“I must follow the people. Am I not their leader?” - Benjamin Disraeli
I am away from home at an intensive residential workshop for my work for several days, so this means that almost all of my waking time is being taken up by all sorts of activities, both work-related but also team-building, social ones. At least it is in a very beautiful location about 45 or so minutes away from the city, far away enough to immerse oneself totally in the activities and workshop, but at the same time near enough to mean that can get here easily, a leisurely drive against the traffic at peak time. The facilities are world standard and the complex is huge.
The first day has been quite good with a lot of interesting experiences, not the least of which was an extended discussion of leadership versus authority. A leader of course is a person whose personality, communication skills, knowledge and experience helps him or her to guide a group of people in a direction the leader believes is the desirable and “right” way to go. On the other hand a person with authority uses their position of power to tell a group of people which direction to take. The key difference is in the power of the person that determines the course his or her followers take.
Leaders are trusted for their judgment and respected for their expertise, integrity and in some ways their charismatic gift. They tend to be followed because of the influence they are able to exert without telling their followers what to do. If people follow them, it is because people agree with the way the leader presents a certain course of action as the “right” one, and not because the leader holds a certain position of authority. For example, Mahatma Gandhi for most of his life did not hold any official position to lead the Indian freedom struggle.
A figure of authority wields power because of the position he or she holds. Authority rarely provides a scope for feedback, constructive criticism or opinions of the people on whom it is exercised. Acceptance of orders given by the person in power is generally the way the authoritarian model operates on. Authoritarianism is in most Western countries a questionable manner of governing, or running a company or even the way in which a family operates. Formal authority and power emerging from it, might not always be able to influence people in the desired manner as in times of crisis and difficulties people may view it as coercion. Sole use of authority to direct and discipline free-thinking adults rarely works. Such heavy-handed authority is unlikely to make people change their attitudes and behaviours. Exercising authority may not exploit the talent of one's followers and it often limits the approaches to arrive at innovative solutions for issues and problems.
Good leaders provide multiple ways in which their followers may communicate with them, and opportunities for feedback. Leadership tends to create followers out of free will and choice without forcing them to accept anything without questioning it. Leadership provides a better approach of striving for desired goals, sharing the work required for achieving these goals and also for involving followers in teamwork that builds rapport amongst the team, thus creating long term fruitful relationships. A leader inspires followers through example and provides a fertile ground for self-development of the followers, thus empowering them to become leaders themselves. Good leadership encourages people to look beyond the obvious and think innovatively and sometimes emerge with radical solutions.
I look forward to the rest of my time here as it will help me develop my skills and enrich the repertoire of ways that I lead my team and engage with them in order to make them work effectively with me in achieving our goals.