Leadership has been dissected to the core!
Thousands of people have pontificated upon as well as practiced the trade or art of leadership and tens of thousands of books & studies have been published (including by this author), particularly over the last two or three decades. More significantly, millions have read most of all that has been written and yet continue to squeeze out time to go and listen to keynote speakers, business leaders and professors peddling their constructs, theories, experiences and beliefs on the topic of leadership.
What is the reason, leadership continues to be an evergreening topic of interest?
The answer is probably quite simple!
Everybody hopes that a leader will rise like a phoenix from the morass that we are in and lead us towards a better life. Most find it easier to follow another who would take all the risks, have a vision for the future, make the right choices and execute them with sheer determination.
And, while we are waiting for the messiah in our own cocoons of an organisation, community or the nation at large, we run our daily chores as naturally as we are built. After all, we are nothing more but products of nature just like any other animal on the planet.
If you don’t agree with that, I could offer you another set of reasons for leadership to be in such great demand.
- Leaders lead a great life; with all the comforts and luxuries one yearns for!
- Almost everybody you know works in some business organisation today, and they are all in the business of making more money by becoming top Business Managers!
- Business Managers wield immense power and influence over how the society functions – are obviously leaders in their own rights!
- Top Business managers become famous and are epitomised for their achievements and net worth (not because of how they reached where they did)!
But, when one listens to the paragons of leadership, they largely speak about how to be a good human being. They talk about values, integrity, vision, hard work, social responsibility, fair play, meritocracy, creating a legacy, a great culture and actualising your goals. They don’t tell you about how they killed competition from their peers, how they controlled their temptations (if they did), how they multiplied their wealth, how they justified their disproportionately large salaries, how they ignored what their spirit asked off them or how they rationalised their choices when faced with an ethical dilemma. Despite all the learning available on leadership, ‘good leadership’ is mostly talked or written about, while it is ‘bad (or weak) leadership’ that gets practiced. It is akin to adultery or corruption. The Germans have a saying, ‘Der Geist ist willig, aber das Fleisch ist schwach’ (the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak). It is not the lack of knowledge that delivers bad or weak leadership, it is the weak will that does!
Leadership or even Management are not professions. Although, it is a known quandary for a few, most relate to leadership or management as if they could be delivered professionally. They cannot be, for the simple reason that leadership or management do not deal with explicit knowledge, instead it is tacit knowledge and to make it worse, it is wisdom that acts as a catalyst to successfully deliver good leadership or management. Professions like medicine, engineering, accounting, journalism, advertising, to name a few, are all built around explicit knowledge, processes, tools, systems and skills. None of these exist in the domain of leadership or management. This is the reason, ‘business administration’ has been successfully masquerading as ‘management’ for over a century under the most enduring brand called the MBA. The guys at Harvard, who started the MBA in 1908, were honest and the acronym never meant anything more than a Master of Business Administration. And, businesses have continued to be administered quite well on the lines the masters taught their wards in ‘business’ schools all around the world. Business managers continue to work their asses off to deliver optimal profits to their shareholders. Everything else they do is to achieve this singular goal that defines and protects capitalism.
Business Managers have performed with aplomb, not Leaders!
Big businesses control government policy, banks upon cronyism & corruption, delivers employee harassment and keeps widening the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Stock markets wipe away the hard-earned investments of the common man while the bankers and those who control the capital rarely loose their moolah. Taxpayer’s money bails out the filthy rich while those who have lived on the margins get pushed further down the percentile ladder. Inflation is a product of the politician’s fancy while his ever-inflating perks get paid by the few living honestly off salaried jobs in some business run entirely for the benefit of the capitalist. In India, twenty-eight years of liberalism has seen businesses grow, innovate and serve only the 10%, who developed surpluses to splurge with. Products or services required by the bottom 90% are not what you read about in the Economic Times, Facebook or Moneycontrol.com. This is what a market economy of 130 million better-off Indians does while the Government plays Chinese Checkers every five years tinkering mildly with taxes, inflation and throwing crumbs at the marginalised (vote banks).
