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This post is not meant to be a personal glorification, rather the intention here is to highlight that the general perception of people who are ‘not’ in academics is that academicians are relatively ‘free’ and academics is one of the least pressure-giving jobs in the world. Well, that is their opinion! Have you heard the “potter” metaphor for academicians? You have the crucial “business” of molding young minds.

It was a particularly busy evening (not that I am free on other days 🙂 ). I was working on my laptop and editing something frantically that a friend had sent me , was simultaneously working on an Introduction, continuously getting calls from the hostel, directing the people there regarding the next course of action, and again running back to the laptop to work, and also reviving from a bout of typhoid. In between there were some calls from a friend regarding her personal issues, and there was the next morning’s classes to be thought of.

My mom who was observing me through her specs,  smiled and said “I thought you needed help, so I came down here but seems as if you have decided to sacrifice your life for the sake of the universe…Book me a return ticket home.”  I smiled back at her from my laptop and said, “except you the entire universe doesn’t know that I need help, precisely that is the reason why you are with me here instead of the universe giving me company” . Some of my senior Professors/bosses whom I have heard as a student used to tell us, “remember you are the CEO of your own life and work — how and what you do of it is a matter of your choice and priority”. Transitioning through the role of a student to that of a teacher, I have also said the same things to my class and my students.

These are some asides and events that have led me to a deeper reflection into the nature of a ‘leader’ and ‘what makes a leader?’ I was reading an article recently on LinkedIn (unfortunately the link got lost because of some major deletions that I was doing on the system) that roughly speaks of multitasking and multi-multitasking, and the necessity of good leaders as people who are willing to go multi-multi tasking. The article gave me chills, because it seemed to be so demanding that the requirement seemed to be that of a bonded-laborer rather than a leader who would be a visionary for a startup/mega institution/ society/ world. I am not sure how much I agree to that kind of an understanding of leadership.

I was thinking, how does one justify a Steve Jobs on the one hand and a Muammar Gaddafi on the other hand in this context of leadership? Both Steve Jobs and Gaddafi have been leaders in their own ways. Both must have been into multi multi-multi tasking, then why is the death of one leader a loss for the world while the death of the other leader a clueless moment even for those who are burying him.  There must be something which differentiates a Gadaffi from a Steve Jobs (apart from their professions)?

Every other ‘Personality Development’ workshop, ‘Pre-placement talk’, ‘Communication Skills’ class, etc. have 10 slides on being a leader that are crafted, presented, and rattofied by the rest of the ‘lower mortals’. I say ‘lower mortals’ because it seems as if we are having a dearth of the ‘thinking questioning reflecting’ homo sapien.  I wonder that how many of us actually attempt to understand ‘leadership’ before we rattle of  the qualities of a leader.

As educators, we keep relentlessly talking about ‘leadership’ and ‘leadership qualities’ to our students through the texts that we teach in the class or through the problems that we give them to solve.

Well here are some of my random thoughts regarding ‘who is a leader’. These are disjointed notes and often narrated in context of a certain book or text in the class.  These are purely random in nature and there is a disclaimer attached regarding their ’empirical truths’ or that I have personally experienced any success from these aspects. These are only thought-moments in pen, discussed time and again during my sessions with students, open to be debates:

1. A leader is someone who ‘generates’ ideas and creates her/his own platform to execute those ideas. Precisely, leaders are people who think ‘laterally’ and who are not afraid of their own thoughts. We are talking about the ‘creme de la creme’ of the society not the managers who need people management skills rather than leadership virtues. Leaders as per my perception goes are those who ‘design their destiny’ in tandem with the world’s destiny.

2. A leader thinks with the society as well as is beyond the society. Multi-tasking for the society maybe one attribute, but not the entire profile. It is better to do three things well, rather than goof-up five things while trying to multi-task. They can be individualistic in their working styles  (Steve Jobs for example) or might-be great team players (Sergey Brin, Larry Page). Famous painters like Monet or Van Gogh who were essentially individualistic in their life and styles, but their requirement of individualism comes from the demand of the profession they are in.

3. A leader is someone who has a set of ideals, values, and principles that are “basically” (not ‘necessarily’) constructively designed and goes beyond ones personal benefit. These values or ideals do not necessarily ‘abide’ by the demands of the society. Raja Ram Mohun Roy or Vivekananda for instance were not abiding by what the world desired from them. Yet, there was ‘something’ fundamentally constructive in their thoughts.

4. Trust is the keyword for any relationship — personal or professional.  Until you trust people and people learn to trust you back, you will be only abiding by rules and following orders. People say that our trust has been broken, that we face difficulties trusting, etc. However,  I feel until you learn to trust yourself you can’t trust others. If there is one person who breaks your trust there will be ten others who will keep that trust if you have trusted in the ‘right spirit’. At the top institutes of the world, while there is an excessive learning fascination, trust is the major thing that is lacking.

5. A leader is a continuous ‘learner’. People, situations, real-time problems, even as simple as a car break-down  teaches to work-out your own unique set of solutions. Some of the greatest automobile designers of the world, like Giorgetto Giugiaro, the designer of the Ferrari 250 have been influenced by real-time problems  of space, speed, design, accommodation, convenience, etc. If I take an example from literature, Shakespeare is considered to be one of the greatest ‘learners’ of the world. He entered the scenario of English drama coming from a humble grammar school background, when the ruling dramatists of the age including Marlow, Thomas Kyd, Nash, etc were from the ‘University’  (University Wits group). Shakespeare ‘learnt’ continuously by observing and then he reworked+adapted the dramas such that they would suit the taste of the ‘common (hu) man’ for the centuries to come.

6. Leaders are the greatest risk-takers of the world. They take risks with their career, their achievements, their desires,as well as their selves.

7. These are people who learn to ‘live’ with stress rather than ‘coping’ with stress. Stress-factor is a common element in their lives, but their lives are also designed to be ‘re-designed’ as per the requirements of the time. I have observed some of the closest people in my circle leading a particular professional field because they have learnt to take stress and mold it into a strength. I have observed one of my mentors, his life is full of the stress that comes with being in an institute of high-repute. However, he has found his way by letting go through music. In addition to being a leading Professor, he spends maximum of his spare time practicing and teaching Hindustani Classical music and writing on music.

8. This is my invention of ‘leadership’. Somehow, I have an intuitive feeling that leaders are not only deadline keepers, they are aware of the necessity of slowing down and then picking up the pace. Present day technological studies are known to be deadline keepers, but the necessity of also understanding the need for ‘slowing down’ in the right place at the right time is as fundamentally  essential. It is not about ‘time management’ but about ‘time strategizing’

Ultimately, leadership is about being “aware” of yourself and of the “world around you” and of being “honest” with your individual traits. Whether you are the ‘leader’ of a family, an institution, a country, or the world, what makes you unique is — YOU! 🙂

Why am I suddenly turning Iris into a gyan-giving platform? Well, I was just sanitizing my class notes. You might find this article “just another” self-motivation subject. Yet, I nurse a deeper and more sinister ambition. Perhaps, Prof. Rajeev Motwani would have empathized with it — had he been alive (will not clarify it to you 😉 ).

(This post is dedicated to some of the great thinkers of our times including Steve Jobs and Rajeev Motwani)