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Don’t be that Leader!

, January 1, 2015, 0 Comments

Leader MarketExpress-inWho is a good leader? You must have asked this question to yourself countless times. How to become a good leader, how to spot a good leader, how to engage with a leader, how to learn from a leader, how to change our leader,….In our professional and personal lives, we must have dealt with at least one of the questions listed above.

Hence, leadership is an issue even if you are not the leader. In our day lives, we have to encounter situations of either having to lead or being lead. Leadership lessons can come from anywhere. Here are three scenarios that I would want to analyse but with no guarantee of any conclusion:

  1. Be that Elephant
  2. Be that Dhoni &
  3. Be that Ravikumar

Be that Elephant

From Harvard to Mckinsey, many have analysed leadership lessons from elephant herd. Much against the conventional wisdom in the animal world that the mightiest and fiercest makes it to the leadership throne, the largest of all animals (elephant) place age and wisdom as priorities for becoming the leader of the herd.

The elephant herd usually is a large family with several members. However It is usually the oldest matriarch that is crowed as the leader clearly showing emphasis on experience, wisdom and knowledge. Unlike the lion kingdom where it is the strongest male lion that adorned the leadership mantle, why is the emphasis in the elephant herd more on age and wisdom ?

Elephants have become good case studies for leadership primarily because the matriarch leader is known for the following: can enable survival of the herd through intelligent decision making, is compassionate, provides inspiration, excellent in cooperation, highly effective communicators, and possess knowledge and wisdom assimilated over years of observation. For wNt of space, let me expand on one triat I.e survival.

The key to survival for elephants is to remember water holes during drought. In search of water, the herd walks thousands of miles and here is where the key is. One wrong estimate and the entire herd would be walking the wrong path where the result is normally nothing but death. It is for this reason experience, memory and wisdom is given more priority than other attributes to select a leader. Normally the matriarch is 60+ when she takes over the leadership role. The buzz words highlighted exclude terms like aggressive, authoritative, and innovative; normally used otherwise to describe a leader.

Be that “Dhoni”

“A Leader Should Know How to Manage Failure” This is what Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam once said about leadership and Mahendra Singh Dhoni was a great example of that. He ruled Indian test cricket for the longest period of time (2005-2014) in spite of having the worst overseas track record (only 20% win).

M S Dhoni stats

  Matches Won Lost Drawn % of Win
Home 30 21 3 6 70
Away 30 6 15 9 20
Total 60 27 18 15 45


He is the third highest in the number of international matches played (Kumar Sanghakara being the highest), fifth in terms of all-time dismissals (Mark Boucher being the first), 11th highest run scorer in test match (Sachin Tendulkar being the number one), third highest run scorer among “wicket keeper captains” (Adam Gilchrist being the top). No firsts anywhere, but still ruled Indian test cricket for 10 long years and retired on his own terms. How was that possible?

Firstly, he showed tremendous composure under extreme pressure, a trait much needed in what has turned out to be an extremely competitive game. No wonder he was described as “Kaptain cool”.

Secondly, in a game where traditional stalwarts held on to their positions more on their past track records than on current performance, he reposed faith in young talents much against conventional wisdom. Thirdly, He takes the blame in failures, and credits his colleagues in successes. And like how Abdul Kalam said, he learns from his failures.

Be that “Ravikumar

Who the hell is he? For those not familiar with Tamil film industry, this should be a natural reaction! However, K.S. Ravi Kumar, is arguably one of the most successful, highly sought after film maker of the Tamil film fraternity. He has directed more than 40 films, worked with all leading names (Rajnikanth, Kamal Hasan, etc.), and has been an iconic film maker for the last 25 years.

While most of his films are major hits, the notable among them is the Rajikanth starrer Muthu, which became popular even in Japan. Film making (director) is arguably the most intensive profession where your leadership skills are put to intense scrutiny. While a typical corporate CEO has at least 3-4 years to prove his leadership mettle, here the name of the game is success and success alone. Hence, to rule such an intensely competitive industry for 25 long years is not a joke. What sets K.S. Ravikumar apart?

  • All his movies are produced with a commercial format in a masala genre with the typical themes of action, comedy, sentiment etc (stick to your core competency)
  • His team of writers and assistants are the same (be loyal to your team)
  • Renowned for his quick schedules and prompt completion of his projects (efficiency)
  • Stays within his budget allotments (efficiency)
  • Always works with established actors than new comers (don’t take risk with others money!)
  • Rescripts the plot to suit the lead actor (be adaptive)
  • Highly temperamental (show authority where required)

Does this not read like a corporate scorecard for the most successful managers? In a recent interview, when queried about the secret of his success, he said none of the above. Rather he quipped “concentration” as the mantra. He opined that once you concentrate completely on the task on hand, everything else follows!

Leadership is not a science for us to derive exact rules that can work. We have seen here three very different situations where different lessons were learnt. Examples of good leadership can come from unexpected places, but the lessons are precious.

Wishing you a great 2015!