Article: Leader-ship without 'sails': Deep Bali


Leader-ship without 'sails': Deep Bali

An age old cliché reads- 'to be a leader you must have followers'. I am presenting a perspective which aims to highlight how 'followers shape leaders'.
Leader-ship without 'sails': Deep Bali

The very nature i.e. awareness, attitude and values of the followers contribute hugely to the standard of leadership


An age old cliché reads- ‘to be a leader you must have followers’. I am presenting a perspective which aims to highlight how ‘followers shape leaders’.

There is so much out there been written and explored about ‘leadership’ including books, workshops, retreats and not to mention psychometric assessment tools like DISC, MBTI, 360 degree feedback, leadership questionnaires and others. Thousands of executives across the spectrum attend ‘leadership programs’ and learn through concepts and case studies, as well as learn about themselves through several psychometric assessments and feedback from others. Mostly, people are also conditioned hugely by their environment including parents, seniors, peers, work culture, so on and so forth.

Earlier this year in February, 36 people from around the world gathered for a 5 day leadership retreat at Petaluma, in a Noetic sciences centre near San Francisco, California. I happened to be the only one from India amongst other executives/life coaches. The five-day intense program was designed to enable leadership through ‘conscious evolution’ with the aim to enable a ‘shift in consciousness amongst men.’

In my journey as an international CEO, executive and life coach, not only have I had the opportunity to work with CEOs, VPs and owners of large business organizations, but I have also engaged with hundreds of leaders in the pipeline, in formal settings of a training initiative and informally interviewed hundreds of employees.

Result of my private fact finding exercise shows that only 2% of the respondents actually could identify at the most one person in the workplace that they look up to as a leader and/or someone who inspired them. Less than 5% could identify a senior member as a role model in their entire workplace. So, am I implying that true leadership is an oxymoron? Definitely not!

I dived deep into the ‘sea of leadership’ and juxtaposed it with our culture of ignorance, acceptance and tolerance (within the leadership context). The result is an environment of mediocre leaders with ordinary behavior.

In the truest form, leadership is really about followership. Who are these followers? What is the reference point they are using to determine the quality of behavior of a leader? What is the acceptable benchmark? Followers are actually the customers being served by some leader who, because of more experience, knowledge and expertise, is chosen to service and enable them to achieve goals and/or targets. This is the person who leads the tribe!

From my observation of several CEOs, function heads, managers, teachers and many others in leadership roles, I have experienced many of these leaders get by with ordinary behavior in a given context.

Mostly, the reason is the followers’ lack of understanding in what constitutes a ‘true leader’. Many followers I interviewed adapt to the leaders behavior for fear of being negatively appraised or losing their job. Over a period of time, these followers lose their own sense of confidence and identity, which leads to poor decision making. The very nature i.e. awareness, attitude and values of the followers contribute hugely to the standard of leadership.

Let us reflect on the following analogies:
Scenario I: A person visiting a fine dining restaurant for the first time and not knowing what to expect. Evidently he/she will not be able to assess the quality of food or the service because of no real benchmark.

Scenario II: A person visiting a fine dining restaurant after visiting many around the world. The person will have enough exposure and knowledge to be able to differentiate between ordinary and extraordinary service. This person is more likely to challenge the status quo and highlight ordinary service and force the owner to ‘up the ante’ or elevate service standards.
Accepting sloppy service, ordinary food, an average presentation will never give us an ‘extraordinary’ dining service. Similarly, accepting ordinary leadership and not questioning, will not contribute to developing ‘extraordinary’ leaders.

The status quo
Most of us in the Indian cultural context are raised to believe that we must respect our parents, teachers and elders. Accept their behavior at all cost and do not challenge them. They may or may not seek your feedback, because they are also raised or conditioned to believe that elders are always right and have been granted the liberty by some higher wisdom, to be authoritative, demanding and hold the last word. So, most people are raised in an environment where acceptance of ordinary behavior from their parents, teachers, relatives, seniors, peers, and the larger world, is the norm and over a period of time resigned to the paradigm.

Unfortunately, because of a high rate of acceptance, lack of awareness amongst followers, and a system of upward feedback almost redundant, most leaders of today do not feel challenged enough to ‘evolve consciously’ and continue to behave from subconscious patterns from past experiences. Thus, maintaining ‘status quo’ in one sense.

‘Despite of’ and ‘because of’ behaviours – From ordinary to extraordinary
The question most leaders would want to reflect upon is - do they inspire others and build relationships ‘despite’ their behavior or ‘because’ of their behavior? The former produces ordinary behavior and the latter brings about extraordinary behavior.

Most people get by nicely, accepted by family, friends and associates in their current state i.e. the way they are. What then really makes it compelling for a person to ‘evolve consciously’. It can only come from within by being mindful of one’s impact on others. 

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Topics: Leadership

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