The capitalists have grown richer and richer and so have the business managers who ensured their singular goal gets served to the hilt even if ethics and morals had to be cast aside. Businesses around the world, are often grounded upon principles that conspire in bending the manager’s will. The manager’s flesh is rendered weak by his ungratified needs like self-esteem and narcissistic tendencies. In a nakedly capitalistic society, self-esteem remains an ungratified need sumptuously fed by a never-ending chase for comparative supremacy. The feeling that you are always smaller or lesser than someone up there further accentuates the latent or already developed narcissistic needs of business managers and propels such individuals to the top. The narcissist and those bred upon comparison and competition find the muck created by unbridled capitalism a natural habitat.
The solution to bad leadership does not lie in leadership lectures or the written word but in Coaching. It lies in the practice of Empathy, Self-Actualisation and Choices based upon long-term value creation.
Leadership being a ‘practice’ based upon HaTaCs (Habits of Thinking & Action) instead of a ‘known task’ based upon explicit knowledge & skills for execution, having someone to trust with your vulnerabilities, bounce your ideas and dilemmas and invite challenge to your natural line of thinking could go a long way to re-discover your self-actualisation triggers.
The writing is on the wall about failed leadership, yet we keep flogging the weak-willed horse out of hope that somebody will take up the torch and show the way in the right direction. Business leaders are probably nothing more than the few boats that learnt to sail with the winds and the waves and delivered the booty to the hand that control their existence. Surely, there are exceptions to the rule, where ‘good leadership’ has delivered sustainability, social responsibility, fair play and pay to the employees, technology and product development for the masses. But it is a fast dwindling breed. The waves and winds of capitalism in a democracy are too strong and only getting stronger. Not only Che Guevara believed that democracy in capitalism can only be a pipedream, Louis Brandeis, a US Supreme Court Justice had to say, ‘you can have democracy or you can have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few – you cannot have both’. All the other isms or forms of government have been discarded as worse than democracy and hence, it is more than an irony that the solution can only be in the hands of a statesmanesque politician. Before you shrug that off as a conundrum, better accept that capitalistic democracy is a bigger one to deal with.
Yes, Leadership is a solution provided we create an environment for good leadership to be nurtured and recognised. A society that multiplies those with ungratified Self-Esteem needs like bacterial cells in a bio-reactor instead of those with ungratified Self-Actualisation needs (a good Antibody to fight a disease) treats leadership like a wishful shooting star.
Yes, democracy is great when the government is for, by and from the people, not when all our MLAs and MPs make a few hundred crores in just 5 years. We cannot change them more often than once in 5 years and hence, we need to look at what can be changed within ourselves, in our day-to-day lives, in the Choices we make, in the way we coach our children or juniors. That would be great leadership practiced!
Civil Society and the Media would do a yeoman’s service if they were to build pressure on the Government of the day to govern capitalism and ensure wider creation and distribution of wealth instead of working more as handmaidens of the crore hungry politician or some foreign interest lobby. The three most pressing reforms that could attenuate the capitalistic virus could be:
- Change Government policy in Education & Health – money should not be able to buy best education & health; instead let the State pay for it at controlled rates
- Tax Wealth NOT Income – Inheritances, Multiple Property Ownership, Investments outside the country
- Incentivise Land acquisition for Public Infrastructure
If we want to see good leadership in companies, government and the society at large, we need to learn the power of contentment from the Purpose we live for. If we want to have more statesmen in public life, we need to sacrifice the short-term a bit. Good Leadership is possible if we do not turn everything we do into a business, with a singular goal to optimise income or profits ASAP!
Great leaders are not Traders. They do not just make best Deals!
They are Artistes. They create a culture and leave behind a legacy through their Behaviour, Choices and Actions!