The word Leader comes from ‘ Lord’, which meant, in Old Norse, the course or path of a ship at sea. The leader was the captain, who in Viking days was usually the steersman and navigator as well. Now, whether one is the leader of a nation, of a business, or of an educational institution, one has to keep in mind the fact that the world is shrinking and/or, rather, our world is expanding beyond perceived horizons. In the multi-cultural and cross-cultural environment we work in, dynamic leadership qualities are in order and our perception of leadership qualities are subject to change. Not only are the autocratic, democratic and free-rein leadership styles fast becoming irrelevant they are becoming anachronisms.
Leadership is now, more than ever before, facing several challenges. Never has the world been more interdependent; never before has the behaviour of one individual or group had such crucial consequences for others. Now is the time when all resources available to us must be mobilized to cope with the drastic, all encompassing changes taking place with lightning speed all around us Technological developments have created snow-balling problems in the lives of every human being. Tensions of energy crises are felt everywhere. Adolescents are in turmoil throughout the world. A pervasive sense of fear, confused values and beliefs, alienation felt by many individuals and groups, and the powerlessness of the individual against a power structure too big to comprehend, loom large. The society is in a state of flux and the lack of firmly rooted values is creating a feeling of setting up ones settlements over shifting sands. A society with empowering leadership, not intimidating leadership, alone can counter these problems, and produce and sustain a generation that can stand the onslaught of all perils that besiege the society. A new approach to understanding empowerment is called for to deal with the situation.
What is empowerment? Though the term may mean many things to different people, broadly defined, empowerment is that capacity to feel from within that you are in control of your life and decisions, and given the fact that there are constraints, within which you have certain freedom to think, feel, speak and behave in ways that put you at ease. An empowered person acts purely at his or her own discretion and will, and does not act under traditional dictates, or restrictions imposed by internalized concepts or by others, that cripple ones very right to live as a free human being.
Now, leaders are not working with employees sitting in one office, selected personally by him or her, nor do the employees perform specific assigned roles. With offices spread all across the globe, employees selected by local recruiting agents, or bodies who may or may not understand your organizational vision or goals, and performing multi-tasking non-stereo-typed roles in an environment when leveraging skills has become the need of the hour, a new type of approach towards leadership is needed with cognitive development at its heart. It is an undisputed fact that there is no dichotomy between the cognitive and affective domains The new approach offers the leader the wherewithal for creating a sense of harmony, of order, of sheer joy of living, thus freeing employees from the overwhelming odds of an impersonal society. It also provides a modus operandi for each person to build a sense of her own power as an individual. The leader’s awareness of the cognitive processes that affect our communication would offer a rich store of resources for positive attitude and value building, and impact on the way we relate to ourselves, and to each other. For, this impact alone can bring about empowerment of human beings. A leader realizes that he cannot empower people. He only nurtures conditions that create it – cultivate the conditions of empowerment.
An effective leader constantly bears in mind the impact of communication on empowerment. He is acutely aware of the fact that this approach helps us to search for an understanding in an age when understanding is obscured by upheaval; that it opens to us a range of alternatives, and makes possible the comprehension of the forces that impose themselves upon us and encourages us to examine those forces, evaluate them and change them if required. Such an approach to communication must be based on meaningful study of cognitive processes. Searching, examination and evaluation are cognitive acts that are very crucial to a leader. These processes help the leader to let his employees know that even in a situation where the individual seems powerless there are some choices that are open to them. They help the employees to know there is freedom for us to make decisions about those areas of choice. They help them to know what forces they should grant authority to take over their lives and what forces to reject. These processes bring order to a world of chaos and encourage a sense of autonomy. This process connects the employee meaningfully to the corporate world.
Satraj Singh, Managing Director of FMC- Rallis India Ltd says: “A leader is a teacher but I make sure that I don’t become a preacher. That is an art. I pass on as much as I can through examples, stories. I don’t directly ‘tell’ people what to do. I dare not cite from my personal repertoire of experiences. I don’t simplify to provide all the solutions. I try to make people arrive at alternatives”
An intuitive leader understands that every individual assimilates from and accommodates to, the people or events in the environment. These processes are progressive. The individual also differentiates and categorizes, generalizes and classifies, isolates and identifies several people and experiences. But these processes constitute knowledge. This knowledge is not imparted or transmitted. It is constructed by the individual and there lies the difference. Every individual constructs it in different ways for different reasons. A good leader is able to make her colleagues understand that the consequences of the different constructs vary, and make them see how the cognition and the resultant communication, and empowerment that ensue are interdependent. The leader also helps individuals to evolve ways of effecting intrapersonal and interpersonal communication that could empower themselves and others. A good leader perceives that everyone cannot have every strength and together their strength increases in exponential proportions.
