Leadership is not rocket science!

imageMan started off as an individual. When Hazrat Adam descended to this earth with Mother Huwa, they were left to search for each other for long before they became one and along came the human race. Till very late in our human existence, we lived as individuals, mainly driven by the whims of kings, queens, nobles, lords and ladies.

Somewhere around the late 18th century, history was turned on its head. The Industrial Revolution changed us humans. Suddenly ‘mass’ was the way to go. We have all heard how an individual used to make a single pin in a day, but once a team was set up for mass production, overnight this individual made 48 pins. Such was the power of this vision and its success. Everything, literally everything was now designed this way. Warehouses, movement of goods, markets, schools, cinemas, colleges, sports events and rallies. They replicated the industrial floor.

At the same time separate events were propelling things towards individuality. The French Revolution in 1789 brought individual rights to the fore. Also the American Revolution created the dream of individual success. People could rise from the bottom to the top. Individuality was now a huge driver. Consumer and human needs (call it greed if you wish) was/(is) a powerful compeller.

This today has become the modern day conundrum. Man’s penchant for mass developed systems and output (our capitalistic efficiency drives this) versus our other inner drive for individuality. Our human is born unique. Unique DNA, unique retina, unique fingerprint, unique voice note. So why, oh why do we expect this human to function like a regular mass number, standard deviation one? It does not work like that. People have to want to do something on their own, for themselves, for inner satisfaction. People are not numbers.

Todays working society faces this big challenge. The individual has to take his/her individuality and somehow find a legitimate means to fit in, into this mass vision. Similarly, mass organisations have to find a means of marrying their needs to these individuals needs. As far as I can see, there is only one way to resolve this conundrum. Create a team.

Why create a team. Because once a team is created, then any objective can be achieved. Nowadays they call it Employee Engagement. To get the employee or contributor interested in what they are doing. If they become interested individually, they will eventually form a team. Its a sense of belonging, which then drives team dynamics. It’s your family and one fights for one’s family.

My personal belief is that there is also great spirituality involved in this. It’s not possible to prove this. But anecdotal events at least tend to suggest this spirituality. The Spartan 300, Greeks at Marathon, Ikrimah at Yarmuk, Muhammad Fateh at Constantinople, the creation of Pakistan, the World Cup 1992 and so many more. These are all events which appeal to me, but all humans have their own personal spiritual team story. When teams form, we just go on a roll, challenges which seem back to wall, are overcome and results are astonishing, considering the individuals involved. Where did these heroes come from? Not this decrepit unassuming human. How did he/she become a super hero?

So through all my life, I have looked for the story which catches ones imagination. If you find that story and it appeals to people and inspires them, then belief happens. When belief happens then passion is created, and this leads to ownership, teamwork and hard-work. You do not need to do anything, the people themselves will take care of the end goal (the Vision). They will achieve the dream you have made them see and believe. Its the very essence of leadership and its actually simple. No rocket science at all.

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Leadership, Personality cult and Institutionalisation

imageAdam (as) came down a father and leader and so from the beginning, man has been cast into this mould.

From my years of witnessing, leadership really falls into two broad styles. The first is iconic and driven by the personality of the leader. The second type is one which is built into the fabric of the system, where the personality of the leader is less visible and the institution is important. Its not my wish to judge, as depending on the need, either could be right for that particular moment.

Personality driven situations happen a lot in developing countries. The reason is simple. There are not enough institutions in place and moreover, the mindset is not controlled enough to have it any other way. So the personality of the leader is dominant enough in the minds of the followers, to ensure they follow his/her direction. Emotions have to play a larger role; trust is the basis of the system. At its extreme demagoguery occurs. A crisis normally has to have such a leader. Pakistan/India politics is very much just such a game. Hence families have thrown up leaders (not necessarily competent) where the family profile has given them that thrust. The Gandhis, Bhuttos, Shareefs are very much from this mould. Imran khan, too is a personality cult. Though to be fair, an attempt has been made towards some institutionalisation. But the recent dharnas have stamped his personality very firmly over his party and this country. This also happened in his cricket days in the Pakistan team, where the gulf in personality between him and others, made his dominance inevitable.

Institutional leadership is something you see a lot in structured systems. The leader is an arm of the system. He/she derives their authority and power from it. The followers respect and follow the seat and system, rather than the individual. Change the leader and it should not make a difference. Many corporates have followed this regime and it has worked well for them. Its cold, calculating, systemised and sustainable. And that is why particularly, it is not ‘Us’ in Pakistan. An army is one institution where the rules of succession are such, that there is very little difference between one leader to another. So then institutionalisation of leadership occurs.

Now within these broad guidelines are variations of style. You might get authoritative people, softer people, people who are loved and people who are hated. This does not shift the eventual effectiveness of leadership, as long as control is practised on the direction and goal of the leader, there is sincerity of purpose and there is the backbone for perseverance. If all these happen, success will come eventually.

