What is Leadership?

03 Feb

Firstly let me wish you a spectacular 2010.

I have been pondering this question over the last 6 months or so and as I go through all the available research 3 things keep jumping out clearly;

a: There seems to be general agreement on the “Purpose of Leadership”: that is to produce outstanding results through people.

b: For the question “What is Leadership,” most of the research defines leadership through its purpose but there is no real specific answer.

c: And the third thing that pops up is “What Makes a Leader?” and for this the opinions are as divided as can be.  The research seems to tell us what Leaders do and through their actions the make up of leadership is defined but that is not the same as answering the question of “what makes a leader?”

Let me share with you my responses to the three above:

Starting with the “Purpose of Leadership:”  I have summarized the definition as: the ability  to produce outstanding results through people.  My key departure from the literature is my insertion of the word outstanding.  I think anyone can produce some results, thus the act of producing results in itself is insufficient evidence for leadership.  To me leadership is a position of differentiation. Leaders are like the “summa cum laude”of managers. And to be summa cum laude you have to produce outstanding results relative to all your competitors.

So if that is the Purpose, then “What is Leadership?”  I found the answer in the scriptures. Leadership is a trust. It is a trust placed on the person chosen, to lead  his/her  people to the “promised land.”   Failure of leadership is betrayal of a trust and the current financial crisis really demonstrates what betrayal of trust is all about.

So that leaves us with the third question,”What makes a Leader?” What makes a person able to carry the burden of trust in leading his/her people to outstanding results?

I distill the making of Leadership  down to 6 key characteristics as follows:

1. The openness of the mind to learn and unlearn, construct and deconstruct. I think the very first attribute of a leader is in the pursuit of knowledge which creates the foundation for courage and  wisdom.

2. An incredible level of self awareness combined with a strong ability to understand others from which emerges humility and temperance.

3. The ability to connect the dots on the one hand and  seeking closure on the other. It is a powerful combination when you can make sense of seemingly unrelated information or events and at the same time having the drive to act on it , to complete, to getting closure.

4. Without a doubt is strong business acumen.  I used to tell my managers, the income statement and balance sheet to a manager must be like sheet music to a musician.You must be able to not only understand it, but interpret it in a way that produces beautiful music, or in the case of business – outstanding results. Most people can’t see beyond the numbers in the financials. Leaders have the ability to teach the followers how to make music out of an income statement. Out of this acumen comes communications that is  short, simple and precise.

5.They excel at building great teams and coalitions. They know the secret of getting people to work together. They know how to build bridges and alliances.  They know its not about them. Like the orchestra, the conductor doesn’t make a single sound but has the ability to get the musicians to collectively make beautiful music.

6. Leaders have  massive capacity for self regulation. The ego is kept well in check.  They do not allow personal desires and habits to derail them.  And that can only happen if there is a willingness to accept feedback and work on it. Its the recognition of self imperfection in the quest for perfection. Leadership is incompatible with behaviors of hypocrisy,  slander, envy and avarice.   Leadership is an act of elegance, in behavior, in manner, and in tone. Leadership is about justice.

1 Comment

Posted by on February 3, 2010 in Leadership


One response to “What is Leadership?

  1. rickyabache

    February 4, 2010 at 6:02 am

    Great thoughts Ashraf and very resonant with my ideas and philosophy which aim to start vlogging about soon in


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