Leadership: A 20/20 View?
It is said that leadership is one of the most complex behaviours and there is no single way to view leadership
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I have been looking for a character that is international and quintessence of calmness, charisma, confidence, and agility. The character is the one which is easily recognisable across and doesn't belong to corporate world. I wonder if a character like James Bond who is famous for sharp mind, cool attitude and ruthless execution, is thrown in a corporate set-up, then how he is going to behave and influence. It will certainly be interesting to watch. Strangely, Bond's relationship with 'M' who is the Head of the Secret Intelligence Service (also known as MI6) is a bit sweet and sour - a constant push for dominance over one another though one is incomplete without the other one. Similarly, in an organization, superior and subordinates comfort and confront to achieve business goals.
There is reason for thinking that a more telling lead to the real identity of M lies in the fact that as a boy Fleming often called his mother M. ..... While Fleming was young, his mother was certainly one of the few people he was frightened of, and her sternness toward him, her unexplained demands, and her remorseless insistence on success find a curious and constant echo in the way M handles that hard-ridden, hard-killing agent, 007.
-John Pearson, "The Life of Ian Fleming"
Bond is arguably the most popular and successful spy character that even J.F. Kennedy asked Ian Fleming at a dinner party about how to overthrow Fidel Castro! (Ian Fleming & James Bond: The Cultural Politics of 007). My reference to Bond is to deliberate if it is worthwhile to find any of his traits - the attributes that carve the monolith of a good leader. My attempt is neither a treatise nor a eulogy but to reflect on ground reality and explore traits of some whom I have worked with in my career so far and they left an imprint in some way or other.
It is said that leadership is one of the most complex behaviours and there is no single way to view leadership. For decades, business leaders, organizational researchers, and scholars have made significant progress in learning about leadership. They have continually refined the definition based on their findings and experience, and the latest real-world models and situations. The variety of the theories about leadership stems from leadership's multi-dimensional nature.
Kevin Kruse in an article in Forbes (April 9, 2013) arrived at a definition after scrutinising the interpretations by management experts and scholars - "Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal".
Fellow Linkedin member Kaustubh Sonalkar in his article (Lifting the Leadership Pitch with Airlift, March 4, 2016) noted that "Leaders are not a different breed". He went on to describe some leadership qualities in the protagonist of the movie Airlift.
Whereas Kinjal Choudhary in his article (Why do Leaders have a disproportionate influence on the culture of workplace? March 9, 2016) propounded an interesting facet of leadership - over a period of time "people in an organization do sub consciously mimic their leaders much more than what the leaders would know - the leaders are continually under observation by the vast majority of their people below".
In the past 54 years 26 James Bond films have been made and 7 actors played the role of Bond and 5 played as 'M'. Surprisingly, while counting the number of my immediate supervisors in 20 plus years, it is as high as 14 in totals which are more than the organisations I crossed over! It is indeed very intriguing to examine how most of them stand today in their respective positions or rather progressed in relation to what I have had seen then while directly working under their supervision. This veritable discourse is an echo of 'observation by the people below'.
I have no qualm in admitting that their multi-dimensional views have benefitted me in forming my own opinion. As most of them came from different industry background, the individual approach to a challenge has aided the decision making process in a unique way. They progressed to corner office and many now concur 'some x-factor' for progression. Two of my supervisors were and are still CEO/Co-Owner of their organisations where I worked. Here is a snapshot of the others' current status:
- 2 are on their own - one of them is the founder of a technology start-up and one is in consulting.
- 5 are at CXO level - four of them are CEOs.
- 4 are at Sr. Management level.
- 1 is a business school professor.
What possibly has taken them to their present state of leadership level? Many people may differ on my points of view but this gives us some pointers. The traits which I observed, are not all present in all of them but this is the gestalt of leadership - the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. I have observed a minimum of four and maximum of eight of these qualities in them.
1. Staying cool - It is a very big challenge to keep composure in high-pressure situations without losing focus. Absorbing high level of stress and not percolating down to the team below is a rare virtue. Any manifestation of anxiety can shake the confidence of the team.
2. Infecting Persistence - Follow up, follow up and follow through. Taking any activity or task to a conclusion without leaving it for anyone's guess helps in achieving goal. A close monitoring can bring the task to fruition without any delay.
3. Owning up failure - Staying back with the team by practising "success is yours, failures are mine". This attitude helps the team to push for more and going beyond the comfort zone.
4. Taking calculated risks - It is indeed a few and far trait especially in a promoter-driven organization. This requires a lot of gumption and conviction. One of my superiors used to talk about "work for yourself, not for others and you will be successful." Quick decision making is also a part of this trait.
5. Building emotional connect - People may have varied perspective on making emotional connect with the team. I have seen some are very transactional in relationship and that may be valid in some cases.
6. Empowering others - Leader giving the rope to some who can deliver. Sometimes they toy with the testing of an idea or a project. The success of the project or task gives confidence to the leader and he ultimately empowers the project manager.
7. Switching on, switching off - Some are very private persons and don't open up to the immediate team. Sometimes, that helps in navigating from task to task, project to project.
8. Developing capability and skills - Upgrading own in acquiring knowledge and mentoring, coaching the team members in building skills.
9. Sharp memory - Remembering massive amounts of detailed information is critical to leading any business successfully. Almost all of the superiors are very well-read, well-informed that they have built up over the years.
10. Networking - It is said net-work is net-worth. Ability to tap into people who divulge important information, taking stock of situation quickly and opting for measures. Also, a good external networking among peers helps in career progression.
I started by referring to James Bond in finding similarities - some of the above traits are evident in Bond's construct but not all of them are relevant. However, I conclude by mentioning some of the dialogues in the parting scenes in Skyfall.
Eve: Her will was read today. She left you this.
[Eve gives Bond the box, he opens it and sees it's the ugly porcelain bulldog ornament that used to be on M's desk]
Eve: Maybe it was her way of telling you to take a desk job.
James Bond: Just the opposite. Thank you.
[Eve smiles, turns and walks off]
Do the leaders forget the ground reality once they move to corner office? I need to ask the question next, rather observe their behaviours - I don't know whether they shall smile, turn and walk off like Eve.
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