Cultivating Leadership Qualities
It is often incorrectly believed that a great leader is a great public speaker and that a great public speaker makes for a great leader. Nothing can be further from the truth. From history we know very well that Hitler was a great orator, though not a great or ethical leader. On the other hand, Gandhi was a popular leader despite of being a rather quiet man.
Almost every week a new TED talk is uploaded onto the Internet — only few speakers have become great leaders who create ripples of change in the world. Today, more and more research focuses on the “Quiet Leader” — one who may be an introvert but given the ability to listen (rather than talk excessively) has gained a deeper understanding of people and circumstances.
That said, leadership and public speaking have one denominator in common — effective communication. Communication skills are the highly valued skill in the current workforce and will be priced even higher in future. However, no technical know-how will suffice if cannot be translated and sold to the client. While public speaking can be taught — to anybody, leadership and effective communication is an art that only few have and even fewer know how to acquire. Not surprisingly then advocates of preparing youth for the future workforce have moved from advocating STEM-only (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) skill acquisition to a creativity incorporated STEAM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Art-Math) directional focus.
Four fundamental human factors help in refining leadership qualities:
1 | Care for Others
Care for other is a fundamental listening skill. Respectful listening allows for greater observation, study and understanding of one’s audience. Caring for others also means adapting one’s own stance to the context and situation presented. Empathy essentially requires an act of humility to put aside the ego and comprehend the events as and when they unfold. The textbook definition of ‘humility’ read as: “the quality of having a modest or low view of one’s importance”. This is precisely also why groundbreakers of our time were called “Lead”ers — and not CEOs, CFOs, Managers or Directors. In fact, it is only in the last ten years that job titles with the term “Leader” have become more mainstream — Team Leaders, Innovation Leaders, and Insights Leads have a job profiles that go beyond pure managing and monitoring. Insights companies are increasingly moving from media monitoring to media listening with the latter carrying significance for future-forward insights rather than insights gained from retrospective studies of public opinion. In a world filled with plenty of big egos, competitive extroverted peers the commonly most admired trait in influencers is, rather ironically — simplicity.
2 | Relevance
The global pandemic has even accelerated trends that were already underway. With sufficient skill-acquisition and training anyone can groom themselves to be an expert. However, the world is fast moving and relevance of what one knows can quickly be surpassed within months by those faster and smarter in the race. Those more reactive to the fast pace will keep afloat — but such facts of a lifecycle should not inculcate a hurried anxiety to succeed over others. Assessing the context of your audience matters. The most well-articulated cryptocurrency presentation will fall on deaf ears in a language class. Everything has an expiry date — fame and position included. It is thus critical to constantly reassess one’s one relevance and importance. Twitter is a classic example of millions of people resting on a delusional belief that their opinion is a worthy comment that may change the world. In reality echoes that erupt from social media opinions are more akin to a fish swimming in an ocean of confirmation bias and add little more than online noise and information overkill.
3 | Subtle assertiveness
There is a fine line between loud intellect and arrogance. Arrogance, whether in speech or in manner, is quickly detected and even more quickly disliked. In developing countries in particular, it is a tragic observation to see women’s assertiveness being misunderstood or misrepresented as arrogance. Subtle assertiveness — one that allows one to present a viewpoint with confidence and common sense without sounding arrogant, is a quality most must still acquire. Arrogance is like the full stop to a sentence. Assertiveness is a comma; it permits for more scope of learning from other opinions and views. Equally important is Emotional intelligence (EQ), an often-cited ingredient for professional and personal success despite the difficulty to measure and quantify it. Regrettably, curricula around the world continue to fail significantly in promoting the importance of subtle assertiveness and strong EQ over IQ.
4 | Fearlessness
Fear of failure has crippled many innovations. Failing and not trying anew has pushed many into severe mental health disabilities. To fail is perfectly fine. Each failure creates layers of wisdom through which adaptability at the advent of new crisis’ improves ten-fold. Someone who has failed and risen again is always wiser than the peer who has only tasted success and may fail next. Throughout history, greatly admired leaders were individuals who were avid students of history and its cyclical mode of common pitfalls. With history defining the future, the most efficient means to conceptualized better public policy is through the study of past failures. Note, that to date, the only concept that cannot be googled is experience — and it is a priceless asset.
That leaders are not made but are born is incorrect. Leaders, irrespective of country or culture, are made and shaped by a series of both positive and negative life events. Those who persevere though disappointments have a competitive edge given the heightened motivation, strategic foresight and flexibility around disasters. They simply make for better-informed Leaders. In this fast-changing world, societies will need plenty of diversely skilled, compassionate and fearless Individuals eager to be extraordinary Leaders. These will be the true Groundbreakers, capable of holding an army together while placing its people first.
About the Author:
Diana Arachi is an Intelligence Strategist and Policy Analyst with over 15 years of experience working across research and insights companies. As an Austrian with Tamil roots, having lived in four continents and visited 50 countries she takes keen interest in China’s geopolitical strategies, India’s parallel development course and the past lessons of the Chola soft power expansion across the world. The Author can be contacted via Twitter @Arachiint