Within established systems you will get the odd outlier. Jack Welch of GE was one such leader who created a personality cult within the system. Others one can think of in recent years are Iacocca of Chrysler and Goizueta of Coca Cola. Typically, such outliers will rock the system and make things happen in the short term. But since they differ from the system DNA, they cause longer term damage and eventually the system reverts back to its institutionalised DNA.

Can a system migrate from one to another? Above examples are of those where a personalised leadership was foisted onto an institutional based approach. I have never really seen these work. Typically the system reverts to an institution over time or it will crash and disappear. Think of India and Indira Gandhi in the mid 70s. That attempt to create an authoritative leadership failed and India moved back into democracy mode.

The reverse migration of institutionalisation from a cult personality, almost always happens over time. Mao and China is one very obvious example. There are so many others. The Magna Carta is one very poignant example of how the cult of a leader was replaced by the participation of a system.

We in Pakistan are witnessing this very battle in so many places. The Supreme Court, the Army, the democratic institution and also in many local corporates. If we desire sustainability, then eventually we have to learn that dependence on the cult of a leader will always give us variability and uncertainty over the long term, not sustainability.

The picture is from Wylio.com a free picture site

Humans are winning the battle to express themselves

image In day to day life, one notices this attritional struggle going on between the inner reality of an individual and the filtered public person. Its there in most of us, who are daily in search of our sustenance. We touch on it jokingly in public, but in private so many of us have this regular conversation. How to express ourselves, in what we see is the harsh reality of this world?

Initially, we come into this world with only our DNA and endless possibilities. Then through our eyes, ears and cause and effect our world starts manipulating us. Most of it is the actions of our parents and siblings, but as the years progress this circle expands and continues to create filters. A demonic kindergarten school teacher must have shaped some part of my mind, as I still remember her and the indiscriminate ruler, which always seemed to find its mark. As time passes, we subtly change accordingly. Every once in a while, one of us may encounter a life changing event, which then causes a lot of filters to cascade down or go up. These generally are the tragedies of life, which hit us and force us to rethink.

Now, I am no counsellor or trained coach, but over the last two decades I have spent a lot of time mentoring people. First about career and management and then as my confidence built up, about crisis handling, life, aspirations, vision and values. It is amazing the depth almost all individuals have. I say it with shock, but have come to realise that very rarely is there an ordinary individual. Almost all of us have greatness hidden in us and even those few who are ordinary, are instructive to us, in other ways of life.

So, hidden within each individual is a greater being, just waiting to come out and be themselves. Being themselves comes in different ways. Some want to write and be heard. Its amazing the important and perceptive things people can say about the world. I look at life with my point of view and want to express it. These others want to do the same with a different view, based on their own inner being. Others can perform artistic stuff – sing, dance, act, paint etc. All these are expressions and so important to their inner being, yet mostly they hide it away from the world.

So why are these people not expressing themselves? What stops them? Some of it is our lifelong filters. Maybe its a teacher long ago, telling the kid off about a free expression in an essay. Reminds me of John Lennon’s famous quote

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

Later on when you get to adult stage, it is a feeling, that people at work or the employer will frown at such an expression. Freedom is considered dangerous. Also do not fall into the trap, that this is a developing country problem. Our MNC corporates regulate personality rigidly. For all my 22 years in MNCs, I always struggled against this approach of corporatising people and blending them into one culture (most colleagues felt the same). These huge transnationals have actually got Corporate slavery down to an art form and they present it so that it sounds palatable and normal. But it is not. It is just slavery, using pleasant tools and most people are trapped lifelong.

Why do these people – just ordinary individuals like you and me – not rebel against this travesty? You can see some of the answers in the reaction to when Rahman Malik was kicked off the plane. Almost all TV anchors were against it, the politicians were against it and even the so called elites on FB were warning of approaching anarchy. And when Arjumand was fired from Gerry’s, then a lot of the reaction was, ‘see we told you so’. People are simply afraid. They are at a stage in life, when they need to earn sustenance, as they have mouths to feed. Society at large exploits this and makes slaves of them – conformity is so much easier to manage. Makes life simpler for the controllers of the world and organisations. So whether its a MNC, or a private company or a government department, people stay under the radar and conform. Some of us go back and have a more creative other life at home. However most, like me, do not even do that and learn 30 years later, that time has passed us by and we have quietly lived a life of slavery.

Fortunately, things are changing and there is more light at the end of the tunnel. The flow of information has been liberated today, thanks to the Internet. This has already had a profound effect and over the next few decades, the poor ordinary human will have the ability to fulfil their inner desires. It will de regulate society and many of my very conformist friends might even suffer because of that, but overall this world will be a better place, InshAllah, because of the change which is coming.

*pictures are from dreamstime.com, a free picture site.

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