while fulfilling all other responsibilities as a leader. There is complete alignment within the unit at all times and at any cost. End result is completion of the task on hand. Corporate leaders struggle to get the alignment in place – the main reason this happens is as leader, they fail to understand how to manage the personal & career aspirations of their team members.
  4. Evolving Right Strategies – A leader’s decision can be made right if he/she uses the right strategies. To evolve a right strategy one has to use the acquired knowledge, experience, observations and analyse them. As a leader it is critical to communicate the strategic intent & enable others to act upon that intent. This is specially critical in crises situations. Very often in the corporate world, while grooming the second line, they are not mentored or coached to build strategies for various situations. A lot can be learnt from ‘war game’ activities conducted in the military.
  5. Communication, Feedback & Response – a well established communication & feedback process is important for any unit/team to function effectively. Participation in the communication process & response enable to build understanding among all stake holders. Asking & accepting feedback is also a very important part of strengthening team bonds. One thing every military leader I have observed, leaves the operational implementation to experts in the field and doesn’t pull rant there. For example, a soldier handling guns will know the intricacies of the gun and his platoon commander will take his feedback regarding guns.
  6. Present at the Right Place – being present at the right place at the right time is something a leader will have to learn & develop. It is always assumed that a leader will have to lead from the front always. Not necessarily so. There are occasions when the leader will be effective wherever there is a difficult situation or a crisis or friction. The right place will depend on the priority of what has to be achieved at that moment.

Building Authentic Leaders in the System

The visible corporate leadership failures in recent years globally, have screen-shot-2011-02-04-at-11-20-37-amdeeply shaken public confidence in business leaders. We see leaders placing self-interest ahead of the well-being of their organizations.  A look at social media posts and informal surveys show that there is a leadership crisis globally with politicians, media, finance, and business leaders getting the lowest ratings. “Far too many leaders have been selected more for charisma than character, for style over substance, and for image rather than integrity.” says Bill George, a Harvard Business School professor. 

Leaders do not fail because of low Intelligence Quotient (IQ); they fail because of low/no Emotional Quotient (EQ). It has been observed that failed leaders seem to lack an awareness of themselves, their actions & the resulting impact on their surroundings. Deeper motivations are not understood, fears & earlier failures are not accepted & primarily these cause leaders to lose sight of their of their values, especially when they are under pressure to sustain their success. In some other cases, leaders who lack self-awareness get enamoured by success and its rewards – money, power, and recognition.

chetwode mottoThe emergence of a new generation of authentic leaders is vital and must happen at all levels of society to rebuild the trust deficit experienced by customers & citizens alike. A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one by the quality of his actions and the integrity of his intent. In the end, leaders are much like eagles… they don’t flock, you find them one at a time. That’s what the armed forces teaches and that’s what the rest must learn.

Being A Parent…Being A Friend

A question that I’m asked frequently by a lot of people – what kind of a relationship do you share with your children? I often find it funny that parents ask me this question. What am I supposed to answer…I share a great relationship with my daughters.

I was pondering this question as I was recovering from a bout of viral the last couple of days. It struck me that the people who have asked me this question aren’t very sure about their own relationship with their children. I am no one to sermonize others on bringing up kids…I have had my fair share of doubts of being an effective parent versus a good parent. However, I have to thank my daughters, Urvashi & Urmila for endorsing time and again that I managed to be both on different occasions… 🙂  Parenting1

The thought process continued and it reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend who also has teenage children. My friend summarised our chat very effectively and I’m sharing some of those pointers here. Even if it helps one parent out there, I’m happy!

Communicate Easily & Freely: I have noticed kids respond to communication in any form. This is a process that must happen from birth. Communication means sharing. Very often parents expect their kids to come and talk to them, but, rarely share what is on their mind. Of course the child must be at an age & in a position to understand what the parents are sharing. This communication changes as the kids grow from childhood to adolescence…what’s important is to keep the process going on.

Allow Questions: I have been working with the youth on different projects. While addressing a batch of college students recently on their participation in the nation building process, I had the opportunity to interact with students and faculty. As usual, I noticed the faculty pushing the students to ask questions as soon as the talk was over. And, as usual, the students hesitated to ask questions in public. I don’t blame the students here. As a society, we do not encourage our young ones to ask questions. Children must have the liberty to ask…if we as parents are incapable of answering their questions, it is not the fault of the child. It is our problem…we need to find the relevant answer to satisfy the question.

Parents, go back to your own childhood…how many were encouraged to ask questions? What a child can’t receive, he can seldom give later in adult life. Parenting2

Encourage Decision Making: Both my daughters were encouraged to take decisions from their primary school days relevant to their age. The pros and cons were explained and they were told the consequences of not taking a decision. Even in adult life, most people are scared of taking decisions because they want their decisions to be right. My question to such people – if you don’t take a decision, how will you know whether it is right or wrong? Allow your kids the luxury of making their own decisions. They will automatically take responsibility and ownership for it. And even if it turns out to be a mistake, so what? Haven’t we made our share of mistakes in life?

