Leadership is PLURAL ! – an article by Vidusha Nathavitharana

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There is something fundamentally wrong with how we approach leadership.  Since time immemorial our approach to leadership has been to look at ‘great individuals’ who had power and influence, derive their traits and behaviours and theorise around it.  We forgot one fundamental basic : the word itself.

Leadership is a verb.  An act.  A process.  Leadership therefore is the PROCESS of guiding a group/team towards a common objective.  By very definition, ANYONE who partakes in this process or activity therefore is a leader.  The mistake we make is to only identify those in positional power to be the ‘leaders’ and expect others to follow : after all, if no one is there to follow who is leading ? is the question that is often posed.

This thinking is dangerous.  Leadership is not about power.  Its not about one person taking helm and making it happen – it NEVER happens because of just one person.  We have made the great error of ‘blowing people up’ and subscribing all the success to this one near ‘mythical’ person.  Is this actually the case ?

Was Alexander the SOLE reason for the conquests ?  Was the Mahatma the SOLE reason for India’s independence ?  Was Nelson Mandela the SOLE reason for the abolishing of Apartheid ?  Certainly these celebrated leaders were able to galvanise others towards the common cause : but, so did many others, each in their own right : and the COLLECTIVE leadership effort is what brought the result.  So, why do we home in and single out one person ?  This historical anomaly which started through the chroniclers of the kings who painted themselves larger than life and very careful about how they ‘portrayed’ their ‘leaders’ continues to this date : and therefore, we make the horrible mistake of assuming that these monumental moments in history (of an organisation or a nation) is the result of ONE MAN’s (or woman’s) leadership.  Nothing can be further than the truth.

Leadership must, and should be existing throughout an organisation – at every level.  Mere ‘followers’ are not enough : there needs to be leaders at every level who work tirelessly towards the common objective.  Its the objective that galvanises and moves people as much as the leader.  Loyalty to the person and not the cause is what creates despots and tyrants : as well as egotistical bosses!  It is also the reason why many organisations fail – because ultimately the whole things is centred around one person, and everyone else merely follows : take the person out, the entire organisation collapses.

Leadership is a collective exercise.  For sustainable, strong, value centric organisations, it is imperative to groom and grow leadership at every tier of the organisation.  Assuming that the CEO is the ‘Leader’ is both foolish and wrong.  The CEO certainly should be a leader : as should the Senior Management, the Middle Management, the Executive and non executive tiers.  NO ONE should follow : they should ALL take leadership : which is, to drive towards the objective set.  Without this effort, the organisation will always need to be ‘pushed.’

At different levels of the organisation, different types of leadership and attributes are required.  This is why we need to be careful in how we peg competencies.  Each level must dovetail back to the overall objectives and direction.  As such, ensuring that each layer actually compliments the other holds the key.

Leadership IS plural.  Unless you have slave labour and the ability to resort to violent reprisals which the ages gone by DID resort to, the traditional leadership model fails on every count.  It is morally wrong, and counter productive in the long term.  ‘Superhuman’ leaders leave a trail of greed, ego and hollow values behind : as many a scandal in both politics and business will aptly demonstrate. The reason for all this malady is our nonsensical veneration of one person.  Unless leadership is looked upon as a plural and a collective exercise, we will forever be subjected to tyranny and abuse.

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