As I think about the essence of leadership, the first thing that comes to mind is that different circumstances sometimes throw up leaders who are right for that situation. But even if you hold aside the situational leader, there are many threads in common for those who lead through all seasons, and I'll share a few here.
Progress owes itself to the demands of the unreasonable man: To be reasonable is to accept the status quo, to accept small gains. You must be unreasonable — have a vision, a change agenda, something that most people would not see or be willing to push. So look around you — what do you see changing that requires a different approach. Learn to pick up on the weak signals —change descends equally on everyone, but a few realise it faster than others.
Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn't have to do it himself: This skeptical view has checked many a leader in his or her tracks. Leadership can only be successful by example. If you expect hard work from others, you have to work the hardest. If you expect breakthroughs, you have to show a few yourself. Never let a formal designation lull you into thinking that you no longer have to contribute. Always balance your time between directing and excelling as an individual.
If it is not important to make a decision, it is important not to make a decision: There is this stereotype of this macho leader spewing a barrage of decisions. The reality could not be more the opposite. You have to learn to live with ambiguity for about as long as needed. There are only two ways to get this mix right. First, use a lot of data for every decision. Irreconcilable differences vanish when enough data is mined. Second, is listen — respectfully and with an open mind to your team. And here the diversity of your team is truly an asset.
Have an infinite faith in yourself: In the jungles outside Bangalore there are many elephant camps where one can see huge elephants chained to a tiny stake. I wondered why the elephants do not just pull them out of the ground. I was told that as calves when they are tied to this stake, they try very hard to pull, but cannot, and reconcile themselves to being tied down by the stake. But as they grow bigger and stronger, they are mentally still tied to that stake and do not even try to break free. This then brings me to the next leadership idea — have an infinite faith in yourself. The problem in being a leader is that there is no one to say 'well done', no one to reconfirm your agenda against the whirlwinds of uncertainty you face every day.
Always reinvent yourself and start afresh: Jack Welch, previous chairman of General Electric, said that he loved international trips, because every time he came back he would pretend that he had just been appointed CEO, that this was his first day at the office and that the guy before him was quite a dud. He would come up with scores of things he would do differently. And this brings me to my last leadership idea — always reinvent yourself.
So in a nutshell, catch the wave of change for therein lies opportunity.