Sunday, July 29, 2012

Lessons on leadership

Since I got posted to the Officer Cadet School (OCS) back in April, I've been learning a lot about leadership. There's one thing in particular that keeps amazing and, somehow, amusing me. If you give a person, anyone really, a role involving leadership, that person will almost instantly feel empowered to do it well. This person would develop this powerful energy, something he never had before, that would help him to surmount and overcome the challenges he faces. I mean I've seen the laziest of people transform into active leaders when given a leadership role. I've seen people, who were otherwise nasty, change into caring leaders when given a duty. Strange? I used to wonder how and why this happens. I thought of some explanations based on my experiences as a leader.

In some cases, the person could feel that his performance as a leader would affect how much he is recognized by his superiors and respected by his peers. Thus, he would feel pressured to lead well. In other cases, he could feel his performance as a leader reflects his character. The desire to see a good reflection of himself, for himself, drives him to lead well.

This interesting observation about leadership taught me something important. If you've been given a leadership role, no matter how daunting, it's good for you. It helps you see yourself as others would and helps you to fix your flaws as you accommodate your behavior to suit others. It also brings out the best in you. At one time, I used to fear being given an appointment. But now that I see its benefits, I treat such leadership appointments with high regard. I even try to volunteer for such roles. The energy you develop as a leader- the pulse that drives you forward to surmount the highest of obstacles- that's something I really love.

But there's a catch to this whole energy business- something I had to learn the hard way. Being a leader, it is easy to make yourself work extra hard to accomplish your task because of all this energy you possess. But the raw fact here is that the people you are leading most likely do not feel this energy. In fact, they probably don't feel the need to work hard, since they don't feel the same sense of responsibility that you, as a leader, do. I realized that this is a dilemma a leader faces- between his personal idealism and the realism of the team.

Different approaches can be used to solve this issue.

One solution is for the leader to take a larger burden and allow the others to take it easy. But this approach is rather individualistic- not efficient and/or good for the team.

A better solution would be to involve the entire team. You could do this by appointing micro-leaders within the team and shift some of the responsibilities below, thereby allowing the team to feel that they are working actively and contributing. Of course, the leader must remind these micro-leaders about how important their jobs are. This will motivate them further. Another approach the leader could adopt is to set up an active feedback channel between him and the team. This feedback channel could help reveal flaws in the way the leader works. If the leader amends these flaws and shows the team that the system can be governed by them, then they would feel much more motivated to work. I've seen this style of leadership work very well in OCS.

I'm starting to find these basic human systems very fascinating indeed. This is all just a glimpse of what I'm learning in the military.