I What I liked about the topic (Positive emotions)
The book ’On Leadership’ by John W. Gardner discusses several aspects of leadership qualities and analyses what it means to be an effective leader. The book introduces several leadership concepts to me, most of which I wasn’t aware of before. Although there are several important and interesting attributes or ideas in the book, I was particularly excited to know that certain leaders and managerial leaders could be distinguished from the general pack of managers in quite a few ways. These leaders are able to reach out and influence people and circumstances, even beyond their jurisdiction. They are able to successfully reach beyond bureaucratic boundaries which is definitely a big advantage in a very complex world, where everything is handled ‘through appropriate channels’. These people also have the political skill to meet the conflicting demands of the various stakeholders. Today, the various stake holders of an organization like shareholders, employees, suppliers, public, and environmental protectionists; all want the organization to act differently at most times. It is here the role of a leader becomes too evident. He needs to satisfy all segments while sustaining the short and long term goals of the organization.
The book threw several valuable attributes of leadership that really inspired me to become a leader. The book identifies two attributes of leadership as being the core functionalities. These are goal setting and motivating. Leaders resort to goal setting in various ways. Some interpret their vision of how best the organization can be and assert this as their goal. Some leaders associate goals to solutions for existing problems, while others try to consolidate divided groups by establishing overarching goals, seeking consolidation and focus of energies. With regard to motivation, Gardiner emphasizes that effective leaders are capable of leveraging collective action in order to achieve shared goals. They create an optimum environment for effort, discipline and drive that can lead to realization of great performances.
What I didn’t liked about the topic (Negative emotions)
Although the leadership attributes discussed by Gardiner are highly valuable and introduced several concepts to me, there are instances I am still not fully convinced. For instance Gardiner says that leaders require being symbols of collective identity and can rarely speak for themselves as an individual. A leader’s individual identity should mostly be in alignment with that of the group’s aspirations, therefore speaking for self or speaking for the group should complement each other rather than being in conflict.
Another point I fail to agree is the need of courage for leaders. A leader needs to think strategically and when certain things require bold decisions, he or she require putting this across to his followers to get an opinion. So basically it involves careful analysis of options and circumstances, and chalking out the optimum solution. I think, it doesn’t require a leader to be courageous to achieve great outcomes, as long as he knows the rights involved and the ways to establishing it. Courageousness at times may involve huge risks, which a leader shouldn’t take unanimously.
Gardiner also points out that many of the changes leaders strive to establish might take considerable time to be implemented. He mentions that leaders could even see just little results despite heroic efforts in their lifetime, given the long public debates and slow shift in attitudes. I think this might hold well in political circles but in all other domains, leadership effects are instantly evident. In a well connected, shrunken world of today, contemporary organizations require to quickly realize the changes it intends to incorporate.
With regard to leadership and power, the author describes these two as distinguishable attributes. The author goes on to say that leaders have power but that many power holders have no leadership traits. In my view leaders should have the necessary power that encompasses his sphere of working. Only when the leader has the power to implement his decisions, he can be effective. So therefore leaders should have power and power is an integral aspect of leadership.
What did I learn?
Although there are a few points in the book that failed to instill a positive reaction in me, the rest of the material is valuable and educated me on many unrealized facts on leadership. Leadership is indispensable to any organization and the functioning of any organization is reflected in its leadership. Leadership has been closely studied and well documented so that aspiring leaders can understand how an effective leader is made.
Leaders are not just associated with functions like approvals and refusals, but should also exhibit qualities like vision, belief, trust, power, motivation, adherence to values, intelligence judgment etc. The nature of the setting or the group to be led has considerable bearing on the type of leadership that would be effective for it. The leadership style for a particular group would depend on several factors like the age of individuals of the group, their education, group cohesiveness, motivation etc. Thus leading an organization, leading a street gang or leading a nation; all require different attributes.
The book highlights several important and less perceived facts about leadership. Bringing out several unique qualities of leadership, the book also highlights another little known fact that leaders could suffer from the mistakes of their predecessors and likewise make mistakes to be resolved by their successors. Another crucial fact is that as organizations and societies too age, leaders should ensure that the systems they control are under constant renewal. While stating that stress could affect the ability of the leaders and limit their performance, the book notes that leaders could often be targets of hostile criticism.
The book ‘On Leadership’ is an ideal one for anyone intending to get an in-depth idea of what leadership is. It is indeed a handbook for any aspiring leader, although he or she may introspect at the validity of certain points projected in it. Leading from the front may not be easy, but then it is something that can be learnt.