Saturday, June 6, 2009

A leader without followers

Technically speaking, a person is a leader if and only if he has followers. However, there is nothing technical about leadership. The definition of leadership neither needs to be logically correct as it is not purely science nor does it need to be centuries old definition found in dictionaries as it is not an art that somebody created and it stays as it is till eternity. In fact these definitions are misleading.

According to, "A leader is someone who has the authority to tell a group of people what do to. A leader can also represent a group of people." I disagree. Mahatma Gandhi was a leader and when he became a leader, he had absolutely no authority. He proved to be even greater a leader by choosing not to accept the position of authority but continuing as a leader. Leadership and authority are two different things. They have a small area of intersection but the bottom line is one can be a leader without any authority and one can have all the authority and no leadership.

Another definition that I have come across is, "Leader is a person who has followers." I disagree. Firstly, a person can be a self leader. Leading self is the first rung on the leadership ladder, followed by one on one leadership, group leadership and finally organizational leadership. A person who can lead himself well is a leader without followers. It is possible that a leader has no followers because people around him either fail to see the leader within them or they are just not the follower type. Sometimes the leaders are so great that they lead without making other realize and without making others their followers.

A child who consoles another child and comforts him when he is hurt is a leader. A child who offers to lend his notebook to another child who has missed a lesson or two is also a leader. A driver who stops by to offer help to a person standing besides his car with a flat tyre waiting for help is a leader too. I am not saying doing other persons work is leadership.

Some other definitions define leader as the top guy in the organization. I again disagree. For being a leader you neither need to be a CEO nor you need to have that prime corner office. Leadership can be done from anywhere in an organization and a real leader is a 360 degree leader. He leads his bosses, his peers and his reports. He even leads the people who are not his direct reports. He does not need a leadership tag or a position. He does not even need any followers or recognition.

The best definition of leadership that I have known so far is, "A leader is a person who with his deliberate effort unleashes the capabilities and inner strengths of himself and that of others for a greater good."

This definition neither talks about followers nor any authority because both are irrelevant. It does not talk about accomplishment because leadership is not about results. Leadership is an open ended journey and a choice that people make, sometimes deliberately and sometimes without realizing when they do it.

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