A Tweet, a book and less acknowledged aspects of leadership
What is leadership ?
This is a question which has been asked throughout time and now at the age of 52, with a lot of experience and reading on leadership behind me, I still cannot categorically say what is leadership. There are multiple theories of leadership from the “Trait theory” to “Servant leadership” and “Situational leadership” to “Transformational leadership”. A lot of blogs and articles mention a few key qualities/competencies/behaviors that leader should exhibit, like being authentic, of telling the truth, of not manipulating and misleading others, trust worthiness etc. However, I came across a book which made me question these well articulated notions of leadership.
But…. I seem to be running ahead of myself . A quick rewind takes us back in time to how it started, which was when I read a tweet by Abhijit Bhaduri mentioning an article in a well known magazine, about the books to read to get a different and more complete perspective on leadership. One of the books mentioned was “Team of Rivals” by Doris Kearns Goodwin which is about the political genius of Abraham Lincoln and how he was able to manage his political rivals during the tough and trying times of the American civil war. The article was written by Prof Jeffrey Pfeffer of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business.
One thing led to another, and I ended up buying Prof Pfeffer’s latest book “Leadership BS, Fixing workplaces and Careers one truth at a time”. It is an interesting book as it debunks a number of myths about leadership based on the evidence of recording actual behaviors and actions of various leaders. This blog is not about the book, although I would recommend this to all students of leadership. I will pick on a few of the key lessons from the book and see if those are relevant today. The few lessons which I wish to talk about are:
● Watch leaders’ actions, instead of merely listening to what they say about what they do.
● Sometimes you may have to do bad things to achieve good results.
● Know your environment and behave accordingly to get ahead.
Interesting thoughts, which I found to be at complete variance with what most books on leadership profess leaders must do. The essence of the three lessons as per me is that a leader’s prime responsibility is to get results, to get the job done.
Taking the same line of thought a little further, I feel that a leader’s role is to work towards the higher goals of the organization or the common good and if it means not being truthful, of misleading a few people or of not being honest, so be it.
“A team of rivals” has a number of anecdotes and instances when Lincoln used a few of the not so admired behaviors to move towards his ultimate goal of unification by bringing the Union and the confederacy together as one nation.
A few of my earliest memories are of listening to stories of Mahabharata in the lap of my grandmother and I went back to these stories to see if I could find some evidence of such behaviors in leaders. And I could….
Yudhishthira and Krishna: The first example I am going to quote is of the slaying of Dronacharya by Dhṛiṣhṭādyumna. Yudhishthira, who was known for being truthful at all times, mislead Dronacharya in believing that Dronacharya’s son was dead. Krishna, who is revered as god, also played his part in this deception by asking all warriors to blow trumpets so that Dronacharya could not hear the second part of the sentence spoken by Yudhishthira.
Krishna and Indra : Karna was blessed with an armour and earings which made him almost invincible. Krishna knew that as long a Karna had the Kavach (armour) and Kundal(earing), Arjun will not be able to defeat him. Krishna also knew that Karna was known to grant any wish to a Brahmin in the morning after his prayers , so he asked Indra to go to Karna in disguise. Karna recognizes Indra but still cuts of his armour and earings and gives them to him.
Krishna : Arjun made a vow that if he is not able to kill Jaydratha before sunset, he will kill himself. The compete Kaurav army was defending Jaydratha and hence with evening approaching, it seemed that Arjun will not be able to fulfill his vow. Krishna sends his Sudarshana Chakra in order to mask the sun and create an illusion of sunset. The Kaurav warriors rejoice over Arjuna’s defeat and look forward for his imminent suicide. Jayadratha comes before Arjuna and taunts him. At this moment of time Krishna removes his Chakra from in front of the sun and Arjun is able to kill an unprotected Jaydratha easily.
If we look at the actions of most of the leaders through time, we will be able to see some facets of this form of leadership. Have you spotted any such leader / behavior? What was unique about it? How did it challenge conventional leadership behaviors? I would love to hear from you about your stories of this less acknowledged / discovered aspect of leadership.
Rajiv is the principal consultant at R Square Consulting. Rajiv can be reached at email@example.com for any query, discussion or professional requirements.
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