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The death of leadership

A few centuries ago, the king of England saw an opportunity to improve trade between his country and the kingdom of Russia. He deputed his trusted knight, Hakluyt, to travel to Russia and sign a trade treaty with the czar.

Knight Hakluyt had with him two royal letters, both signed by his king and authenticated with the royal seal of England. He took a band of 20 cavalry soldiers and left London. Twenty miles from town, he and his men and their horses were all on their own. His band protected itself from the harsh winter, crossed the English Channel and reached France. They then continued their arduous journey to Moscow. Hakluyt saved himself and his men from the bandits and the wild animals, crossed raging rivers and reached the frontier post of Russia. He showed his royal letter to gain entry. Travelling then through Russian territory he observed the Russian people and took mental notes on possible items for trade. He chatted with them and assessed their desires and the surpluses they had. Finally he reached Moscow, met the czar, went into parleys with him and finally negotiated a trade treaty that was signed by the czar.

Hakluyt had the same arduous journey back. He saved himself from the bandits and the wild animals, negotiated natural obstacles, coped with the weather, and returned to London. The king of England was delighted with the treaty that had been signed. It was enormously important for England. It was all done independently by a trusted knight with a band of 20 soldiers.

Now imagine, had means of constant communication (such as cellphones) existed then. The interactions between the king and Hakluyt would have unfolded something like this.

Within a few days of his departure, the king would demand to know from Hakluyt his progress and position. The king would want to approve further plans of action. The king would check on the well-being of the team-members. He would exhort Hakluyt to make haste, and occasionally show displeasure over his tardiness. The king would want to know in real time the conditions of Russian commoners, what they grew and produced. In fact, with the monarchical power and wisdom vested in him, he would end up dictating most of the contents of the trade treaty although he would have hardly seen or understood anything about Russians and their land.

Communication technology has made lower-level processes smoother and new business streams possible, but they have hit leadership development

In response with every communication Hakluyt would learn to make a mountain out of his small troubles with bandits and the crossing of rivers. He would demand support and give reasons for the slackening of pace. He would check on the moods and temperament of the king and seek approvals for his next plan of action. He would himself want the king to have a bigger say with regard to the contents of the trade treaty. He would have the immense satisfaction of getting the treaty signed as decided by his beloved king, but with inestimable damage to time and budget estimates and possibly the quality of the document.

While communication technologies have made lower-level processes smoother and new business streams possible, at the same time they have inflicted the greatest injury to leadership development in two specific ways:

* Centralisation of decision- making authority, even with respect to daily and mundane activities. I know many high-profile leaders who are happily approving senseless travel requisitions and manpower hiring and allocations for the lowest levels. Being on top of everything 24x7 is the new mantra!

* Stripping of empowerment for the Tier II and Tier III leadership. Most middle managers today are happy having their boss’s cell phone number which they can call any time of the day or night rather than seek to have a clear role and accountability for themselves.

To corporate leaders: Leadership cannot be taught in classrooms, nor can it be outsourced. You can have some technical fighting skills taught by others but the core of it has to remain with you. The core is made of trust and empowerment and nothing else. You could make yourself redundant by stepping back and aside to let them fight their battles. In the intervening period between battles, you could just play the role of a mentor.

To parents: Just as in the case of corporate leaders, we cannot outsource the development of a leadership mindset to someone else, including a school. It all starts at home. Let’s treat our children as adults. Let’s not decide everything for the child. Let’s trust them to undertake an activity without hindrance till its completion by stepping back and aside. Let us focus on building in the child independence of thought and action. Hopefully, you would have groomed your child to be Knight Hakluyt.

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 12:26:30 AM |

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