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5 Common Myths About Leadership!

Years of research throw up one single common thread that Great Leaders have, and that is “resilience” – the ability to sustain ambition in the face of frustration!

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Voltaire had once said, “Common sense is not so common!”

In our experience, “Common Understanding of Leadership is not so common either”!
Having worked for various corporations and having met hundreds of leaders, we have observed some strange myths leaders wear on their sleeves. These myths aren’t necessarily in the conscious space of leaders but play out in their interactions with the rest of the system.  

How do we conclude that these are the “myths” leaders carry?

Our answer to this question is: when we see them behave and contrast them with many tall leaders in the world.

We all draw inspiration from great leaders who stood the test of time like J. R. D. Tata, J.J. Irani, N. R. Narayana Murthy (Infosys), T. Thomas (Hindustan Unilever), Varghese Kurien (AMUL), Ramesh Chauhan (Parle), A.M. Naik (L&T), and their like – who are all institution builders in our country.

 Myth# 1 :
“When I deliver results, I become a leader!”

Does simply delivering results make one a leader?

No doubt, leaders need to deliver results but the means to the delivery is the key.

There are various situations where one may miss targets for various genuine reasons. Real leaders accept failures and learn from them. They have a sharp business acumen with an ability to recover from temporary setbacks and build credibility through authenticity. Hence,  all stakeholders stand by them in times of adversity.

Perhaps, the most striking example of this uncommon myth is when we observed one leader who claimed that he had never missed a target for the last many decades, only to lead the company to the brink of a disaster, by misrepresenting sales and not booking expenses!

Classic case of equating results with Leadership!
Myth#2 :
“I become entitled to leadership because of my pedigree!”

In our years of experience, we have noticed a rat race across the world where leaders assume that they are entitled to leadership because of their pedigree.

Little do they realise that getting through the best of engineering and B-Schools is only a gateway to a great job but does not make someone a leader.  

Leadership is when you have inspired your team/ colleagues for several years, working in different situations and making others succeed! This is a true reflection of leadership.  

On the contrary, quite often one witnesses the supremacy of IQ over EQ in staking a claim to leadership. We have seen the team and the followers being pushed to the wall due to blatant display of IQ over EQ. Degrees do not entitle you to be a leader but it is the strength of the EQ that is the true hallmark of a leader.

History has many stories of great leaders and all of them have one thing in common and that is a strong EQ!

Mr J.J. Irani, former MD of Tata Steel, was known for his humility and down to earth approach, which endeared him to the people he worked with and won him several acclaims. One has heard stories about how he used to visit workers’ homes on special occasions, dine in their canteens and even celebrate festivals with them.
Myth# 3 :
“Status & titles maketh a leader!”

How often do we see people reach the top before their time – the status as well as title gives them the illusion of leadership.

Such leaders normally assert their power on their teams and many a times let them down in times of crisis. We have seen leaders who have not even flinched an eyelid in throwing their team members under the bus in front of the Board so as to look good.

The fact is that status and title are meant only for role effectiveness and does not in any way confer leadership qualities on them!

Unfortunately, such leaders are generally insecure about their own success and try to build an aura of superiority based on the chair they occupy.
Myth # 4 :
“Elegant dressing and stylish articulation is leadership!”

There are many who have an intuitive sense of style in dressing and communication. They can pass through any interview and impress all the bosses to gain their confidence.

It is only over a period of time that their true colours play out when they are put under scrutiny. True leaders do not focus on dress sense or the ability to be articulate. In contrast people who wear their attire as humility and empathy are known for their leadership.

In contrast two examples in the recent past give a glimpse of what leadership is all about!

Two CEOs who are being discussed in corporate circles for their success are Sandeep Bakshi of ICICI Bank, who is turning around the huge private sector bank into an agile and hierarchy free bank and Ignatius Noronha, CEO of D-Mart, who is rumoured to be India’s richest professional manager with a net worth of Rs 7,800 crores. We hear stories of Sandeep Bakshi visiting branches of the bank incognito, sitting in a corner and observing, and the staff don’t even recognise him! Noronha on the other hand, has humble beginnings but has created one of the best grocery-to-apparel retail chains in India.
Myth # 5 :
“Leaders are always only at the top of the pyramid!”

Some of the best run institutions have leaders across all levels. They become the breeding ground of leadership. Corporates have started recognising that leaders can and should be at all levels – those who are willing to take charge and can inspire followers.

We have observed that many times anyone who leads a project or assignment is perceived as a leader! In this age of knowledge, all subject matter experts irrespective of their age or level can potentially be leaders.
Above all, the test of true leadership is at times of crisis and during turbulent times.

J.R.D. and Narayana Murthy are known for their simplicity and yet, have built lasting institutions. The latter, even today travels by economy class. Varghese Kurien was known for his vision and delivering a flood of milk in India. All very unassuming and known for their brilliance.

Years of research throw up one single common thread that Great Leaders have, and that is “resilience” –  the ability to sustain ambition in the face of frustration!

K. A. Narayan, President -HR, Raymond Ltd, is fondly known as KAN in industry for his well-known ‘Can Do’ attitude. Sunandan Bhanja Chaudhury, Client Partner, Pedersen & Partners, is known as SU by friends and family, both off and on the golf course! 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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leadership magazine 3 December 2022

Sunandan Bhanja Chaudhury

The author is Client Partner, Pedersen & Partners, is known as SU by friends and family, both off and on the golf course!

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K. A. Narayan

The author is President -HR, Raymond, email ID

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