Volume - 10 : Issue - 3

Published : Jul. - Sep. 2011

Group : Ruminations

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Ruminations from deep inside

LEADERSHIP – what does it truly mean?

By Lavjay Butani

Growing up, I always wanted to learn from the best! I strove to achieve the highest, the most challenging and the toughest of all things, titles, and accomplishments, and in the fastest possible way I could. I'm still in the 'growing' phase I guess-wanting to become better at what I like and love to do. Never did I think that I would find so much more than just knowledge as I walked the walk of life. But I have. And at a deeper level I have truly 'grown' and found, at least glimpses of, the proverbial pot of gold-the wisdom to look into myself for questions and for answers. Self-discovery, self awareness and the understanding of what leadership really means.

Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines a 'leader' as a person who 'leads,' i.e. one who has a commanding authority or influence, as in 'leader of a pack.' But reflecting on my own thoughts, I recognize now that being a leader is much more than that. And it's much harder too than just being in the front!

The best that I can think of leadership is that, like all other human attributes, leadership is a behavior, a 'habit.' And we know that habits arise from the intersection of knowledge (the 'knowing' part), skills (the 'knowing how to' part) and attitudes & motivation (the 'desire' or 'wanting to' part). This allows me to think within a framework and explore/develop my philosophy of what constitutes leadership. Traditionally this is how one thinks of habits:

As pertaining to the habit of leadership, though, I feel that the picture looks more like this:




Knowledge : is essential, but only a very small part of the puzzle of leadership-a stepping stone towards development of leadership skills-a cognitive base, so to speak. Leadership is about inspiring others and yourself to achieve their/your goals and desires (satisfaction-happiness) at the same time, while simultaneously contributing/working towards a greater good-the good of everyone, suing a principle based approach.

The visionary style of leadership is so well described by Henry Kissinger 'The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been,' and Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

Applications to my own self: Where do I go from here? Organizing this mass of newly acquired knowledge base into a coherent whole-reflections such as this are a great help- and integrating the various readings into a more meaningful and practical treatise that I can refer to periodically until they become second nature to me.

Skills : Surrounding the domain of knowledge is development of the skills to apply that knowledge effectively into practice. As they say: “A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss”-so more than just acquiring knowledge, the leadership 'circle' needs to be rolled down the path of practice-it is only with deliberate practice that the knowledge pertaining to leadership that we have acquired can be cultivated and improved. The 'abstract' can only take us so far. What is needed to get to higher levels of skill is actual practice, in all walks of our lives to hone our skills and make them an intrinsic part of us. 'Great athletes spend a lot of time practicing and a little time performing, while executives spend no time practicing and all their time performing….the key to learning new habits for leaders lies in practice to the point of mastery.'  And I would add, surrounding oneself with the company of wise people.

As Thomas Jefferson said: 'In matters of style, swim with the current; In matters of principle, stand like a rock.' Focus on the right goal, but not how things are done to get there, as long as a moral and ethical approach is used.

Applications to my self: practice, practice and practice. Start in a safe environment and in small steps. Home and my own immediate work environment are the 2 areas that I am beginning to try out these skills. On one hand, these are familiar and less threatening, but on the other hand, the 'baggage' that I carry in these places is also 'heavier' since I am most 'known' in these places and so am more vulnerable. But vulnerability is good, isn't it? After all, that's what makes others trust you.

What I have learnt most in this arena:

  • Practice makes perfect

  • Be flexible and use different styles with different people and in different circumstances ('situational leadership'). Sometimes that means being the turtle and sometimes the hare, sometimes the shepherd and sometimes the  sheep, and sometimes even the wolf (Aesop's fables)!

·       Be aware and vigilant at all times. Think before    you act. Think and make sure that you are doing the right thing, that you are doing it for the right reasons and that you are doing it with respect and cooperation.


Attitudes: This is the overarching quality that to me seems essential for becoming a leader. Not surprisingly this is an INTERNAL quality and not something we can get from others. Our knowledge can be applied, practiced and successfully integrated into our lives only if we have the right approach or attitude towards life and living.

Thou hast the power only to act not over the result thereof. Act thou therefore without the prospect of the result and without succumbing to inaction” says the Gita. For this give up your ego and attachment to symbols and recognize the unity of all things and people-develop an abundance mentality and a win-win attitude. Competing hurts others and since we are all interconnected, by hurting others, we hurt only ourselves.

How does one get to such a stage-for me by spiritual guidance and self-exploration to get to the stage of being more empathic and less ego-bound. 'Leadership always comes back to the issue of character, of deep foundational values. will not find followers without caring, connecting and creating…We can only lead effectively by enabling others to maximize their contribution.'

We have a choice.  Frankl quoting Dostoevsky states: “There is only one thing that I dread-not to be worthy on my sufferings.”

Applications to my self:
·               Reminding myself of the unity of life and that we are all part of one 'soul' such that hurting anyone or anything hurts us
·               Weighing my actions on a purely paradigm based principle, before I act
·               Being kind and caring
·               Embracing who I am and accepting, even rejoicing, in my strengths and my flaws, while reminding myself that I am but an instrument acting out a higher will, thereby relinquishing my ego

I want to be the conductor (and be happy as the conductor) of the orchestra-the least glamorous, the least 'individual' part of the symphony, yet the one who hold things together and is happy when synchronicity is achieved and harmony results. Someone whose face is rarely seen… and someone who truly leads.

In this, surely I am not alone? So come on out and join me…and make the world a better place.