If there is one thing that is the most critical element of success in any profession, it is “leadership”. Due to the importance of leadership, successful business firms invest enormous amount of resources in identifying and grooming future leaders who can sustain the success of the firm. The same goes to any other field. But, the debate on who is a leader and what characteristics define leadership is an ongoing one. Mr. Babu Vincent’s article on Manmohan Singh in IndiaSpecial adds to that debate.
What matters more for a leader- style or substance?
Nobody will disagree that “substance” is essential for the sustained success of a leader. However, it is the leadership “style” that is a matter of disagreement.
As Mr. Babu Vincent pointed out in his comments, there are broadly two “leadership styles”
Charismatic, larger than life, aggressive, extroverted – examples include Winston Churchill, Jack Welch of GE and Lee Iococca of Chrysler.
Down to earth, shy, introverted, non-noticeable – examples include Abraham Lincoln, Azim Premji of Wipro.
One of the most influential Management Gurus of modern times, Jim Collins, discusses about “leadership” in his best-selling book – Good to Great. He did exhaustive research on some of the firms that were outperforming their respective peer group and were transformed from “good” to “great” companies. Based on his research findings, he concludes that leaders who transformed each of these 11 companies exhibited what he calls “Level 5 leadership“. According to him, there are 5 levels of leadership:
Level 1: Highly capable individual
Makes productive contributions through talent, knowledge, skills, and good work habits.
Level 2: Contributing Team member
Contributes to the achievement of group objectives; works effectively with others in a group setting.
Level 3: Competent manager:
Organizes people and resources toward the effective and efficient pursuit of predetermined objectives.
Level 4: Effective Leader:
Catalyzes commitment to and vigorous pursuit of a clear and compelling vision; stimulates the group to high performance standards.
Level 5: Executive Builds enduring greatness through a paradoxical combination of personal humility plus professional will.
Interestingly, Level 5 leaders display the 2 traits of personal humility and professional will.
Click here to see more about this paradoxical combination.
Jim Collins also finds that Level 5 leaders are extremely modest; they rarely talk about themselves but talk about the firm, about other’s contributions and usually play down their own role in the success of the firm.
He adds that “Level 5 leadership” is complemented by some other “drivers” -
1. First who: Getting the right people to work in the team
2. Stockdale paradox: Confronting the most brutal facts of their current reality, yet maintain absolute faith that they will ultimately succeed
3. The Flywheel: Knowing and acting upon the fact that good-to-great transformations do not happen overnight but it starts one step at a time, gradually building up momentum and finally succeed.
4. The Hedgehog Concept: A hedgehog knows only one big thing but it knows it very well. The hedgehog is simple but is almost always successful
5. A Culture of Discipline: Good-to-great organizations have three forms of discipline
a. Disciplined people,
b. Disciplined thought
c. Disciplined action
Not everyone agrees with this concept of leadership. Tom Peters, another influential thought leader, does not agree with this model and is highly critical of it. There are other thinkers who have expressed disagreement with Jim Collins. This again confirms the fact that there is no unique leadership style (yet) that will guarantee sustained success in any profession.
Looking from Jim Collins’ perspective, Manmohan Singh is a Level 5 leader. One caveat though – his leadership is more similar to a CEO of a business firm who has the full backing of the Governing Board (Sonia and Rahul Gandhi). If he is evaluated as a political leader, he will most likely be judged as someone with very modest success.
But does he care how history will judge him as a political leader ? I doubt.