What is Leadership?

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What is Leadership? This is the most basic question when it comes to leadership. The second most basic question is: Why Leadership? Let us first answer the first question and then move on to the second. In the process many more questions may emerge. A question gives rise to many answers and many answers may give rise to many more questions. Leadership can become a great Q & A process. Leadership in fact is a learning process. It has a learning curve. It is an individual growth. Let us explore the first part of the question: What is Leadership? The most simplest answer is that Leadership is a new name for responsibility. It is a contemporary name. It is a 21st century key word for responsibility. Leadership to me is a quality. It is an attribute. It is a character. It is a creative response in a given situation. It is a colour, flavour, fragrance, and taste of the leader. From the seeds of leadership emerges the leader. Learning is a starting point. Following is a starting point. And Leadership is the flowering and fruition of that following and learning. The word leadership is an acronym embedding within many more attributes and characteristics. And to me the acronym for LEADERSHIP stands for the following traits and attributes:

  • L - The very first letter in Leadership stands for Learning. A true leader is one who is always learning. He is continuously learning and he is always eager to learn. He is
    like a child and always inquisitive and inquiring. He is always in a state of learning. Learning, understanding and knowing is an endless journey and it never stops. We all know the ancient Zen story. A professor comes to a Zen master and inquires about the zen secrets. He is very anxious to know. The Zen master says not to worry and says such anxiousness is not good on the path of Zen. On the path of Zen and Tao one needs to have patience. The Zen master suggests the professor to have a Zen tea first before the Q & A starts. The Zen master prepares for the Zen tea ceremony. He prepares the tea for the professor very lovingly. He then pours the tea in empty tea cup of the professor. The professor is not attentive. The Zen master keeps on pouring. The cup fills and overflows and falls on the saucer. The professor says immediately that no more tea can go in for the cup is full. The Zen master takes a cue from this and tells the professor that same is true with the human mind. If the human mind is so full of preconceptions and prejudices then no new learning or knowledge is possible. If the mind is preoccupied with the old then there is no place for the new knowledge. The old has to be emptied for making a room for the new. Let us take one example. I am carrying stones in my shirt and pant pockets. I am thinking  that the stones are very valuable. In fact the stones are just pebbles and have no value. All my pockets are full and there is no place for anything. I keep on moving on my life journey. After some journey I come across a treasure which is full of gold coins and gold bars. And the gold is more valuable than the pebbles. I have no other way but to empty my pockets and throw away all the pebbles and refill the pockets with gold. I am now very happy with the new treasure. I still keep on moving on my life journey. After some more time I again come across a new treasure which is full of precious diamonds and gems. Now the diamonds and gems are more precious than the gold. Again I have no other option but to empty my pockets full of gold and refill them with gems and diamonds. I have to throw away the gold coins and gold bars to make room for gems and diamonds. This is how the situation of learning and knowledge is. One has to throw away wrong knowledge to make a place for the right knowledge. The key words for the 21st century leaders are: Learn, Unlearn, and Relearn. These three have to go together continuously and eternally. This is the first attribute that every good leader will show. That is, he is continuously learning and growing. And “LUR will become an eternal triangle of learning.
  • E - The second letter in Leadership stands for Energy. The true leader will always be energetic and enthusiastic. This eternal energy in him will function at five dimensions. And these five dimensions are: Educating, Energizing, Entertaining, Enchanting, and Enlightening. He himself is very energetic and tries to infuse the same energy in others through all these five dimensions. He is always educating and is always ready to share his new learning with others. In the process he is also entertaining and enchanting his audience. All great leaders have always been very humble and humorous. They were the greatest showmen. In the whole process and in his presence everybody is moving towards his own inner being because the ultimate objective of any responsibility is self-improvement, self-advancement, self-enhancement, and self-fulfillment. The energy becomes five dimensional or five fold. Let us define this as E to the power 5 (E^5). Therefore, a true leader is a multidimentional energy center. The whole process of learning is to move from Energy to Enlightenment.
  • A - The third letter in Leadership stands for Adventure. True leaders are those who are very courageous and adventurous. They are not gamblers but they are risk takers. They review all possible options and weigh them against their pros and cons and take a calculated risk. True leaders are not only responsible for themselves but they are also responsible for their team members, for their peers, and for the entire organization. Professionally they are responsible to their organization. Socially they are responsible for their country and their people. Spiritually they are responsible for themselves. Their actions and achievements are inspirations for others. That is why they have to be very careful for all their actions. All authentic leaders are very adventurous and they are risk takers. 
  • D - The fourth letter in Leadership stands for Decision. True leaders are proactive and decisive. No matter what they take decisions. In the process they may make wrong decisions some times. But they do not hesitate to take decisions. And they take total responsibility of the results of all their actions and decisions. Not taking a decision is also a decision. Our indecision is also our decision. True leaders learn from the mistakes of their wrong decisions. To err is human. That is why we use a word human error. There is every scope for a wrong decision. And there is nothing wrong in making a wrong decision. Learning from the mistakes of wrong decisions leads us to maturity and experience. All the great leaders ultimately become good decision makers because all their decisions emerge from their sense of clarity, maturity, experience, and vision. 