Narayana Murthy, the Founder Chaiperson of Infosys Technologies, knew the strength of the six people with whom he started his Infosys. ” Nandan is good coomunicator, he is probably the best articulator of idea. Raghavan is a great humanist. He is a people’s man. Gopalakrishnan is a great technical person. Dinesh and Ashok are good technical project managers. Above all, they are good human beings. There was a tremendous synergy in the value system” He read the business situation accurately as well. He saw the business opportunity in off-shore development, a concept that was unknown: to create a software supplier leveraging Indian skills and targeted at overseas markets He saw the sustainable competitive advantage.
An empathetic leader realizes that cognitive development of an individual has its origin in childhood. He also does not lose sight of the fact that that the same objects or situations do not provide stimulus for assimilation and accommodation to every person. Every man and woman has, as a child, gone through several experiences and subconsciously imbibed certain patterns of thinking, self-talk and interpersonal communication. Thus, in a given situation, where one person feels totally at ease and empowered to handle, another person feels incapacitated and powerless. That is why we often find that different people operate effectively at different stress levels and the last straw that breaks the camel’s back may be the hundredth for one, while it may be the very third for another.
Sharon Drew Margon who has changed sales paradigm with her book Sales on the Line, which promotes buyer-focused, service-based sales, recounts her experience when she had to ask a corporate client a candid question: “How do you function at work each day when you leave your heart at home?” The client talked about his war experiences, which made him do bad things to good people and how he was led to believe his goodness could hurt people. This embittered person changed overnight and began to develop a humane approach towards the people at work.
A transcending leader finds out what makes the employees feel empowered or disempowered ; the kind of childhood they have had, the inputs they have received; their experiences, whether they perceive themselves to be empowered or helpless; if they feel responsible for whatever happened in their life or if they perceive themselves to be mere tools in the scheme of things that were destined to happen anyway; and if they happen to assume responsibility for the developments in their lives, if the feeling is healthy or guilt-ridden; and conversely, if they feel they are merely taken along a current and have absolutely no power to control the events in their life what makes them think so; the social values they have learned in the cognitive and emotional experience of their social interaction, their awareness about them, the contradictions that exist in value systems. She knows that she has neither the time nor the freedom to delve into the personal histories of employees. Yet, the very recognition that there are individual differences in human responses to situations and these have to be accepted as natural, and there is no room for being judgemental, develops qualities of empathy. As long as the organizational goals are met, these differences should be conceded to. An effective leader impinges upon his colleagues that thinking affects the way a person communicates with himself or herself and the quality of this intrapersonal communication determines his or her own confidence level and how empowered he/ she feels in different situations. She helps employees transcend personal tragedies or inhibiting forces and become self-reliant.
A creative leader realizes that people in a given environment feel in control or helpless according to the kind of communication they receive. The leader recognizes that there are set social and management practices, perhaps very discrete and not directly communicated or consciously thought or exercised, which are detrimental to empowerment of people. In a given situation the range in responses to life varies according to the individual’s sensitivity to problems, ability to identify, and insightfulness, and consequently the coping mechanisms. The leader works on these subtly and redefines the paradigm from which the employees operate so that they feel empowered. Here one may recall what John.F.Kennedy had to say when a reporter asked him: ” Sir, now many people who were your bitter enemies have become members in your cabinet. It is very strange? One destroys ones enemies.” Kennedy replied: “My dear friend, the moment these people became my friends they ceased to be my enemies. Now where are the enemies I have to destroy? He had changed the whole paradigm of peration to be able to perceive this.
A good leader never takes any occasion he gets to communicate with the colleagues lightly and goes unprepared for a meeting or gathering or even a casual get-together. The leader uses every such occasion to build rapport. The feelings may be genuine, the thoughts deliberated and well-planned, but if the medium is not well-formulated, communication fails. Anu Aga’s approach of ‘inducting more humane treatment , openness and sharing which included confrontations and facing upto vulnerabilities, to bring out the authentic person or build one in the process’ shows this meticulous and caring approach that finally proved very effective.
A sensitive leader makes certain that she listens twice as often as she talks. She truly hears what her colleagues want – what they desperately hope to make her understand, appreciate and include within the vision. A leader never allows any barriers to come in the way for people reaching out to her .A leader may believe in hierarchy and there may be a protocol in every organization and insist that people should not by-pass authority. However, the leader also sends a message clear and loud, that any suggestion and grievance can be sent to him or communicated to him if the need is felt by the concerned person. Wherever personal intervention is necessary, she does the needful to ensure that every employee feels that the mechanisms to ventilate grievances are active in the organization and does not feel suffocated.
Russi Mody used the principal management technique of holding regular informal open air meetings followed by tea. Selected questioners are encouraged to even step upto the microphone and speak out their points in public. He gives opportunity for criticism. The humblest worker is free to address the Chairperson.
