The Leader

leader
LEADER ON THE MOUNTAIN: Inspiration can be found anywhere; Photo: sanjay mukherjee

Some time ago, I met this guy and he asked me, “Who do you turn to when you need inspiration?”

So I looked at him and said, “I get inspiration from anyone and anything.”

He thought about it, but was not satisfied with the answer. So he said, “There must be someone who you can always depend on to inspire you.”

“No, there isn’t. But tell me what’s troubling you?”

“I was just wondering how to cope with the meaningless routine of my work. No one gives a damn whether I am here or not. No one takes the trouble to appreciate the work that I do. But everybody pounces on me whenever the slightest thing goes wrong. I have spoken to other colleagues, but they don’t have any answers either. Who do I turn to for guidance? Who do I turn to for inspiration? If I have inspiration then I can really work. But I see nothing around me that is inspiring.”

“Do you see the sun every day?”

“Yes.”

“No, you don’t. In fact, I am quite sure you don’t look at the sun for days, probably weeks – you just know it is there.”

“I guess that’s right. I consciously look at the sun only when it is too hot or when it is cloudy.”

“But the sun rises every day.”

“Yes, it does.”

“Isn’t that reason for inspiration?”

“How can that inspire anyone?”

“The sun rises… everyday. It does not bother whether there is someone to rise for or not. It does not bother whether there is any need to rise or not. It does not look for inspiration to rise. It rises because it has to.”

“That’s too simple an explanation. The sun is not a person. It is part of a system.”

“That is true. And you are part of a system too.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know that viewpoint. I am part of the organisation; the organisation is an organism, blah, blah, and more blah.”

“Well, yes. You have a role to play like everyone else. So long as you are doing your part, your boss has no reason to say anything to you. So he or she doesn’t. The moment you don’t do your part, your boss pounces on you because the overall work is affected. That is probably how his boss behaves and how his boss’s boss also behaves… maybe that is why in some organisations no one appreciates anyone as a matter of habit. It’s not because they don’t want to appreciate you – they just don’t realise that they have to.”

“But I can’t work like that.”

“Are you unhappy with your role or your salary or work hours?”

“I am unhappy about the environment in which I work. I think it is fair to expect appreciation and inspiration.”

“But why should your boss inspire you?”

“Then why is he my boss?”

Now that question stopped me completely in my tracks. I don’t remember looking for inspiration in any of my bosses or workplaces. But that is because I had decided that it is too heavy a burden to place upon the shoulders of frail human beings. I have realised that people are able to inspire me to great heights if they don’t know that they are an inspiration for me.

But it is also true that I am always looking for inspiration.

I have thought about this matter for long and I have thought about this matter really hard and I have spoken to quite a few people and read was studied several works of art and philosophy as well. It seems to me that many of us look for inspiration every now and then. And at the work place, we look for this inspiration in bosses, peers, environment, maybe the leaders of the organisation and so on. What we tend to forget is that very few people are capable of consciously inspiring others. Let’s be honest: how many leaders do you see among our elected representatives? I see too few. But I see quite a few leaders in corporate fields. I recognise some in the field of literature, a handful in civil services, some in the field of social work and a host of potential leaders among common folk. I am troubled that I am unable to identify more than a handful of capable leaders in politics, entertainment, sports, and education – I am sure many people will beg to differ like most of my friends do. But I only see icons in sports and entertainment – I don’t see any leaders.

So who is a Leader and what is leadership? To me, leadership is a matter of investing the same amount of respect in others that you invest in yourself. Leadership is about keeping the arrogance of your ego aside and then looking at people and situations. It is about trusting other people. It is about nurturing other people till they rise to their potential. It is about giving direction when there seems none. It is about standing back and letting people do their own thing when required. And it is about having a vision that not only looks ahead but also understands the role of each individual in that future ahead and the trials and tribulations that the organisation or community or society would face before that future comes alive. A leader is someone who helps shape the future of others in a constructive manner for the common good so that the future of the society is secure.

That’s a really tall order. In all the while that I have been working in professional organisations (24 years now), I have found only one such leader: A lady going by the name Sherna Gandhy, the city editor of a newspaper I used to work for at an earlier time. She wasn’t talking and inspiring people, or nurturing or motivating them; she just got on with her job, defined what others ought to do, and gave everybody confidence simply by taking decisions and empowering her team to function fearlessly. She stood and led at all times. She was firm and clear at all times; jovial and amiable when occasion required it, flexible and decentralised in decision most of the time, demanded discipline and top-quality work from others at all times, took time to relax and play, and was respected by one and all throughout the tenure.

 Along the way I have worked with a few good managers, and some more good-hearted people who were in leadership positions. I have read about people and followed the careers and conduct of many others who seem to be good leaders. I see and hear about good leaders in various organisations around me. But leadership is not a size that fits one or all. And to my mind, there is no template that defines a leader nor one that can be followed to create one – my apologies to all those great institutions around the world that are evangelising programs that create leaders: it’s a fool’s errand or a very cleverly constructed business opportunity.

Leadership has some universal qualities and an ability to customise at the local level. And contrary to set notions, one need not have a following to become a leader. One can just stand up and be one by taking the lead in something no one else is willing to do or follow.

Of course I understand that we live in an age which is really corporate in nature and one has been taught to think of leaders. For such environments, I have always found it handy to think of people as:

  1. Leaders
  2. Managers
  3. People in leadership positions
  4. Icons
  5. Individualists
  6. Followers

 So what do you do when you need inspiration? I say, don’t wait for it. Take it from wherever you find it. If you are unable to find it, then you become the inspiration and lead others down the right path. The inspiration always comes from within your own self. While you are waiting for someone to inspire you onto greater deeds, someone else – maybe a whole nation – is waiting for you to inspire them.

But if you really cannot function without having a leader, then the following verse might be helpful when you are evaluating an individual as a leader that you may want to follow:

The Leader

Makes it look effortless, when it’s not.

Rolls up their sleeves, when others are stuck

Smiles and makes others believe it’ll be better, when it’s rough

Is humane when others would be tough

Is firm when others would crack

Is some times wrong and admits to being so

Is often right and does not brag about it around town

Grooms people by just their mere being

Follows, inspires and leads every hour every minute.