What is Leadership?

what is leadership

We have come across the term leadership so many times in our lives. We have seen and witnessed so many examples in history, and in present times as well. So, what is leadership ? What is leadership all about ?

Let me start with a disclaimer – The following conversations were not made up, just the names were changed.

A recent telephonic conversation between a manager and his team member on a Wednesday morning

Conversation 1:

Kiran: Hi Naveen, I need a leave today to go to my hometown to get some work done in my land that I have recently purchased

Naveen: Well Kiran, congratulations on the purchase. But, can you have this scheduled on the weekend. We need to get some work done at office this week. Also, it will be difficult for me to take this request in such a short notice.

Kiran: But Naveen, I don’t know if I can get workers on a weekend. Okay, let me figure it out, I’ll check if my brother can go.

Naveen: Great, thanks for understating. All the best with the new purchase.

Kiran: Thank you.

A call again on a Friday morning

Conversation 2:

Kiran: Hello Naveen, I need a leave today, my sister is severely ill. I need to take her to the doctor and maybe admit her, because she is very weak.

Naveen: Uh oh, okay Kiran, take care of your sister. But just let me know if we need to reach out to any of our clients today.

Kiran: Sure Naveen, I’ll share the list of calls to be made today. And thank you for understanding.

Naveen: No problem. Let me know if you require any help with the treatment to your sister, I can refer you to our family doctor here.

Kiran: Yes, will do Naveen. Thanks again.

Assertion and Empathy:

I feel one of the key requirements of a leader is to find a balance – between many aspects. One of them is being assertive and also being empathetic. One has to choose what to be when, and I feel the above conversations are a testament to this balance. Well, I don’t claim to find this balance every single time – I can find solace in these two famous statements – To Err is Human (leaders are human too) and Leadership is a process of continuous learning.

But, the point it that every day as a leader you need to make decisions, not just for yourself but for the team or the department you are entrusted to take responsibility for or for the whole company. Every stage of leadership is faced with different set of challenges and the stakes keep growing bigger.

But I think at every stage the leader should make sure to find this balance of assertion and empathy. She/he needs to keep in mind and understand the inter-dependencies within the team for the team/department/company to prosper – here is where the aspect of assertion may take over empathy. Also, she/he needs to have an idea of the dependencies his team has outside of office, a little bit about their personal lives while being not very intrusive – here is where empathy may take over assertion.

Again, it is not definite in an office setting too that being assertive in decision making will work out always, for example if one of the team members is given a new kind of work to handle and she/he is finding it difficult to get it done, the leader should realise that the team member has a longer learning curve and should give them some time to get the job done, again here empathy comes to the forefront. By being patient and pitching in at the time of need the leader is helping the team member grow and expand his bandwidth, also maybe unbeknownst to the leader she/he is creating newer leaders from her/his team. This can help the leader in the long run to delegate (this is an aspect in itself of being a good leader) work to their team members with more confidence.

I realised that there is no set pattern for a leader to behave/think, everything is mutually inclusive and his reactions/decisions are based on situations while taking into consideration the various dimensions and the various stake-holders at play.

A leader is a like a conductor for an orchestra, carefully organising a symphony.

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