Leadership has come to rule the book shelves of both the sellers and buyers of anything to do with organisational management. Publishers, distributors, E-Sellers, practicing managers, students and teachers are constantly visiting the different watering holes of leadership and wondering what they as individuals should, could or have to do as functioning leaders. Even spiritualism is creeping in as an essential as the usual contours of leadership discussions over the last fifty years are fast crumbling for those in the business of meeting the demands on management or leadership.
It is not that topics like business processes, KPIs, systems, tools, skills, technologies and all that could be contextually included into Porter’s five forces have faded away. Execution, productivity, profitability, topline, bottom-line, optimization, delivery mechanisms, you name it; all those remain as important as a decade ago. But, the demand for the rate of change in all these aspects when applied to any context in any ongoing enterprise has taken gigantic proportions. We see this impacting in geometric progression the society we live in. The frenetic pace of change is driven by innumerable un-famous individuals in different parts of today’s organisations and the ecosystem it survives in. And that is where leadership behaviour – Individual initiatives when faced with complexity – kicks in. Complexity has come to roost as the most common playground for most as we get constantly challenged to step across the boundaries of certainty and agreement!
While running interactions on my last book, ‘Ascent – A Practising Manager’s Growth Mantra’, I have been gratified but more importantly felt vindicated in my faith in seeing that almost everybody is seriously interested in the topic of leadership. One finds people across the spectrum of age, occupation, position and gender in living rooms, board rooms, bars or in academies reacting to the events of the day. Whatever that makes the TRPs soar, be it in social, political, business or the scientific arena, the conversations finally peak into serious views on leadership and its consequences.
As I reflect upon these interactions and experiences, I am left with no option but to conclude that the society we live in today simply forces individuals to perform as leaders. And this is irrespective of your social, political or management position of responsibility or authority.
Machines and Systems designed by man for any context drop off into relative oblivion in no time as the URS (user’s requirements) changes very fast. Internet, e-commerce, social networks and the speed of communication drive away patience with anything and everything. While this is great for the corporations who can match up to the rate of change, others run the risk of just vanishing from the face of earth. The impact on the individual in the middle of all this change is akin to being blown off by a tempest into something that either you are not prepared for or do not even want to be in. Man is under pressure to re-act and react fast. And man has reacted and evolved weathering these tempestuous demands of the times we live in. One can see the change even in how people dress, drive, eat, speak, write and behave in general. Everything has evolved to handle speed.
You need clothes that you can get into Fast!
You need food that you can eat Fast!
You use words that can be spoken Fast!
You write so that you can finish Fast!
You need deliveries of all you need, Fast!
You need to behave – think, see, choose, decide, act – Fast!
We are not cavalry under command in Tennyson’s Light Brigade. Charles Handy once wrote, ‘…there must be more to life than to be a cog in someone else’s great machine, hurtling God knows where…’ Is an individual supposed to be just carried away by the forces around him? Anybody I ask this question including myself has come up with the same answer, ‘No, I don’t want to be blown off without making a choice’.
How can I make a choice if I am in the game of being the fastest to get what I see on an LCD screen? How can I make a choice if I am yet to understand what the future may bring up? How can I make a choice when I have not recognized what I do not want to sacrifice? How can I make a choice when I accept the onus of living up to other’s expectations?
PAUSE – The 1st Button of Leadership
When we face the heavy winds of change or the distant thunder of the unknown we could press the Pause Button. Instead of hurtling on with all that is around in a blur, we may be able to recognize what we run the risk of leaving behind never to be regained again. Instead of following the hordes of the fast brigade into the unknown, we may bend down and listen carefully and peer intently across the horizon afar. We may be lucky to sense the murmurs of what could hit the fleeing gazelles. We may be able to spot a fleeting glimpse of the unknown ahead. When fleeing out of fear of the unknown, even the most fleet footed could end up as a prey for the prowling predator.
With a lot on our plate, we can’t digest well what is on offer. A pause makes it possible to look back at the moorings, revisit the purpose that we are headed towards. A pause makes it possible to reorient in a changing landscape. That’s when we can press the 2nd Button.
CHOICE – the 2nd Button of Leadership
Having taken stock of the changed landscape, we can reaffirm, readjust and reassert on the Choice we have made or need to make.
But, based on what?
Purpose! Purpose is not in our past. It is beyond the horizons of today!
Purpose is the reason we need to stay where we are or change our course. While we are in the Choice mode, we do have a sub – button, REJECT to press when the Pause makes us realise that we need to reorient or deselect the Choice we were consciously or habitually following. Purpose is our Karma, our goal, our reward, our vision and is the reason for our mission of life. What we choose to do today is what will lead us towards our purpose or make us go astray. A Choice is real only when we see or create more than one option to choose from. What we see is normally dependent upon our trajectory of habits of thinking and action. It is only the power of Purpose that could challenge the momentum of the trajectory. Else, we may go hurtling God knows where…
A Choice decision made today is normally motivated by what we may get in exchange for the efforts of today. Leadership has to be wary of this short term temptation governed by the principle of ‘meeting expectations’. Abraham Maslow’s theory on Human motivation is based on this principle and his are still the standing orders on which normal human behaviour and society rests upon. Leadership does not have the luxury to be a prisoner of expectations of today. It is defined by its responsibility to prepare, choose and act to build up the future and not feed the hunger of today.
A mind that is passionately engaged by a future purpose only can see options that could lead us from the present into the future. It is our emotional engagement with the purpose and the unshackling of our mind from the temptations of today’s needs that would make it possible to make the best choice among the options available. Leadership is about breaking out from the motivational prison of expectations and going Beyond into the world of volitional or purposeful engagement!
 Amit Chatterjee, (2014), ‘ASCENT – A Practising Manager’s Growth Mantra’; Random House India, Gurgaon, India
 Charge of Light Brigade (1854); a poem by Lord Alfred Tennyson
 Charles Handy (1994), ‘The Empty Raincoat’; Hutchison Random House, London, UK