I was walking with my boss towards the cafeteria when she started sharing her experience in a recent meeting with the CSO big-wigs. She told me how difficult it is to engage with women who, despite being very efficient leaders, have this strong personalities and uncompromising view on things. My mind drifted away when a coworker joined the conversation and consoled her by changing the topic of discussion. I was drawn to the idea of leadership and I found myself reassessing my archetype of a leader during lunch break.
What are the qualities of a good leader? Do we put order to those qualities or value each the same? Is everyone capable of becoming a leader and how do we become one?
In my three years of being in the “real world”, I have encountered different leadership styles. Some are very hands-on while some dare not do administrative work. Some explain in pain-staking detail while some make vague Confucian statements. Some have very strong personalities and prone to power dressing while some are soft-spoken and rarely dress the part.
Being a subordinate employee, I admit that I have picked up qualities, both good and bad, of the supervisors I have worked for. Such is actually quite normal as our societies and social institutions have encouraged us to become leaders – to dream of becoming managers, supervisors, directors whatever it takes. To bask in those labels and consider it success. Although institutions had good intentions in marketing leadership and success as a package deal, they didn’t teach us how to become one and we only learn through the examples of those who are above us and are therefore, successful.
Are we then breeding the kind of leaders worthy to become models if they are success-driven?
I personally think that there is nothing wrong in aspiring to be successful. We all want to be significant individuals in the respective fields we chose. What perhaps is lacking highlight in our quest to become leaders is the manner in which we become one. I think the process of achieving something is equally important as the outcome itself. How we maneuver our way in these corporate ladders to reach the top will eventually affect how we relate to those below us when we are already in the position to lead. I have heard of insanely effective leaders who treat their subordinates like slaves and I can only shake my head thinking of the time when these subordinates get to be leaders themselves.
The only problem I see with how the concept of leadership is being sold to our generation is the value, or lack thereof, it puts to responsibility and obligation. According to the Uncle of one of the Comic Book greats: “with great power, comes great responsibility” and I can only light my lighter and wave it in the air to show my support for this statement. Leadership puts you in a pedestal that widens your spheres of influence. It is your duty to utilize this opportunity for the greater good of everyone else following you. Leadership is service and that perhaps is the thin line that sets good leaders apart from the rest.
My idea of a good leader is someone who would risk failure to explore least traversed routes. Someone who is liked by his/her colleagues and would willingly share the spotlight with someone deserving of the credit. Someone who reaches out to his/her subordinates and encourages them to do more than what they think is good enough. Someone who recognizes his/her limitations and do not see them as weaknesses. Someone who is human. Come to think of it, all these characteristics are possessed by people I know who don’t even use the labels they worked so hard for and rightfully deserve.
Perhaps, there is no exact formula or pattern that will guarantee that we become good leaders. We only learn through modeling and one of the ways we can try to shape our very own leadership styles is when we surround ourselves with servant leaders more than successful ones. Those who do what they do primarily because they like doing it and are willing to help us in our own pursuit of something bigger than we are. And if you think you are not in this type of nourishing environment, leaving is always an option – sometimes, only to those who are brave enough to walk away and move forward.
I paused for awhile after neatly packing the rice to my spoon and discretely glanced at the faces of those I am having lunch with. I smiled and casually swallowed the last thing I had on my plate. I am in good company after all.