Allow Them Their Mistakes: I have noticed parents constantly cautioning their children about situations, people, relationships in life. I understand that as parents we do not want our children to go through rough times, get cheated, ragged, bullied. Tell me, how much will you protect them? One day, they will have to face the world on their own! Then what? Children brought up in that environment have a warped sense of life and end up thinking that the world owes them everything. While as parents we know, that is a far cry from the truth.

Share Your Story: a lot of kids grow up thinking their parents are super heroes in the initial years. And then the teenage years descend on your off springs and their view starts changing. Erma Bombeck (one of my favourite authors) says, “Have you any idea how many children it takes to turn off one light in the kitchen Three. It takes one to say What light and two more to say I didn’t turn it on.” That’s what teenage years do. One thing that stood me in good stead was sharing my teenage years with my daughters when they had “curious” questions. It helped them to know that their mother had gone through similar experiences in life. I was declared “normal” by my kids… 🙂

The worst thing I could have done was to have a “holier than thou” approach in front of them…Jane Nelsen very nicely puts it, “Where did we ever get the crazy idea that in order to make children do better, first we have to make them feel worse? Think of the last time you felt humiliated or treated unfairly. Did you feel like cooperating or doing better?” Parenting3

Finally, it’s not just children who grow. Parents grow with them. I have grown with my lovely daughters. As much as I wait to see what they do with their lives, they are also watching me to see what I do with mine. While I tell them to reach for the stars,  the moon & the sun…I am reaching for my own stars, moon and the sun!!!

 

The Story Of An Eagle…

The eagle has the longest life span among birds. It can live up to 70 years. However, to reach this stage the eagle must make some hard hitting decisions

After flying for 40 long years, the eagle’s talons are no longer sharp enough to catch the prey it needs as food. The long sharp beak is bent…it’s old aged & thick wings become heavy & get stuck to the chest. This makes it difficult for the eagle to fly. Can you imagine the torture of a bird when it cannot fly? It’s similar to the torture that you & I undergo when we know we cannot walk!

The eagle is now left with only two choices in life. To die or to begin a process of change that lasts 150 days.  The process is painful. It requires the eagle to fly to a mountain top and nest itself there throughout the change. The eagle then starts knocking it’s beak out till the beak is out. And then it waits patiently for a new beak to grow. The next stage is for the eagle to pluck it’s talons out. The eagle does this and waits for a new set of talons to grow. The last stage is for this majestic bird to pluck it’s feathers out. Then wait patiently for the feathers to grow. 

After 5 months of this step by step change, the eagle is “reborn” and is ready to take flight and live for another 30 years. 

When I read this, I had goose bumps. The sheer physical torture that an eagle goes through to live 30 years is a lesson for all of us. Change has become an inevitable part of all our lives. Yet, how many of us focus on whether that change is doing something positive for us or not!!! The eagle’s story brought out some paradigms in life for me.

Decision Making – in life we all reach situations where we have to take decisions. We all do take decisions in life. The question is are they timely decisions or are they procrastinated ones? Timely decisions help us in moving ahead with actions…procrastinated ones may not have the same impact or worse, may not have any impact at all. The decision to change something in life is always a difficult one…as we are habituated to a comfort zone. Very often the change itself may not be a difficult one to implement, it is our mental paradigm that makes it difficult. 

Emotional Strength – this is the mental paradigm I referred to earlier. And I will narrate a personal example…am sure many of us go through this in our lives. One of the changes I implemented in my life was to get up early in the morning…to get a head start & finish my morning chores. Now the moment my alarm rang in the morning, the first thought was “let me snooze for another 5 minutes :)”…sounds familiar? That’s when I realized the earth’s gravitational pull is the strongest in the morning…it just refuses to let you get from your bed…:):):). However, Mother Earth was just an excuse for my weakness. I had to condition myself to be mentally strong to push myself out of bed and start my day. So, emotional strength comes from getting rid of this deadly ailment called “excusitis”

Change Paradigms – very often when we focus on bringing about change in our lives, we focus on the end objective so frequently, that we lose out on the step by step approach to change. Change is not something that happens overnight. Change is a process…remember the eagle & the 150 day process. It has been said that for any change to be effectively implemented by us, we need to follow the process for 21 days at least. It takes the human mind 21 days to condition itself. After that the process is easy…your mind demands it! It is those 21 days that we need to focus on everyday acts that will help us condition ourselves. 

Single Handed Approach – I have also realized that any change that I implement in life must start with me & me alone. Like the eagle sits alone to go through the painful process…what I need to do in my life, I need to do it alone. The others around me will support me, give me words of encouragement, stand by me when I feel the pains & the pressure…but, the emotions, feelings & experiences I go through are mine & mine alone. I need to be one with myself to learn from those experiences. It is a single handed approach!

Many a times, in order to survive we need to implement a process of change. We sometimes must get rid of old memories, habits, traditions & experiences. Only when we are free from past burdens, are we free to enjoy the present and work towards the future. Our lives are not determined by what happens around us, but by how we react to what happens around us. Not by what life brings to us…but by what attitude we bring to life. We all reach a stage in life when we have to make noticeable changes in our lifestyle, work, approach & attitude. So…let us change to affect that change!!!

Have a soaring day ahead :):):)