Leaders should be enthusiastic, energetic and positive about the future. This may not change the context of work, but certainly these qualities do make work more meaningful. A leader should have a dream about the future. He must be able to communicate the vision in ways that attracts and excites members of the organization and encourage the employees to partake in the fulfillment of the vision. Leaders must find some greater sense of worth in our day-to-day working life. This attitude of looking at a job as a calling, motivates colleagues. Intentional modeling is essential for focusing people’s attention, energy and effort on the expected behaviours until such actions become standard operating procedures – part of the daily stream of activities. ” I try to lead by example, by being what I want privates to be. I expect as much out of them”, so says Sergeant Jill Henderson, the first woman to win the Army’s Drill Sergeant of the Year award. She demands of her people what she demands of herself. Leaders should empower employees. The leader should exercise the positive face of power. This requires a great deal of sensitivity to others. Researchers note that the ability to understand other people’s perspectives is the most glaring difference between executives who make good and those who derail. Arrogance, aloofness, betrayal of trust, over-managing, or failing to delegate or build a team are fatal flaws.
Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. A good leader is aware of his powers, but never uses it indiscriminately. Neither to favour some partisan nor to punish a dissenting voice. Power is used only to delegate, organize, integrate, reward, recognize, and motivate – never to display what one can or cannot do. Building team spirit is the successful and effective way of inspiring leadership – not controling people by power and authority.
An effective leader is caring and shows the human side of a leader by genuinely caring about his people with a warm sense of humor. A leader is one who does not look at the colleagues as clerks, attendants, lecturers, professors , typists, clerks, nurses etc etc. A leader looks at each of them as human beings with a life of their own, a personality of their own, an individuality of their own. They genuinely care to help when a colleague is disturbed, sense when a person is in his elements and when he is not. They show concern in mild unintrusive ways, take out time to talk to the employees and understand their psyche.
An effective leader is fair, honest and consistent in his action and words. Getting extraordinary things done in orgainsations is hard work. To keep hope and determination alive, leaders recognize contributions made by individuals to make the climb for the organization possible. Leaders acknowledge individual merit and this they do consistently. They don’t forget to acknowledge some one’s achievements and recognize another. While celebrating the efforts of the entire group, individual contributions also should be recognized. For that a good leader identifies the inputs given by each team player and gives a pat for that in public. This honest and open admission earns rich dividends in the long run. Not only do you keep loyal colleagues, many more join in.
Gary Hruska, Vice President of Publishing Operations of GTE Directories narrates how a simple penny he gave playfully to an employee with the words “This is a discretionary award for your efforts” was proudly displayed and soon everyone began to crave for this recognition. This was the beginning of the Prestigious Penny Award. The power of acknowledgement is great.
In any effective long-term relationship, there must be a sense of mutuality. If one partner always gives and the other always takes, the one who gives will feel taken advantage of and the one who takes will feel superior. In that climate, co-operation is virtually impossible. To achieve co-operative goals, leaders must quickly establish a norm of reciprocity within teams and among partners. This sense of fairness, if neglected, can be disastrous.
An effective leader accepts criticism sportingly and admits when he is wrong. Even the chairperson’s pencil has an eraser on it. We all make mistakes. That is why they put erasers on pencils. Do not be afraid of admitting mistakes. We cannot be right all the time. The person who is right only sixty percent of the time can be a great success if he is quick to correct his mistakes the rest of the time. The best thing is, people really respect leaders who admit their mistakes quickly and gracefully. It is the mark of a big person. Even Mahatma admitted to “Himalayan blunders”
To conclude, an empowering leader would:
1. Explore certain ways and means of constructing meaningful and effective methods for intrapersonal communication and expunge one of disempowering self-talk.
2. Understand ways and means of devising methods for interpersonal communication that creates a healthy, empowering environment, so that every person in any formal or informal group feels totally in control of ones own life.
3. Recognize disempowering cognitive and communicative processes and social and management practices, and deconstruct them to build a healthy empowering environment.
4. With particular reference to marginalized communities and groups, examine the above with a view to establishing an empowering climate.
5. A good leader recognizes that by categorizing women as a class by themselves with different capabilities, distinct characteristics of its own and slotting them in water-tight compartments men are losing out on the opportunity to find equal partners in their endeavours and this, in turn, affects the contribution that could result from such coordinated and concerted efforts. This is a great loss that intelligent leaders should and can avert by changing the way we look at our equations.
6. A leader is sensitive to and allows individual differences, and, at the same time, integrates organisational needs, group needs and individual’s needs.
7. Integrate task-oriented approach with people-oriented approach wherein the following steps could help could be followed: Plan the Assignment, Brief and Initiate the Group, Help the Action, Provide Supportive Behaviour, Control and review Periodically, Provide Feedback and Information, and Constantly Evaluate and Update.
The basic credo for a good leader should be, as Sudhir Tilloo, the Indian Collaborator for the Japanese giant Hitachi Metals said: ” I need everyone; nobody needs me”