A leader is often defined as a person or entity who leads; a guiding or directing head. For example, the head of an army or a political movement, a conductor or director of an orchestra etc. Essentially a leader is a person who can influence or inspire a group of people towards the realization of a goal. So what are the basic characteristics that go into the making of a leader?
One Who is at the Forefront:
One of the Sanskrit words for leader is agraga, which means, someone who goes in the front. That is very much in sync with the general meaning of someone who leads. It’s a simple definition, but it satisfies the necessary, if not sufficient, a prerequisite for a leader. In popular imagery, a leader is always seen as someone who is at the forefront.
In Indian culture, perhaps the most celebrated leader is Krishna, who victoriously led the Pandavas in the Kurukshetra battle in the epic Mahabharata. In this avatar, he is seen as the protector, friend, philosopher and guide of Arjuna. Being at the front of Arjuna’s chariot, Krishna would have taken the first blow, had Arjuna been hit by an arrow.
This, in a nutshell, is pretty much everything that a leader should be. A leader is a protector and saviour; the first one to take the blow if anything goes wrong, the first one to die on the battlefield. So, we can say a good manager, like a true leader, should be like a shield for her team, facing the bullets, never running away from the front, never blaming anyone for any failure, but willing to take the onus upon herself.
One Who has Followers, not Listeners:
This very definition of a leader as one who leads from the front points to a few identifying features of a leader. The first and the foremost is that a leader should have followers, not listeners. When Krishna is leading Arjuna, as his charioteer, Arjuna is following Krishna, not merely listening to him. Krishna has evoked a sense of security and trust in the mind of Arjuna, and hence the latter has become a follower. Krishna’s words are not just mere instructions or commands of a boss to Arjuna. Krishna’s words have become Arjuna’s inspiration.
Millions of people followed Mahatma Gandhi, not because Gandhi had ordered or instructed them to do so, but because of their love towards him.
A true leader is she, who is followed, not merely obeyed or listened to.
Most managers or bosses we see in office are obeyed, not followed. That’s where they all fail to become leaders. They remain managers. They remain as mere instructors, givers of orders. People listen to them out of fear and obligation.
One Who “does” Rather than Merely Preaching
This leads to the next question: when would be someone followed and not merely listened to?
G B Shaw gave the answer to this question, though in a different context altogether. He had said, “One who can, does; he who cannot, teaches.”
People generally follow a Doer. A leader never says, “You do”. A leader always does. People follow. A manager who has evolved into a leader never says, “Do this.” He always does. His employees follow.
One Who Inspires
This raises a pertinent question: if the leader does everything, then how would she make the teamwork? That brings us to perhaps the most important aspect about leadership: Inspiration.
We’re used to hearing that the team should be motivated, that the job of a manager is to motivate her team.
Did Gandhi motivate the entire nation to endure the penance of nonviolence? No, he inspired his people.
A closer look at the words “motivation” and “inspiration” will tell the difference between the two. Motivation is just a cause or reason to act; and inspiration, like respiration, is related to the Latin word spirare, meaning “to breathe”. When done in the right way, inspiration can do wonders.
A leader is one who inspires, not motivates. If a manager can’t inspire her people, she’s no manager. And that’s the case with most of the managers in the corporate world. Uninspiring managers can be disastrous in organizations. Having failed to inspire their teams into delivering, they would resort to all sorts of ways to push them hard.
In conclusion, if the corporate world has more number of managers who possess the features of our traditional leaders, they will be no less celebrated than them and would also make working efficient and easier for the team and the organization. A person can be viewed as a good leader only when she yields the best result for the organization by managing her team well.