When I started Linguavista at the age of 20, little did I know of leadership and conventional wisdom that governs leadership. Almost four years into it, I still don’t think of myself as the perfect leader. Well, perfection is hard to fathom in the convoluted world of leadership. The same person can be a messiah and a devil to different people in the same organization. However, history doesn’t beckon the merit of a leader by taking the headcount of people standing behind the leader. History remembers the deeds of the leaders who dared to dream and in the process, achieved a landmark significant enough for the mankind to aspire and look up to.
As a leader, I have often faced adversities which were the consequences of my decisions and are precursors to periods of uncertainties. I have my own way of handling the tougher moments in my leadership and over time, that will define how I am as a leader. However, if I were to accrue my drop of wisdom about leadership and split it among three pillars, I would list the following as the most important tenets of a leader.
The very first principle and an often underestimated aspect of being a leader is that the leader must possess a clear vision. Behind the creativity of Steve Jobs, the careless genius of Richard Branson, the charisma of Elon Musk; is a vision that has made these men successful in their own right. They, among other distinguished men and women, are the flag bearers of the ship in which mankind is sailing today. They are the people who dare to dream of a new world. They are the captains of the great ships that are marshaling fearlessly amid the torrid waters of economy and competition to reach greatness. There is a difference between a vision and an illusion as much as there is a difference between love and like. It does not cost you a penny to come up with an idea that can potentially change the way things work in this world. Hundreds of people, ordinary and extraordinary, chance upon the glimpses of a vision that when realized, could truly be priceless. However, it takes effort to take the pieces of the vision and put together the complete puzzle of what exactly you envisioned. And that takes creative energy as much as it takes dedication and commitment. You have to write down the vision in bold letters in front of you. You have to remember it while you eat, sleep, run, work. It should run through you as how electricity runs through a copper wire. You have to be brave enough to trust your vision and back it to the helm. Without a clear vision, you are just a supervisor –not a leader.
What good is a vision if it sticks around in your head? A leader can be forgiven for being an introvert. However, he can’t be forgiven for not speaking out his mind and pushing his vision through his team. In my short life, I have seen some of the better leaders who don’t speak a lot but speak what is required. I have also seen leaders who tend to make their life an open book (but well, I doubt if there is really such a thing). The funny thing about a leader is that almost 99% of the work is being a thinker and a communicator. It doesn’t matter what technical skills you have, honestly. If this were true, then we would never have Apple Inc (I am not discrediting Woz here. Without him, its hard to imagine how Apple would have started) or for that matter the VirginGroup (The journey from being Richard Branson to Sir Richard Branson is amazing for someone who didn’t go to college). I am not stating that education is not important. It would be foolish to assume how far we could have come had we not used our intelligent brains in pushing boundaries and discovering new things from the micro to macro level. My insistence here is that when it comes to leadership, no matter how good you know your stuff, you can only inspire people around you so much if you don’t communicate your goals and ideas to them. As a leader, you have to understand that you have a big vision to accomplish and you need people around you to help you achieve that. For that to happen, they need to see where they fit in the scheme of things and for how long. Some leaders write with maturity and clarity, while some speak with the words of raw and childlike passion. It doesn’t matter how you get the message across, but the message must be loud and clear. It should resonate within the organization. The vision should be the heartbeat of the organization. Without a heartbeat, all we have is a dead body. And, we certainly don’t want that. It is also equally important that you communicate well to your stakeholders and investors. Remember, hundreds of people may have the same idea. But, only 10 of them will actually take it to the next level of articulating the idea, convincing the stakeholders, forming a team and translating the novel thought into identifiable actions.
Last but not the least, a leader must act. A pretty vision and some charismatic words are not enough to transform your vision into a concrete reality. A leader must be active. A leader is the brain of the organization. If the brain stops working, the body dies. Laziness and complacency are the two biggest enemies of a leader. The third biggest enemy is uncertainty. The common thread between these three “enemies” that they are totally internal in nature and doesn’t arise out of competition. It is very easy to be complacent as a leader. When things are going great, a leader should worry. When things are going worse, a leader should be confident to get out of the rut. I can’t imagine a single successful leader who, in the long run, became satisfied with what he had and yet had his legacy unscathed as a successful leader. A leader is a human. And, as all humans, they are fallible. If you are a leader, you will go through phases of laziness, complacency and uncertainties. Just pray that life gives you a wake-up call sooner than later. A good leader learns from these mistakes and vows to never repeat them. A great leader understands the value of time. Time is an illusion. There is no yesterday and there is no today. There are these moments that we live in, what we call as “present”. The present is where all the action happens. The present is also where we should relax and rejuvenate. When and how, that’s the big question. A perfect leader understands the complexity of balancing work and relaxation and simplifies that into an equation where work, personal life and the journey toward the grand vision lie in harmony. You can see why perfection is hard to achieve being a leader. Its because of the great conflict that lies in front of the leader in achieving harmony among the various aspects of his life and yet see his grand vision unfold the way he planned. The good news is that you don’t have to be a perfect leader. Life is not perfect. Things seldom go the way we plan. We fall, we rise. We learn, we adapt. However, lest we forget that we are the flag bearers of humanity, we must act. Leaders must act with honor, pride and conviction. It is important to be decisive when taking an action. It sends a strong message of confidence to your team and the stakeholders. It is also important because of the 10 people who managed to communicate well, it may be just one who will be the last person standing in the furious but glorious battle to realizing the vision, with magnificence and the attention from the world, that the leader truly deserves.