The Uncompromisable Leadership Obligations

“The future belongs to those who see possibilities before they become obvious”

~ John Scully

Last week at Udaipur, the cloudy grey morning with unbroken pelting of rain, confided me (providentially to a picturesque lake-side log-hut) from my otherwise intended second round of leadership intervention for a client organization. The accidental day off and solitary caging led me to think about apparent leadership compromises in one of my client organizations. Over the past few consulting years, I have observed the agonising disintegration in the quality of leadership courage in several Indian enterprises. Quarantined in my room, I got sufficient time to expediently introspect about the essential leadership debts. Their indispensable obligations, like, rendering of vision into reality, people engagement, achievement focus, and many more.  

It is good for a leader to realize fast that transactional and operational business activities are but a very small part of his core obligations. He has to learn to let go of a lot of operational responsibilities (the real engaging comfort zone) for much more superior priorities of the company. A Leader has some fundamental obligations which he must justify in order to be relevant to his privileged position. 

Here are my notes on leadership obligations as evolved that day in contemplative mood. For me, these are few non-negotiable role obligations.  

Leaders must focus on renewal of antiquated culture

A leader sets the tone and defines the culture and values of the organization through his demonstrated behaviour. In 2016, a leader has to question and move away from the conventionality in the organizational culture. He hardly has any choice. Yet, majority of leaders are hooked and befuddled by hierarchical culture. Even in a most packed down de-layered structure, hierarchy remains ingrained. Hierarchy is not about the positions, it is the attitude of ascendancy and control. In every organisation, you will witness a discernible gulf between the strategic apex class (for “thinking”) and the rest of the organisation (for “execution”). Normally, conceited leaders are more contented and convinced that hierarchy is essential for orderliness, work chastisement, and system/procedural compliance. Control focused leaders determinedly propagate top-down decision making and siloed functional differentiation.  Such leaders are thoughtlessly self-centric. They unpretentiously believe that entire organization and business exist because of them. They have an unapologetic sense of entitlement.  The problems in an organisation lies (most of the time) at leadership level. They set the culture for the rest of the organization. Hierarchical mentality breeds the culture of opportunism, instructive decision making, and adulterated shared purpose. It flourishes culture of insensibility and misconceptions. Creates “sightless” power pockets. Yields to the lobbying sycophants in hindering collaborative group processes. The entire approach encourages persistence of maladroitness behind the drapes of functional rigidity and unfertile blame-games. Regrettably, it is high time that leaders must internalize a bitter lesson that concentrated authority at apex is going to be a royal road to doom. Leaders must begin to accept that result oriented organizations are transitioning from “control” to “co-creation”. Leaders must break free of conformism and swing their focus on the collaborative networking (while trading off more favoured hierarchy and bureaucracy) to flourish their business prospects. No more emblematic changes and lip services. People enjoy working for an inspiring leader and collaborative culture. In today’s time, owning cultural transformation is inevitable.

Leaders must unceasingly decipher future of the organization

The disruptive business environment demands transformational leaders who are on the edge to take uncomfortable risks and accountability for leveraging organization for the next big leap. A leader has to have a vivid picture of what is coming-up in advance so as to aggressively encash the potential opportunities. His fundamental role is to develop and implement winning strategies. I have strongly advocated for only three dynamic role obligations to my client CEOs: 1. Predicting future business landscape 2. Innovation, and 3. Nurturing Intellectual wealth. Rest of his role is operational and delegable. In reality, CEOs’ struggle to comprehend and commendably anticipate the future. A Leader must identify, influence, and cuddle the future potential “possibilities” that can help an organization to evolve to higher echelons and stay ahead of the rapidly changing competitive global business scenario. A leader is most likely to succeed only if he is unremittingly deciphering the future of the business to fortify current capabilities. Today innovation is no more an option, it has become an imperative. Innovation in an organization is directly influenced by a leader’s capability to relate to future realities. Often, a leader understands the importance of innovation, but fell far short of encouraging an innovative culture within the organization.  It needs a farsighted leader with steadfast focus on strategic collaborations much beyond company and country. He has to objectively weigh the organisation as an outsider. Moreover, he has to welcome the conflicting thoughts by remaining evidently unbiased. He has to learn to avoid his own attachments and subjectivity in decision making. A leader is solely answerable for identifying growth opportunities and to improve organization performance through innovation in products, services, and processes. He is accountable to create an environment that promotes risk taking and innovation.

Leaders must infuse sense of urgency and culture of agility.

Today agility is unquestionably a ‘competitive advantage’ in the business. Most daunting challenge in front of an organization is to stay competitive amidst of constant disruptive instability. A naive outlook towards competitive threats and unanticipated developments could be suicidal for organizational existence. Infusing agility in customer responsiveness is the most decisive role of a leader. He has to take ownership of keeping organization lean, mean and agile. A leader is responsible for preparing an organization to stay ahead of increasingly belligerent competition and also delivering results month after month. This requires agility in work culture with much truncated periods of flat terrains. A leader has to own-up the transformation of cultural agility in the organization. It is obligatory for him to create and engage with high performing multi-disciplinary empowered agile teams. Such premeditated alignments are critical for ranging with the looming business opportunities.  When an organization doesn’t learn to respond faster to available opportunities, effectively perishes without making much ripples. To outstrip the competition, he has no choice but to accelerate the aggression in growth initiatives. He must learn to lead the organization to higher echelons despite adverse circumstances.

Leaders must engage with teams for superior performance.

Only an engaged leader can strongly allied to an organization’s future. Engagement enmeshes a leader to high performing teams. For a successful leader employee engagement is a critical constituent.Engaged Teams are undeniably the best indicator of an organization’s prospective success or failure. He is responsible for enabling and enhancing the fullest potential of the functional teams and leveraging their strengths. He must relentlessly focus on the development of the capabilities of individuals to strengthen the team effectiveness. He must act as an enabler for their success. In fact, engaged leaders build trust by trusting others. They genuinely believe in people and their trustworthiness, further encouraging every team member to believe and behave in ways that demonstrate their commitment to the organization. A disengaged leader can cause significant stress among individuals due to his detached, inconsistent, and capricious disposition. They have serious consequences for the vitality of the organization. A disengaged leader can unconsciously dig-out a bleeding hole in the organizational growth story.

Yes, over the years, I have gathered that it is naïve and unreasonable to write a prescription on a topic like leadership. Every leader has to find his own equipoise between vision, strategy, and operation/execution. But the best leaders do resist the seductive craving to chase and jump into delegable operational roles. 

We all know about the Phoenix, a mythical bird that consciously consumes itself in flames, to be reborn new from its ashes. The myth undoubtedly best defines the transformation power within each one of us. It is imperative to inspire our sense of “conventional” being to endure in the blazes of transformational leadership. It is inevitable!

For some reason,   my thoughts on leadership are always cold, unconditional, and intuitive. And, until today, I couldn’t figure out why…!

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.





4 thoughts on “The Uncompromisable Leadership Obligations

  1. An article which dwells upon the coming-of-age leadership paradigm and has a challenged the existing run of the mill obligations undertaken by strategic leaders and went to on debunk the practices on the influence of sycophantic culture on the decision making process sans collaborative endeavours….Sir, It is quite an insightful article

    • Well said! Such transactional leaders are passive performers. Their entire focus is on compliance and sustaining expectations. They are extrinsic motivators and micro-managers. They are self -centric and love holding powers.However, they are completely irrelevant for the current business environment.

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