Clarity and the big chair

I’m reminded of a story I read somewhere. A traveller met a man who was chiselling stone blocks. He looked very sad. When asked what he was doing, the man said, “I have been told to carve stone blocks. I am tired of doing the same work over and over again. It is boring.” As the traveller went further, he met another man, doing the same work. But this man hummed a tune as he worked with his chisel. “What are you doing?” asked the traveller. “Oh! I’m building a mansion,” said the man proudly.

Leadership is all about the big picture. For most people, it is either destiny or determination, or generous dollops of both which lead them to occupy coveted positions. But getting there is just the beginning of the story. People often start off with loads of optimism. They have checklists and plans of how to change things, and the first few weeks always look promising. And then things start petering off. Leaders who can articulate their vision to their subordinates go a long way.

Mahatma Gandhi was never a great orator or someone who was physically attractive. He didn’t have a formal leadership position. And yet he had the entire country smitten by him. How was he able to achieve that feat? He was a leader because he succeeded in conveying his dream of freedom from the British yoke to his countrymen.  His basic principles of ahimsa (non-violence) and satya (truth) stayed intact, irrespective of of what methods he used. He never lost sight of the larger vision.

Leadership cannot be practised in board rooms or closed chambers.  Each member needs to clearly know where the organization is headed. The more transparent and fair decisions are, the sooner will a leader be accepted.  It is painful to see leaders use the big opportunity to cut others to size, or make popular decisions to win brownie points. They will often tell you what to do and how to do, but forget to refer to the basic question: why are we doing something? When people haven’t a clue of what is happening in a leader’s head, the number of hours of work they put in will always be meaningless. There is no joy in working when you don’t feel ownership of success.

The credibility leaders gain is not just through hard work. It is by transmitting the passion and the dream to everyone who works under them. The ability of a leader to zoom in quickly- from the bird’s eye view to the target to be achieved – matters. Not everyone gets the opportunity to lead. And it needs vision to leave behind a legacy one can be proud of.



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