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September 2013

Leadership Nuggets from Books-Part 1

-Karthik Gurumurthy

I love reading about leadership and watch leaders and see what I can learn from them and put in action myself. Starting today, I will write more frequently from the notes I have taken from leadership books. I am writing this so that it gives me a chance to review them as well as it benefits you as well.

Today I am going to write about "On Becoming a Leader". This is written by Warren Bennis. Bennis is a major figure in the study of leadership.

On becoming a leader provides many fine insights. Perhaps the key one, and the theme of the book, is this: True leaders are not interested in proving themselves, they want above all to be able to express themselves fully. Proving oneself implies a limited or static view of the self, whereas leaders, by continually seeking their fullest expression, must be willing to engage in periodic reinvention. For Bennis's leaders, life is not a competition but flowering. Structured education and society often get in the way of leadership. "What we need to know gets lost in what we are told we should know." Real learning is the process of remembering what is important to you, and becoming a leader is therefore the act of becoming more and more your true self.

Leadership is an engagement with life itself, because it demands that your unique vision be accomplished, and that usually involves a whole life. When people protest that they can't lead, or don't want to lead, they are usually thinking of management and giving speeches. But leadership is as varied as people, and the main question is not whether you will be burdened, but how you are challenged to escape mediocrity and conformity and really lead yourself.

According to Bennis, becoming a leader involves:

  • Continuous learning and never-dying curiosity.
  • A compelling vision: leaders first define their reality (what they believe is possible), then set about "managing their dream"
  • Developing the ability to communicate that vision and inspire others to follow it.
  • Tolerating uncertainty and taking on risk: a degree of daring.
  • Personal integrity: self-knowledge, candor, maturity, welcoming criticism.
  • Being a one-off, an original: "Leaders learn from others, but are not made by others."
  • Reinvention: to create new things sometimes involves recreating yourself. You may be influenced by your genes and environment, but leaders take all their influences and create something unique.
  • Taking time off to think and reflect, which brings answers and produces resolutions.
  • Passion for the promises of life: a belief in the best, for yourself and others.
  • Seeing success in small, everyday increments and joys, not waiting years for the Big Success to arrive.
  • Using the context of your life, rather than surrendering to it.

What does the last point mean? Bennis believes that late twentieth-century business life was mostly about managing rather than leading, with people and organizations focusing on small matters and short-term results. His message: Stop being a product of your context, of your particular place and time.

You can see your context as the backdrop for your particular genius to develop, or you can let it enslave your mind. In many ways the path of a "driven" person is an easy one, since it does not require much thought. The leader's path is consciously taken, may be more challenging, but involves infinitely greater potential and satisfaction, not to mention better health. To lead, you have to make a declaration of independence against the estimation of others. You have to decide to live in the world, but outside existing conceptions of it. Leaders do not merely do well by the terms  of their culture, they create new contexts, new things, new ways of doing and being.

Some examples

Personal integrity, a compelling vision, and the ability to enjoy risk and uncertainty define leadership.  Bennis uses the example of television writer/producer Norman Lear, who revolutionized US Television by making shows such as All in the family and Cagney and Lacey. For the first time, TV shows reflected real American people rather than cowboys, private eyes, and caricatured families. Lear saw a world that are waiting to be expressed, and expressed it. Not only did his shows break the mold, they were successful year after year.

In his assessment of American presidents, Bennis sees Johnson, Nixon and Carter as driven men who projected their personal histories on to the country they ruled. Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy, on the other hand, had the gift of personal reinvention and lived in the present to reshape the US future. Lincoln was perhaps the greatest president because he focused on what at the time seemed only remote possibilities: ending slavery and preserving the Union. He fits of deep personal depression were nothing put next to those mighty causes.

World of Leaders

Bennis's conviction is that we are in dire need of leaders. He wrote On becoming a Leader when economic leadership was being seriously challenged- we forget now, but in the late 1980s it did seem for a while that Japan was surpassing the US in production, wealth and innovation.

Maybe the US listened to Bennis and other leadership Gurus, for the American economic resurgence was characterized by obsession with innovation and quality, and the realization that firms get ahead by empowering the team members reach their full potential. It took someone of the stature of Bennis to highlight the link between self-knowledge and business success, but this is now becoming accepted. The new type of leader is not satisfied with doing a job or running a company, but is compelled to find an outlet for their personal vision of the world.

Final comments

Bennis has probably done as much as anyone to shatter the myth of leaders as heroes, born not made. Above all, leadership is a choice and involves leading ourselves first.

