Published: 15th April 2022
E-Canteen Fundas: Before you step into the leadership arena, ask yourself, are you willing to learn?
Leadership is a skill that can be learned by practicing the principles of leadership. Leaders evolve from being insecure leaders, to being personal leaders, to being secure leaders and so on
‘I don’t know how Saurabh became the Sports Club President,’ said Rahul. ‘He’s such a bad leader. I don’t think he can ever improve.’
‘Really? Saurabh is a good guy otherwise, right?’ asked Rahul. ‘Is it true bhaiyya, that some people just cannot be good leaders?’
‘Not really Rinku,’ said Rakesh. ‘Like anything else, leadership can be learned. But the key, as always, is this — a learning mindset. It may take time, but if the leader is willing to learn, the worst of leaders evolve into great leaders.’
‘You mean that even Saurabh, with his bad leadership skills, can, by learning the right principles and practices, evolve into a good leader?’ asked Rahul. ‘That would be a miracle.’
‘That’s interesting,’ said Rinku. ‘How does this evolution happen?’
Let’s take you as an example, Rinku,’ said Rakesh. ‘As we know, all leaders come from within the group. Let’s say you’ve been made class monitor by your lecturer. You have no training as a leader and have been made a leader simply because you are a better performer than the rest, you are older, you put up your hand, the boss likes you and so on. But that does not make you a good leader. With no training inputs and a lack of basic leadership skills, you’re likely to feel insecure while leading your peers. To assert yourself as the leader, you display your insecurity through behaviours such as — going hard on the team, taking a my-way-or-highway approach, not being open to discussion or dissent, seeing feedback as criticism and using threats and penalties as a way to get work done. A team under such a leader works resentfully and naturally, team performance will be way below potential. Such teams stagnate or regress. Ironically, the leader blames the team for its failure. This is the kind of a leader who you feel will not improve, right?’
‘Yes, bhaiyya,’ said Rahul. ‘That’s exactly how Saurabh behaves. But now I can see he may be doing it from his insecurity. How can such a person evolve?’
‘Now, let’s say Rinku, as a class monitor, has realised that her leadership style is not working,’ said Rakesh. ‘She can see that the team is unhappy, some have left, most are underperforming and the results are bad. At some point, if Rinku is smart, she will realise something needs to change and that the change has to begin with herself. Like American author John C Maxwell said — ‘As a leader, the first person I need to lead is me. The first person I should try to change is me.’ This change leads to personal leadership or change at a personal level. Here, you take ownership and do all the things you can to produce results, and by doing so, lead by example. It’s like a star player trying to do all the work for the team! Since you are not yet confident in delegating, you do the work yourself and end up trying to do everybody’s work which is not very efficient. But you do inspire a few others with your intent and work ethic. The limitations, however, are that you’re still not open to others’ ideas, follow only your ways, do not know how to delegate and therefore, cannot get the best out of the team. Delegation has to do with trust and you are not secure enough to trust yourself or your team members. Personal leadership can work in a small setup to some extent because you can pull off other people's work when it’s small. But it’s still not the best in terms of helping the team grow to its full potential. Small businesses stay small because the leaders try to do everything themselves! No team can grow on the efforts of one person. Under a personal leader, teams perform better, but not to their full potential.’
‘Okay, so I have moved from not letting anyone do the work, to doing everything myself because I don’t trust others fully enough to delegate, right?’ said Rinku. ‘It’s progress certainly. What next?’
‘In time, you as the personal leader, realise that the team offers a lot more potential that can be tapped,’ said Rakesh. ‘If you’re learning-oriented, you will realise that it’s your leadership style that limits the growth of your team and that you’re the limiting factor. Once you start thinking in terms of growth, your focus shifts from yourself to the team — how to help the team grow using all available resources. You realise growth is much faster if you involve others, motivate them, listen to more perspectives, be open to ideas, allow them to work in their ways, guide and support them when they need it, give them credit and provide process orientation. You let them take greater responsibility, make mistakes and in the process, help them grow. The secure leader almost appears to be doing nothing. You just create and hold the space, allow the elements to fall in place and evolve. You realise that by stepping out of the way, the plants under your shadow bloom. Under a secure leader, the entire team grows, enjoys working together, feels creatively satisfied and achieves potential. Everyone thinks and acts like a leader. There’s less pressure on everyone and far greater results. Under secure leaders, teams do way better than expected as they use all resources to the maximum.’
‘Wow,’ said Rinku. ‘That’s a neat explanation of the leader’s transition. Thanks, bhaiyya.’
Pro Tip: Leadership is a skill that can be learned by practising the principles of leadership. Leaders evolve from being insecure leaders (where teams stagnate or regress), to being personal leaders (who pull the team forward through single-handed effort) and to being secure leaders, who help everyone grow by giving them more responsibility (and in the process, achieve team potential). To grow, leaders need a learning mindset.