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Want to be a good leader? Read this!

By Sangeeta Tanwar
November 15, 2017 09:28 IST
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'Let's think of a leader as a camera.'
'It's not just about the leader having the ability to have a telephoto lens.'
'You do need that, but you also need a leader to take a wide angle, look over the horizon and to be able to rise up to the satellite level and look at the big picture.'
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh

A leader needs to develop personal and organisational resilience to be able to make the most of the human capital s/he has access to, David Altman -- global chief operating officer, Centre for Creative Leadership -- tells Sangeeta Tanwar.


What are the emerging trends in the leadership development and coaching space?

The spotlight now is on the areas in which leaders can grow.

There is a lot of focus on leadership development in competency and skill growth.

There is an attempt to identify what are the kinds of competencies that leaders need to succeed in the future.

There is a new area of work development called vertical development.

It goes beyond helping leaders to merely develop new competencies, and rather the focus here is on helping leaders see the world through a broader lens.

For example, let's think of a leader as a camera.

In this context, it's not just about the leader having the ability to have a telephoto lens.

You do need that, but you also need a leader to take a wide angle, look over the horizon and to be able to rise up to the satellite level and look at the big picture.

Vertical development is all about helping leaders develop bigger minds, broader perspectives and cultivating the ability to empathise in a new and different ways.

And all this comes from higher level of actualisation.

How can leaders filter things and ensure that they see the big picture?

We are living in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world.

With social media, digital transformation and globalisation, the fact of the matter is that leaders can easily become overwhelmed with the amount of incoming information and data.

How do you deal with that? You have to be able to filter it all.

And you cannot do it all alone.

Long gone are the days of hierarchical leadership models with the person at the top being all-knowing and all-seeing and making all the decisions.

First, leaders need to understand that to cope with today's complex business environment.

Second, they need to build culture within organisation that facilitates information and knowledge going up and down.

They have to develop empathy and try to understand people and issues and the world around them in a new and different way and not through a biased lens.

They need to address diversity of all kinds. Those are the kind of challenges that leaders face.

India is witnessing new disruptions such as GST, a new and challenging visa policy for information technology professionals in the US.

Be it a nation, an organisation or a leader, one needs to develop personal and organisational resilience to be able to unleash the human capital that you have access to.

How can leaders and firms build resilience? How does the size of an organisation -- big or small -- impact a leader's ability to build resilience?

In large organisations, it's harder for the leader to get to know every person up and close.

But size alone is not an issue because you could be in a small organisation and still face huge complexity related to cyber security or any other issue which could be overwhelming.

Whereas in a large organisation in an established industry, you would have the advantage of established processes and protocols.

So, the challenges and opportunities are around action.

We call it direction alignment -- which are the actions that are going in the right direction and what are we going to achieve.

What are the signs of good leadership?

Good leadership is happening in an organisation when there is a clear sense of direction as to where we are going, what are the actions and the aspirations.

Next, there is a clear sense of alignment which means that the team has organised themselves in a way that will help it achieve its objectives.

Lastly, there is commitment where you are willing to put your own interest and team interest aside in support for a larger organisational purpose.

You see any type of organisation small, large, global, local, high-tech, if you see the evidence of clear direction alignment it means good leadership is happening.

It may be happening hierarchically or may be happening independently. But it's happening.

How important is emotional quotient (EQ) for a leader to succeed?

To be an effective leader you have to work hard and have a certain level of intelligence. But importantly, you need emotional intelligence.

At its simplest form emotional intelligence comprises four components.

First is self-awareness, that is understanding of your strengths, weakness, preferences and vulnerabilities.

Second is self-management. It's one thing to be self-aware, but can you manage complexities around you?

Do you know what your trigger points are, what are the types of people that make you angry, do you know issues for which you do not have a certain level of confidence?

Then there is social awareness -- it is awareness of other people, their interests, dynamics, and journey.

Finally, it's about the ability to manage relationships with people.

Leaders, who lose their temper, get sick and are unable to manage, lack a certain level of emotional intelligence.

In the absence of a high level of self-awareness, relationship management and social awareness, you will fall into a hole.

What are the factors that cause leaders to derail?

Life as a leader is extremely demanding.

The inability to adapt and respond to the change and failure to manage personal relationships are the two key factors that can derail leaders.

We are living in a fast-changing, ambiguous world. As a leader you will struggle if you are ungoing to change your mind, not interested in understanding the perspectives of others, continue burying your head in the sand.

Your ability to respond to change is going to be compromised and then you will derail.

Again, if you are unable to manage relationships, you derail.

You will rarely come across senior leaders who are not technically competent. Every good engineer, business process person, teacher and businessman has reached high levels of an organisation on basis of technical competency.

But technical competency alone is insufficient in being a good leader. It can only take an organisation so far and that is not too far.

It's the culture of the organisation and people who determine the success of the leader and the company.

And as a leader you need to be good at managing both.

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Sangeeta Tanwar
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