We live in a democracy of leadership, in which everyone can lead in some way. As some people understand what leadership means and are taught to achieve their potential, it might be expected that competition will increase of ridiculous levels. However, competition is the result of everyone striving to win at the same thing whereas personal visions are unique. To become a leader is to claim the power and assurance that come from being a one-off.

This is based on the original edition of On Becoming a Leader. There is a new, updated and expanded edition that you may prefer to acquire.

Characteristics of Leaders Part..3 (Golden Rule)

by Karthik Gurumurthy

Think back of your favorite leader and your least favorite leader you have had a chance to observe.

1. Make a list of all things done to you that you abhorred.

2. Don't do them to others. Ever.

3. Make another list of things done to you that you loved.

4. Do them to others. Always.

Characteristics of Leaders continued..Part 2 (Reflection)

-Karthik Gurumurthy

Yesterday I discussed about the traits which makes up great leaders.

As a leader you must be willing to look at your life and reflect- on where you have been, what you have learned, and how your life experiences have shaped you- and realize that this collection of factors is now a meaningful and inescapable part of who you are and how you see the world. Listening to ourselves is difficult, and it doesn't occur to us in the normal course of a day- we are always thinking, moving from challenge to challenge, reacting , and getting things done. It is often true that the only thing we don't make time for is listening to ourselves- reflecting on our deepest thoughts, feelings and intuitions. For some people, staying this busy is a way of permanently avoiding any self-reflection that would be possible. We need some quiet time and personal space to search our memory for the patterns in our life that have become our routine.

Knowing who we are at the core is a project of awareness, courageous introspection, and thoughtful reflection.  We need to ask ourselves open-ended questions: "Why did I do that yesterday? How do I feel about this, really? What worries me? What was I concerned about when I did that, or said that or thought that? What is driving me right now? What past experience of mine just influenced my thoughts or feelings? This is work no one can do for you- you must initiate your own process and follow it through your own insights. The lens through which we see the world is uniquely ours: it affects the way we interpret everything that passes before us, and we must own that point of view and any biases that come with it. When we own our point of view publicly and take responsibility for seeing things the way we do, we allow debates and conversations to occur more objectively. We can separate the facts from bias that we might carry and that keeps others from feeling as if they are fighting our "opinion". When the authority of hierarchy speaks with a strong personal opinion- as opposed to a strong fact-based point of view- it usually serves to shut down any hope of a useful, collaborative dialogue; no wants to argue with the "so called leader's "opinion". I have noticed the same trend in few families as well. I find Great leaders also find opportunities to weave a lesson or principle from a specific experience from their life into a conversation or a situation as it occurs, as a way of further revealing some insight into what makes them tick.

We are who are, and it is comforting to our teams as well as family members to know something about our background- and that is possible only when we are willing to look at ourselves and see what is really there. When we, as a leader, are willing to explore the forces and events that shaped our point of view, the process results in the comfort of knowing we have reflected in your life story and accounted for the experiences that have formed our unique and personal point of view towards important ideas, concepts and principles. Ultimately, knowing yourself better than you thought you could will repay you many times over in the form of the confidence that comes from being totally comfortable in your own skin. In the toughest moments, that one person who will always be there with you is- you. You want to know that person.

Characteristics of leaders whom you admire/adore

-Karthik Gurumurthy

Pause for a moment and think about the leaders whom you admire.  Make a list of the common traits exhibited by them. These are the ones I can come up with.

  • Ambitious (aspiring, hardworking, striving)
  • Broad-minded (open-minded, flexible, receptive, tolerant)
  • Caring (Appreciative, compassionate, concerned, loving, nurturing)
  • Competent (Capable, proficient, effective, gets the job done, professional)
  • Cooperative (Collaborative, team player, responsive)
  • Courageous (bold, daring, gutsy)
  • Dependable (reliable, conscientous, responsible)
  • Determined (dedicated, resolute, persistent, purposeful)
  • Fair-minded (just, unprejudiced, objective, forgiving, willing to pardon others)
  • Forward-looking (visionary, foresighted, concerned about the future, sense of direction)
  • Honest (truthful, has integrity, trustworthy, has character)
  • Imaginative (creative, innovative, curious)
  • Independent (self-reliant, self-sufficient, self-confident)
  • Inspiring (uplifting, enthusiastic, energetic, humorous, cheerful, positive about the future)
  • Intelligent (bright, smart, thoughtful, intellectual, reflective, logical)
  • Mature (experienced, wise, has depth)
  • Self-Controlled (restrained, self-disciplined)
  • Straightforward(direct, candid, forthright)
  • Supportive (helpful, offers assistance, comforting)

The basic one is being honest.

