Friday, September 5, 2008


What are the qualities of a good leader?

Leadership is always in a particular context. You could be placed in a leadership position in business, in military, in politics, or in an emergency situation. Every situation will demand a different set of qualities in a leader, in preference to another set. However, certain qualities are pretty much the same across the board, I believe.

Regarding the question - I believe the most important quality that a leader must have is 'Vision' - a vision that can encompass all those that follow, and more. The vision should be able to touch people's inner cravings and these cravings are, I believe, much larger than just one self. Gandhiji could inspire millions of people to give up violence and give themselves to lathi charges by the police, without retaliating. Humans crave for freedom and he could sense that yearning of people's souls and could provide leadership to reach this goal of freedom, and finally Indian independence. The next quality is the ‘ability to inspire’ by translating that vision – translation into something more practical for the followers. A translation of how the stated vision would help the followers satisfy that inner craving. Remember the ‘I have a dream……..’ speech by Martin Luther King. Barack Obama is today living that dream in U.S. politics. That was the inspirational context of Martin Luther King’s speech. He was also inspired by Mahatma Gandhi. Next quality is the ability to 'lead by example', which implies self belief, honesty and integrity. Finally, of course the leader has to have lots of empathy – a quality that helps the leader get to know the inner feelings and struggles of each of his followers.

Are people born as good leaders, or can good leaders be bred?

I do believe that there are some gifted, born leaders. However, there are an even larger number of people who transcend their own limitations and become really good leaders. To be a good leader, you first need to be a good follower. It is very important for a follower to find someone who can touch his soul, and then follow this person with a great amount of trust. When you can do this, you are right on track to becoming a good leader. Leadership qualities will be evident to you when you follow a good leader. And if you are a good follower, you will automatically imbibe the right qualities and internalize them. This is a process which takes time, the duration varying with how closely and truthfully you follow the leader. Good leaders are born but they become great by working towards meeting the aspirations of others. In NDA, we had a motto of ‘Service before Self’. Any officer who has lived up to this motto has always done himself, his service, and his followers proud, every time. As a leader, you need to put yourself last, and the dichotomy is, if you are a really good leader your followers will never let you be last.

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