Passionate leadership- Excitement begets Excitement

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Excitement begets excitement

Productivity is possible only if the leader is passionate about his work

Leadership has always been an evergreen hot topic. Every year, new books appear on the subject by the stars of the corporate world. There are endless debates on the diverse styles of leadership and various other facets of leadership. There are articles and seminars on how good leadership is critical to the development of a nation. People go on and on discussing leadership attributes such as skills, beliefs, values, knowledge etc, the importance of communicating vision and having a mission statement, significance of motivation, direction and implementation in leadership etc.

In all this verbal gymnastics, one forgets that the most important thing that determines leadership is functional talent, as most of the times people expect to be led by example. Now functional talent is something that can be determined only when a person attempts a particular activity. It is quite possible that somebody maybe qualified for something and may have a functional talent or operative skill of something completely different. Being good at something is more a matter of the mind but since a person has to spend a majority of his waking hours at work and has to work for most of his life, it is better if he is also passionate about the work, which has more to do with the heart, especially if he is expected to lead others.

Taking the mind alone is a parochial view in the context of leadership. As they say, “A boss tells others what to do…a leader shows that it can be done.” If the mind alone is considered, one may be good at something but is not likely to “show” to his subordinates. In sports like Tennis and Cricket, it is said that a great player is one who is able to play well in all conditions.

A manager may also have to face adverse situations in other spheres of his own life and to be able to exercise true leadership in all conditions and circumstances. Thus it is imperative that he likes his work because then, adversity will not prove too cumbersome for him.

“As a cure for worrying work is better than whisky”
— Thomas A Edison

It was Edison who said, “Success is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” A leader is hardly going to work that hard (perspiration) unless he enjoys his work, which again is explained by Edison the scientist-entrepreneur-innovator thus: “I never worked in my life. It was all fun”. That apart, when one is pursuing what one truly likes, one is driven by a sense of broader purpose.
l Managers have a short-term perspective, leaders have a longer-term perspective
l Managers have an eye on the bottom line, leaders have an eye on the horizon
l Managers administer, leaders innovate
l Managers imitate, leaders originate
l Managers emulate the classic good soldier, leaders are their own person
l Managers ask how and when, leaders ask what and why
l Managers do things right, leaders do the right things
l Managers accept the status-quo, leaders challenge the status-quo
From the above, one can deduce that a majority of these things can be done only if the leader is inspired about his work. He is hardly likely to be original or innovative (asking what and why, challenging the status quo, doing the right things etc) unless he loves his work. Leaders cannot be their own person if they are unsure of their own working identity, which depends on how well one suits a particular role.
l Managers focus on systems, leaders focus on people
l Managers maintain, leaders develop
l Managers rely on control, leaders inspire trust
As for the ability to inspire trust, the focus on people or the long term perspective, these are all matters of emotional intelligence, which are tested at higher levels of management because management at the bottom level is a science but at the top level is an art, which is why real leadership is tested at higher levels. If a person does not like his occupation even if he has the mental aptitude for it, he may not always carry people with him and therefore win their trust or display the emotional intelligence, so crucial at higher levels of management.
The book Passion to win is based on a research study by All India Management Association. The book, citing examples of companies like Hero Honda, Reliance, Ranbaxy, L&T, HLL, Dr Reddy’s laboratories Titan, Sudarshan Fasteners, Wipro, Infosys and Satyam, states how they are driven by passion, they had a long term institution-development orientation, they attracted and nurtured talent and leadership across the organisation, they created and valued an ambience for innovation, initiative, entrepreneurship and constant improvement in every aspect, and in the process sustained outstanding performance and their competitive edge.

The chief executive officer of Dr Reddy’s labs says it all: “I think only companies and leaders who are passionate about what they are doing will be able to create great organisations. Without passion, you cannot create great organisations. You have to be excited about what you are doing”. How true. Just as money begets money and ideas beget ideas, excitement begets excitement and a person who is not excited himself can hardly excite others in different situations.

The heart element is not always given its due importance in leadership literature. This is what the Harvard Business Review on ‘The mind of the leader’ has to say about it: “If you are looking for leaders, how can you identify people who are motivated by the drive to achieve rather than by external rewards? The first sign is a passion for the work itself — such people seek out creative challenges, love to learn and take grade pride in a job well done. They also display an unflagging energy to do things better and are forever raising the performance bar.” Since everybody obviously cannot be a leader on every issue, it is passion for a particular work more than intelligence that paves the way of identifying great leadership.

The book Success v/s Joy describes the lives of two friends, former billiards champion Geet Sethi and his friend Sunil Aggarwal who shared a common passion, billiards. While Geet Sethi followed his passion and became a champion, Aggarwal, despite being an alumnus of IIM-Ahmedabad and IIT-Delhi and becoming a managing director of a media company, complained of feelings of inadequacy and failure. He even went on to say that it is a lousy idea to do MBA if you are not suited for business.

There are many people who may be good at a particular thing but in their own words “do not have their heart in it”. For instance, Nagesh Kukunur, director of famous movies such as Hyderabad Blues, Dor and Iqbal, is a chemical engineer by qualification but had no liking for that and gravitated towards films where he has carved a niche for himself.

Some of the people who fail to make such decisions or discover their passions end up writing books like Zen and the Art of Making a Living: A Practical Guide to Creative Career Design. Such people can hardly excel in any leadership role. One of India’s best known corporate leaders and one of the world’s richest Indians, Azim Premji used the word “meaningful work” which could imply different things to different people and stated that profits in his company are a byproduct of allocating the right meaningful work to different people.

President Abdul Kalam who has headed organisations related to space, atomic energy and defence has this to say on the subject in his autobiography Wings of Fire — “If you are a writer who would secretly prefer to be a lawyer or a doctor, your written words will feed but half the hunger of your readers; if you are a teacher who would rather be a businessman, your instructions will meet but half the need for knowledge of your students; if you are a scientist who hates science, your performance will satisfy but half the needs of your mission.” The personal happiness and failure to achieve results that come from being a square peg in a round hole is not by any means new. In another part of the book, he states, “I myself would tell naiveté engineering students that when they choose their specialisation, the essential point to consider is whether the choice articulates their inner feelings and aspirations.”

As pointed out by the President, due significance should be given to the “feelings and aspirations” but many times it happens that young people choose the wrong profession on account of the glamour of money and qualification and then feel trapped. How can anybody who feels like this excel in varied management situations and be expected to lead others? This is a critical issue both from the point of individual happiness and society’s productivity.

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