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The Leadership Phenomenon

Leadership - is it inborn or can it be cultivated? What are the implications of being a leader in the modern world? Preliminary thoughts on the subject that has fascinated philosophers, psychologists and poets over the millennia.
BY Skendha Singh |   20-01-2015
The archetypal image of a leader has been that of a man or woman standing above an adoring mass of followers, “like a tower upon a headlong rock”, as Lord Byron wrote of Napoleon, “made to stand or fall alone . . .

The subject of leadership has attracted the attention of philosophers and thinkers across cultures and ages, from Plato to Chanakya to Marx. Modern psychologists, business managers and organisations remain preoccupied with this phenomenon.

Discarding the jargon, there is a central question about leadership, and it is this:

Is leadership inborn or can it also be cultivated?

Norman Schwarzkopf, the well-known US army general, believed that leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. And while character is innate, strategies can be taught and acquired. That these strategies are crucial for personal satisfaction and professional success is unquestionable.

According to Psychology Today:
“Great leaders possess dazzling social intelligence, a zest for change, and above all, vision that allows them to set their sights on the "things" that truly merit attention. . .”

‘Dazzling social intelligence’ includes the ability to read and manage the emotions, interactions and responses in a social/interactive context. Social intelligence is within the purview of interpersonal skills and what, eventually, makes the difference between mediocrity and excellence. These skills are prime capital in today’s world and can catapult a candidate to the top. Again, in this age of networking - virtual and real, social intelligence remains crucial to gracefully navigating through complex situations and managing relationships.

A leader is no leader without the capability to inspire the best in other people. And this comes from creating bonds and building trust. One way is to expect the same standards from others as one delivers oneself. Shelley Lazarus, Chairperson of Ogilvy and Mather Worldwide, emphasizes the importance of judging people on the basis of essentials: results achieved, contributions made, rather than by superficial criteria such as hours logged in at work. As a professional who has successfully raised a family herself, and created a healthy work – life balance, this is a good example of flexibility and intelligence, which are hallmark traits.

Leadership can be learned not only from the best teacher, experience; but also, from opportunities such as Knowledge@Wharton High School Global Young Leaders Academy, which offer a chance to mingle with peers from diverse backgrounds, intimate access to a different culture, as well as training in personal leadership, speech craft, persuasion, organizational capability and social responsibility, apart from academic classes.

This makes it evident that the old image of the leader is misleading. Leadership is impossible in a vacuum. Confidence, social intelligence, and the ability to create trust in our relationships are essential. As Byron went on to say of Napoleon,

“men's thoughts were the steps which paved thy throne,
Their admiration thy best weapon shone. . .”

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