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The phenomenon of good leadership

Rayhan Ahmed Topader:


Values are the guiding principles in our lives.  Leadership occurs within the context of core values. Leaders guide and facilitate others to make a positive difference in their own lives and to contribute to a larger good. Values inform the application of leadership qualities as the competencies of leadership are activated learned, developed, and practiced  within the set of core values. By focusing on what people believe and value, and then positively building on this understanding, we have the potential for impact far more wide reaching than if we approached leadership development as a problem-solving activity.As demonstrated by self respect and respecting others regardless of differences; treating others with dignity, empathy and compassion; and the ability to earn the respect of others,as demonstrated by personal efforts that lead to making a positive impact on individuals, systems, organizations or positively affecting outcomes, as demonstrated by moral courage, ethical strength, and trustworthiness; keeping promises and fulfilling expectations, as demonstrated by consistency, congruency, and transparency in values, beliefs, and actions; integrating values and principles to create a purposeful life and to contribute to the growth of others, as demonstrated by a sense of humbleness, dignity and an awareness of one’s own limitations; open to perspectives different from one’s own and as demonstrated by a broad understanding of human dynamics and an ability to balance the interests of multiple stakeholders when making decisions; can take a long term perspective in decision-making. Of all the qualities that underpin effective leadership, perhaps none is more important than holding true to authentic values that help bring about success. Most of us are drawn to values-based leaders.These are people who have clear principles, they are honest and congruent in their deeds, they truly inspire those around them, and they feel a greater sense of gratitude towards others than they expect to receive in return. Etymologically, a leader is a person who leads. He leads followers. Followers accept a leader only when they find him articulating and representing their interests; and they even find that their chosen leader would beinstrumental to act out their interest-based dreamsor visions. Thus a leader-follower matrix is created wherein both parts are bonded together through a convergence of interests. But the essence of leadership is the ability to persuade others to comply voluntarily with one’s wishes. Moreover, with some exceptional personal attributes, the leader is to be a superior person, to whom others are found to submit. Again, leadership superiority is to be value-based. Superior values in words and actions of a leader are unhesitatingly venerated by followers. While writing in The Atlantic Monthly in 1994 on What Makes a Good Leader? Garry wills captures this leader-follower symbiotic relationship as he writes, “Leaders have a vision. Followers respond to it. Leaders organize a plan. Followers get sorted out to fit the plan. Leaders have willpower. Followers let that will replace their own. Writing almost in the same vein Dr. Henry Kissinger posits that the task of a leader is to take his people from where they are to where they would like to be. When we talk or think of ‘leadership’ what comes to mind is the activity of the larger-than-life individual who draws his people to pursue goals that he has already committed himself to. Winston Churchill expressing Britain’s determination to continue to fight in 1940, Charles de Gaulle imposing his vision of a strong executive Presidency to overcome the paralysis of the Fourth French Republic in 1958, Mahatma Gandhi transforming the Indian Congress into a mass movement to drive out the British through non-violent resistance, and Bangabandhu’s call for emancipation and independence on 7 March 1971, are examples of leaders holding a vision for the benefit of their peoples. On the darker side of such a leadership phenomenon, we can cite Adolf Hitler, who won a widespread following from Germans through his continuous tirades against the Versailles Treaty and the treachery of Jews. At this extreme, therefore, we can say that leadership involves a deep commitment by the leader to a mission and/or vision, and that followers accept that commitment. But a person enjoying the powers and privileges inherent in the role of leader may not necessarily be exercising ‘leadership’. President d’Estaing of France, and other heads of government across the world clearly occupied the role of ‘leader’ in their own countries, yet were continuously assailed for failing to provide the much needed ‘leadership’ in critical times. Thus we should separate the two terms -‘leader’ and ‘leadership’.But, while separate, these two terms are closely linked. It is quite possible for a leader to obtain compliance with his wishes through force rather than persuasive leadership. Despite this link, there is also an inherent tension between the role of leader and the exercise of leadership, because a leader can use force as well as persuasion to get his way. It is much easier for a leader to see a follower as obeying in response to coercion rather than in response to persuasion. Generally speaking, there could be two types of leaders: eventful and event-making. Eventful leadership emerges by cashing in on events or circumstances. A leader of such a background may not always have leadership; but he makes himself indispensable under the exigencies of circumstances.Thus having emerged out of circumstances, such a leader lacks constitutional legitimacy; and may adopt many fiats for leadership legitimation, including the abuse of religion and religious symbols and sentiments. Needless to mention, such a type of leadership is observed in much of the Third World countries; and they are coup-produced military dictators. Bangladesh has had two spells of such military dictatorships between 1975 and 1990. Death through killing removed the progenitor of such a leadership in 1981; while the second one was toppled through people- power demonstrated through a mass upsurge in 1990. The event-making leadership, on the other hand, is the one which enjoys public confidence and acceptance, and thus legitimate. His process of leadership involves making of events geared to the goal of actualizing the vision shared by him and hisfollowers. Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman fits into this type of leadership. He was the epitome of value-based leadership right from the day one of his political career. The two books Unfinished Memoirs and Prison Diaries bear ample testimonies to such an emphatic statement. In social psychology, leadership is frequently treated as a salient factor in social change. In sociology, leadership is defined as the exercise of influence or power in social collectivities. Max Weber, the doyen of Sociology, discipline, identifies three types of leadership corresponding to the different forms of authority and legitimacy. Firstly, charismatic leaders lead by virtue of the extraordinary powers attributed to them by their followers. Secondly, traditional leaders lead by virtue of custom and practice, because a certain family or class has always led. Thirdly, legal leadership based on expertise and implemented according to formal rules is typically found in public administration and modern business enterprises. How does one make a good leader? This is a question that defies a definitive answer. Nevertheless, the following attributes are suggested to be qualities to make a good leader: Inspiration, Integrity, Clear goals, A good example worth following, Vision, Communication ability, Expects the best from followers, Enjoys support of followers, Encouragement for followers, Recognition of followers’ contributions, Stimulating personality, Focus on collective rather than personal needs and gains, Exemplary creativity and Courage. It is not suggested that this is an exhaustive list of values and attributes desirable in a good leader; there could be many more as one imaginative mind ponders over the phenomenon of good leadership. However, we think that this could not be further from the truth. While confidence is necessary for those in a leadership role, we find that this quality can be cultivated through practice and patience. Developing confidence is important because leaders need to be able to assert themselves clearly every day. However, it is equally important not to be too sure of one’s abilities as confidence can quickly turn to hubris and arrogance when not kept in check. When confidence turns into hubris, this can cause resentment between a leader and their team. Every leader needs to focus on exuding restrained confidence. Acting with an air of confidence makes everybody you work with trust your judgment. But when taken too far, overconfidence can exude presumptuousness that can turn any workplace culture sour. Writer and Columnist raihan567@yahoo.com