  • E - The fifth letter in Leadership stands for Empathy. True leaders demonstrate the trait of empathy. In every situation they are empathetic with others. They always try to put themselves into others shoes and try to understand things from others perspective. This trait reinforces in them the confidence of others. Dr. Rama is a world renowned Neurologist. He talks about Empathy Neurons. He also calls them as Gandhi Neurons. He says that in the present humanity these empathy neurons are very sparingly available. And he professes that may be in some 100 and 1000 million years after some portion of the furure humanity could posses these empathy neurons. It seems true leaders are gifted with empathy neurons. And the Buddhas and Mystics have always been saying that through Dhyana or Meditation one can attain to infinite bliss and compassion.    
  • R - The sixth letter in Leadership stands for Responsibility. This is the most important quality of all. And all true leaders demonstrate this trait of responsibility. They are responsible and responsive. Responsibility means a capacity to respond. They are responsive and respond to all difficult situations. They are responsive to all critical situations. As a management principle, responsibility and authority go together. The more the responsibility, the more is the authority. And the same should also be true vice versa. The true leaders derive their authority through responsibility. And being responsible makes them reliable leaders. And because of being responsible, people repose trust and confidence in them. In India in the name of Spirituality some people escape to the Himalayas. They escape to the Monasteries. And they proudly call this as a renunciation. And they call this renunciation a great sacrifice. And they falsely term this as a great virtue. To be frank with you, there is no value in this escapism. This is not true renunciation. This is just an escapism and nothing else. This is not a responsibility but an escapsim. This is exactly where Krishna in the Bhagavad Geeta persues Arjuna to take responsibility and not to run away from the responsibility. And eventually at the end of the Geeta this responsibility becomes a Dharma of Arjuna and he emerges victorious. Renunciation means to give-up wrong notions and wrong ideas. Renunciation means to give-up prejudices and pre-conceived notions. Renunciation means to give-up wrong attitudes. Renunciation means to give-up ego and ignorance. This is true renunciation. 
  • S - The seventh letter in Leadership stands for being Social. All true leaders are social beings and they have a social approach to doing things. They take into account the interest of the whole community. They take into account the interest of the whole humanity. And when it comes to their own team they take care of all their team members and their interests. And when it comes to an organization as a whole, they take into consideration the interest of all teams within the organization and the interests of the organization as a whole. And finally when it comes to a nation they take into consideration the interest of the whole of the nation. One of the biggest responsibilities of big corporates today is “Corporate Social Responsibility.
  • H - The eighth letter in Leadership stands for being Human. True leaders demonstrate humanistic traits and qualities. True leaders are real human beings and they value humanity and human values. This is where Robin Sharma talks about “Leadership without Title. Great leaders are humble enough to lead and share without any title. The title is not a pre-requisite for their creative actions.
  • I - The ninth letter in Leadership stands for Inspiration. True leaders not only inspire others but they also get inspired from other great leaders. This brings a charisma to their personality. They stand for being true individuals. This is basically a mystical trait in the leaders. Thomas Edison used to say that success is equal to 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. True leaders do not believe in influencing others but people do definitely get inspired from them. A true leader is one who inspires others. Charisma is a mystical quality. It can not be created. It is gifted. It is a divine gift. In the ancient Indian context it is called Prasada(A Divine Gift). Ram Charan says that some great leaders posses some qualities which are God given. These qualities can not be created. These qualities can not be inculcated. These qualities can not be mocked. And charisma is one such quality.
  • P - The tenth letter in Leadership stands for Purpose. All leadership is for a purpose and for an end goal. The great leaders always get directed by the end objective in mind. In the The 7 Habits of Higly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about Begin with the End in Mind. This is Habit No. 2 out of all the 7 Habits. The ultimate goal may be a goal-less goal. And the ultimate end may be an endless-end. All great leaders always demonstrate this trait of purpose and passion. All their passion is towards this purpose. And all their purpose is towards the Mission and Vision.

These are the 10 most important traits of good leadership
. All good leaders should strive towards these traits and demonstrate them to have the confidence of the people. It is said that leadership is commanded and not demanded. And in order to command leadership, it has
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to be effectively demonstrated. And it is also said that good leaders are those who are able to create better leaders.

To recapitulate, the following are the 10 most important leadership traits of a true and genuine leader. To me LEADERSHIP is an acronym for the following key traits and attributes:
  1. Learning
  2. Energetic
  3. Adventurous
  4. Decisive
  5. Empathetic
  6. Responsive
  7. Social
  8. Humanistic
  9. Inspiring
  10. Purposeful
The above are the 10 most important attributes of a good leader. A true leader is one who inculcates and imbibes all the above qualities. The above qualities should become the blood, bone and marrow of a leader. The very spirit of a leader should display and demonstrate all the above qualities. The above qualities separate a good leader from a bad leader. 

Peter Drucker, a world renowned management Guru, gives a clear distinction between Management and Leadership. And according to him, Management means doing things right, and Leadership means doing right things. Only a leader with the above qualities will be in a position to do right things. 

Subpages (1): Why Leadership?