"I hope I shall always have the firmness and virtue enough to maintain, what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man."

-George Washington.

Honesty is absolutely essential to leadership. If people are going to follow someone willingly, they first want to assure themselves that the person is worthy of their trust. The benefits of honesty cannot be overstated. Failure of honesty poisons the team, damages the trust between people, and break down team cohesion. Being honest means that if you make promises to people you never break them. You are only good as your word: If you cannot deliver, do not offer your word.

Leaders need to have a vision about how things could be and to be clear enough about it that others will be able to see it themselves. This provides the capacity to walk a path towards the future with great confidence, and fosters shared values because we all know where we are heading. Leaders must have a destination in mind when asking others to join them on a journey into the unknown. Leaders should have a clear picture of what the organization will look like, feel like, and be like when it arrives at its goal in six months or six years.

 Leaders knows what he's doing (Competence) - he sets goals that are realistic and knows that the steps necessary to achieve them - and that creates confidence and motivation in  the team members.

The characteristics of honest, forward-looking, inspiring and competent refers to as being credible. People everywhere want to believe in their leaders. They want to have faith and confidence in them as people. People want to believe that their leaders' words can be trusted, that they have the knowledge and skill necessary to lead, and that they are personally excited and enthusiastic about the direction in which they are headed. All leaders must take their credibility seriously. This is the foundation on which leaders and team members will build grand dreams of the future. Without credibility, dreams will die and relationships will rot.

Just think about it this way. Imagine a time when you might need to borrow some money. Imagine that you are trying to get  a mortgage to build the house of your dreams, or to open a new business. You sit down across the desk from the loan officer at your local financial services company. After you have completed all the paperwork, the first thing that the loan officer is likely to do is check your credit.

Credit and credibility share the same root origin, credo meaning "I trust or believe." A loan officer checking your credit is literally checking trust and belief, searching to know whether you can make good on your word. The officer wants to know whether to believe you when you say that you will pay the loan back on time and with interest.

When it comes to leaders, in many respects team members act like loan officers. When leaders make promises ( that is, complete verbal promissory notes) about what they will do to guide the organization on a journey to an uplifting new future, people instinctly do a credit check. They ask themselves, "The last time made such a promise, did it get kept?" "Was it the truth, or was it just election pledge to get us to vote on?" "Can I trust this person?"

People also ask, "Do I see enough enthusiasm to keep us excited along the different road to the future?" "Can this leader inspire others to make the sacrifices necessary to make it through the end?" And they wonder, " Does this leader have the competence to get us from where we are now to where we'd like to be?" Does  this leader have a track record of accomplishment that would give us confidence for the current effort?"

If the answers to the above questions-about being honest, inspiring and competent- are yes, then people are likely to lend their time, talent and toil willingly. If the answers are no, then people are not likely to sign up to the mission. 

 More on this tomorrow. Have a great evening!

What drives you?

Karthik Gurumurthy

What makes people comes alive?

People are energized by values and visions that give their lives meaning and purpose. They want to be surrounded by something that uplifts and excites them.

Leadership may once have been conferred by rank and privilege. It may once have been something that was characterized by a command-and control, top-down, do-as-I-say style. But no more. Those days are long gone. It does not work with my 4 year old son. Today, leadership is only an aspiration. It is something you have to earn every day, because on a daily basis, people choose whether or not they're going to follow you. It is something you keep striving to achieve and never assume you have fully attained. I feel Leadership is a relationship between those who aspire to lead and those who choose to follow.

What do leaders expect from the team members? What purpose do leaders serve? Why do people believe in some leaders but not in others? Why do some people choose to follow one leaders while others reject that leader? What actions sustain that relationship? What actions destroy it? What is the state of the current relationship between leaders and team members?

Loyalty is not something a boss(or anyone for that matter) can demand or even command. It is something the team member choose to grant to a leader who has earned it. The people's choice is based not upon authority but upon the degree to which leader lives up to the expectations constituents hold. They key to unlocking greater leadership potential can be found when you seek to understand the desires and expectations of your team members and when you act on them in ways that correspond to their image of what an exemplary leader is and does.

If we have to select the most basic ingredients for leadership, it would be

  • Integrity (is Truthful, Trustworthy, has Character, convictions)
  • Competence ( is capable, productive, efficient)
  • Leadership (is inspiring, is decisive, provides direction)

We will go over the same  in depth.