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Updated: October 20, 2013 13:19 IST

Aspiring for leadership?

Malini Seshadri
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Illustration by Keshav
The Hindu
Illustration by Keshav

Have you identified your distinctive and unique leadership style? And how are you going to use it?

Some years ago, an unlikely heroine made news in New York City. She was India-born Bhairavi Desai who led a two-day work stoppage by taxi workers to protest a package of new rules which she said would be against the workers’ interests. What was it about this five-foot-one-inch-tall woman that makes her a leader whom burly male taxi drivers as well as suave city officials would listen to and take seriously? Some clues are contained in this description of her by a New York City official: “She doesnt rattle easy. Under extraordinary pressure she keeps an even keel. She never raises her voice. She never swears. She is steady as a rock.”

Leadership unveiled

Leadership often emerges in many unlikely guises and from the most unexpected of places. Whether they are leading a farmers’ co-operative or a scientific team, a mountaineering expedition or a political party, a student council or an army, all skilful leaders have some things in common. For instance, they are:

excellent communicators

have presence of mind

are decision makers

handle stress well

bring out the best in others

are persistent and not easily discouraged

treat people fairly and are trustworthy.

Because successful leaders concentrate on getting the job done rather than on taking credit for it, they are also good team players. They usually have the humility to ask for advice when necessary. Even all-conquering emperors had their trusted advisers. Also, depending on what the circumstances demand, leaders may choose not to lead ‘from the front’. Sometimes they can push from behind or work shoulder-to shoulder with others in the middle, or even ‘lead by example’. Every leader has a distinctive and unique leadership style.

Which of course means that, although there are some qualities that are common to successful leaders, there is no formula for producing a leader. The hour often findeth the man (or woman), who is often as surprised as anyone else at being thrust into the new role!

Channelling it

Is a good leader always a good person?

It is important to remember that leadership is not a virtue in itself. History tells us of many charismatic and effective leaders who failed the test of common humanity. For instance, Adolf Hitler excelled as a leader. If leadership is not oriented towards the common good, it can be a weapon of destruction. That is an aspect of leadership that is often not given the weightage that it deserves. Inspirational speakers don’t remind us that eternal vigilance in choosing our leaders is the price of maintaining peace and justice. They forget to tell us to evaluate our leaders, their actions and their motives, because ‘leaders’ can and often do lead people down the garden path! They omit to remind us to take a good, hard look at our own motives when we aspire to leadership positions.

Malini Seshadri is a freelance writer.

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