The Mystique of Leadership: Sound vs. Light

8 03 2009



It is very difficult to really pinpoint what makes a leader a leader. There is an unexplainable “X” factor. 


Enterprises across the globe have always felt the need to develop leaders among their rank as they believe leadership qualities can make crucial differences in their fortunes.


Jack Welch, the former head of GE probably was a great champion of the “Leadership” dimension. A trip to the GE’s institute for leadership development at Crotonville was considered a pilgrimage by corporatewallahs. Perhaps inspired by GE, companies like Infosys and Satyam built their own Leadership Institutes in Mysore and Hyderabad respectively.  


Many HR managers take the easy way out in developing a ‘leadership pipeline’ by sending their executives to the plethora of Management Development Programmes (MDPs) in B-schools. MDPs with the word – leadership – suffixed or pre-fixed – e.g. Value-based Leadership, Transformational Leadership, Emotionally Intelligent Leadership etc are cash cows in b-schools all over the world. 


A new leadership training institution has sprung up in Gurgaon, founded by Anil Sachdeva which calls itself “School of Inspired Leadership” SOIL in short. Their web-site proclaims:  


“Inspired leaders build sustainable organizations creating value for shareholders, while caring for the environment and improving the lives of those around.” 


Pray, tell me how it is different from the trite catchphrase – the triple bottomline? 


I often find the sermons on leadership by management gurus ineffective and uninspiring. The lack of clarity in their thinking can scarcely be camouflaged by confusing verbiage.  


Contrast this with an illuminating piece on leadership by a Spiritual Guru, Paramahansa Sri Nityananda. In a lucidly written piece in Economic Times, he states “Leadership is a state, not a status.” 



I am reproducing the entire piece for the benefit of those who might have missed out reading that column. 


Leadership is not a quality. It is an experience that an individual who has undergone personal growth and transformation radiates. 



This is the simple truth. There are so many books these days about leadership and how it is an important part of making an organization successful. There are so many leadership gurus who teach and train people in organizations to ‘develop’ leadership. Yet when we look at all organizations, be it businesses, government services or in the area of social services, true leaders are rare. A true leader is a person who is ready to take responsibility consciously. He is ready to handle life consciously and he is not constantly dependent on the past. A true leader is a person who is able to respond spontaneously to situations. He is fresh in his ideas and continuously keeps himself alive.


A small story: There was once a great war between two countries. On a hot afternoon, a man in civilian clothes was riding past a small group of tired soldiers digging a huge pit, doing a seemingly impossible task. The group leader was shouting orders and threatening punishment if the work was not completed within the hour. The man riding the horse stopped and asked, ‘Sir, why can’t you help them yourself?’ The group leader replied, ’I am the leader. The men do as I tell them. If you feel so strongly, go help them!’ The man worked with the soldiers till the job was finished! Before leaving, he congratulated the soldiers for their work, and approaching the group leader said, ‘The next time your status prevents you from supporting your people, inform your higher authorities and I will provide a more permanent solution.’ The group leader was completely surprised. Only now he realized that the man was in fact the army general!


Most of us achieve the status of a leader, but not the state. State is totally different from status. Status comes from society. When I use the word ‘state’ I mean our inner space. Our inner space should be mature enough to handle the responsibility, which we assume. Each one of us is a potential leader. The quality of leadership arises from one’s ability to take responsibility for a particular organization, a situation or a particular group with tremendous awareness and maturity. Leadership is simply a conscious choice made by an individual to act out of deep sensitivity and awareness to one’s situation and surrounding. Then automatically, the inner space will start transforming and send out the right words and actions.” 


As I finished reading the above piece, my need for reading leadership spiel by management gurus died an instant death.


– G. Mohan




2 responses

10 03 2009
Venkat Subramaniam

The statement ‘Leadership is a state and not a status conferred on an individual’, removes the widely held misconception of permanency associated with the words ‘leader’ and ‘leadership’ especially when we talk about political leaders and corporate leaders.

‘State’ by its very concept is situational while ‘status’ is something more static. Leadership is also a quality which an individual exhibits given a certain situation or context, and the same individual may not be seen as a leader in a different context. However, certain people because of being involved in challenging contexts more often or because of having a proactive inclination to get involved in such challenging situations, find themselves leading the way more often and over a period of time they tend to acquire the ‘status’ of a leader.

The Tao Group of consultants have come up with an interesting perspective about ‘who is a leader’ and ‘who is not’; and because they have been able to define ‘who is not a leader’ they have been to able to bring a certain amount of focus to the perspective and has helped in removing the ambiguity that is largely associated with this term.

According to them a ‘leader’ is an individual who stands at the periphery of his/her group; observes the internal environment of the group and the environment external to the group; and makes changes or tries to make changes in the internal environment based on the changes in the external environment. The individual is a ‘ leader’ as long as he/she does this or is allowed by the group to do this. When the individual stops doing this he/she might be termed ‘manager’, ‘head’, ‘Vice President’ of the company, or ‘Prime Minister’ of the Country, but the individual is no more a leader. The interesting aspect about this perspective is that a person heading a small team might be exhibiting leadership qualities, while the same person when promoted to head a larger group may not come forth as a leader or may not be allowed by his now bigger group to exhibhit leadership.

This definition of leadership has prompted me to extrapolate it further to define ‘ personal leadership’. According this perspective, ‘personal leadership’ will be exhibited by an individual when he/she is willing to observe and learn from the environment which is external to his/her self. Such a person would be open to feedback and inputs from others. When a person becomes closed to the external world in terms of accepting feedback the individual stops exhibhiting personal leadership.

13 03 2009
Chinmoy Sarkar

Business world is dominated by ‘catch words’, ‘phrases’, each of them carry a different meaning to different people. As I feel, the true meaning of the word ‘leadership’ has lost its significance a long along ago. As the new economy contributes additional words in the English dictionery everyday, so does the corporate world to the list of meanings to the same word.

Leadership is a state of mind that culmintaes from experience and knowledge. Mind is a dangerous element and it plays the tricks as soons as memories comes into play; knowledge gets ruptured by the tricks of memories. It dictates terms based on what you find most interesting in the knowledge that you gather as a result of experience. If we could let our mind ‘freefloat’ and accepts the information from the ‘what is’, the knowledge gets transformed. I have doubts if we can become a true leader if we do not have a complete knowledge of the self….self that pushes us into the domain of aspirations, desires. Sometimes they are the drivers for the memories to act smart at stages of our living.

What is self knowledge the….something that helps us think a thought devoid of memories, act an action with the binding of the thought and learn a lessons woiothout the dictum of thoughts and actions. It is a beautiful free flowing living where knowledge helps only to that extent that we can see information as it is. As we progress in life, knowledge has little relevance on our understanding of the self…it comes naturally without the influence of knowledge. Knowledge is based on knowns, but leaders need to deal with unknowns more often and how can you see unknown with your known mind. Known must stop for unknown to reveal automatically.

Believe in SPARK…whether it is to decipher the qualities of the leadership or understanding the saga of life. S stands for Seeking (read it as ‘Startegy’, a true leader knows that); P for Promise (read it as ‘resources’) that is immediately bestowed onto you from the formless space; A for Allowing (read it for ‘Capabilities’) whioch all of us should learn to do; R for Receiving (read it as ‘Goals’)…the Key to natural revelations..

Leadership actions need to come naturally without any external influences. A leader truely knows how to use the SPARK to light the fire of imagination…

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