Recognized by Harvard Business School as one of the thought leaders of the world, Debashis Chatterjee has been conducting lectures on transformational leadership for political chiefs and corporate honchos across the globe. Currently with IIM, Lucknow, his new book Light the Fire in Your Heart-You can Dare to Lead! is being released by Full Circle this month. An extract:
“ Leaders are change artists. Change always challenges old rules “
- Debashis Chatterjee
Can one be born a leader? Is leadership a natural trait or does it have to be cultivated?
Let us end this old debate with one simple statement: leaders can be cultivated provided they are born with leadership qualities. Leadership is a natural resource. To tap into any natural resource you need a certain discipline, you need appropriate technology. To draw water from the ground you need a tube-well; you need to know how to defy gravity. The qualities of leadership such as courage or resourcefulness are often present as pure potential in human beings. Such qualities need to be harnessed through physical, mental and spiritual discipline. Leadership is important because leaders create high aspirations. Collective aspirations build great cultures, organizations and societies. One Mahatma Gandhi, a Narayana Murthy or a Sachin Tendulkar in championship form can change the self-belief of an entire nation.
Does leadership have to be an integral part of life?
Leadership is merely a label or a metaphor for evolving life. One cannot experience leadership apart from life. All leaders do is point to us what life force can achieve in the span of one lifetime! Buddha or Christ simply lived their lives—yet, they continue to lead our thinking thousands of years after they passed away.
Can there be rules/formulae to creating a leader?
Not quite. Leaders create their own rules. This reminds me of an old story about Mahatma Gandhi. He was talking to a noted professor of history in Lucknow. The professor was critical of Gandhi’s non-violent movement: “Bapu, my knowledge of history tells me that no great freedom was ever won through non-violence.” Gandhi replied: “Sir, your job is to teach history while mine is to create it.” Leaders are primarily change artists. Change always challenges old rules.
How can leadership and teamwork be reconciled?
To sustain the inspiration that comes from leadership, you need teamwork. Good leadership involves not just personal evolution but also co-evolution. A team of stars does not make a star team unless the stars draw the best from each other and work as a team. Therefore, teamwork is just another expression for collective leadership. An effective team requires such qualities as mutual trust, concern for others, self-sacrifice and generosity. All these are qualities of a great leader as well.
Is leadership about organizing action or organizing people?
People cannot be organized. Only objects and events can be organized. People can be inspired to organize themselves. Action is spontaneous when people are inspired to organize themselves. To inspire people you have got to lead them. A Buddha or a Gandhi did not start by organizing people. Buddham Sharanam Gacchami (I take refuge in the Buddha) comes before Dhammam Sharanam Gacchami (I take refuge in the Law) and finally, Sangham Sharanam Gacchami (I take refuge in the organization). Organization happens naturally when people are inspired to become selfless. During the Durga Puja in Kolkata or the Ganesh Chaturthi in Mumbai people are self-organized on a huge scale. This happens because people assume leadership—they become the best that they can be.
What does altruism have to do with leadership?
What is altruism but the act of reclaiming our greater sense of self? A Harvard researcher describes the experience of altruism as ‘helper’s high’. Every time we help someone unconditionally we experience a surge of positive energy and a heightened sense of being. Most leaders I have talked to experience this exalted sense of self. Altruism is, in the ultimate analysis, nothing but self-help. The Self (with capital ‘S’) is experienced as a vast space within us. Leaders are known to act from a greater sense of space within themselves. The Upanishads would describe this as atmanubhuti.
What kind of work culture should a leader create?
Leadership grows from a culture of contribution. In organizations where people become identified with their position and designation, leaders should tell juniors: “You are not equal to your designation, you are equal to your contribution.” If one is working for purely personal ambition one is obviously not contributing fully to the organizational cause. A culture of contribution builds team spirit and increases the surface area of one’s work to include others. The performance appraisal systems of organizations should encourage both personal excellence and the ability to help others excel. This will transform the work culture of an organization.
Tell us five things that make for a good leader.
They would be: 1. A compelling vision. 2. The capacity to convert thought into action. 3. Unselfishness. 4. A passion for perfection. 5. Capacity to relate to different kinds of people.
‘‘Real leaders are ordinary people with extraordinary determination,’’ you say. How is that different from a demagogue?
A demagogue is a dealer not a leader. Dealers are not concerned about the consequences of their actions. A demagogue exploits people’s sentiments for short-term results. A demagogue wants to be a giant by making others seem like dwarfs. A leader’s real work is to lead people to themselves. A leader inspires people’s confidence in themselves. Lao Tzu, the Chinese mystic, put it so well: “When the work is done and the leader is gone, people say: ‘We did it ourselves’.” I have always found that to be ordinary is the most extraordinary achievement—particularly if you are a leader. To be ordinary is to be free from ego and to be present fully to reality. I have met several Heads of State, sports stars, CEOs who inspired me by their humility and extraordinary commitment. My current book was proofread by Kim Campbell, the first woman Prime Minister of Canada—it was truly a humbling experience.
Is capitalism with a human face possible?
I do believe in the coexistence of capitalism and humanism. I feel that the ability to create wealth is a rare leadership virtue. You cannot create wealth unless you understand the ‘spirit’ of affluence. Wealth is not about possessing or dispossessing, it is about ‘currency’ (which comes from the word ‘current’), it is about being in the flow of life. One of the most successful capitalists of India—JRD Tata—created a virtual empire in his lifetime. Yet, when he died his people were surprised to see that JRD lived in a rented house and had very little personal wealth. He distributed wealth and not poverty as our politicians often do. This man truly lived the spirit of capitalism.
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