Leadership, a lifelong journey!

Charm, inspirational presence and great communication skills only do not make a leader. What we ought to look for are the competencies, Suresh Raina observes.

Charm, inspirational presence and great communication skills only do not make a leader. What we ought to look for are the competencies, Suresh Raina observes.

People keep asking a question, “Is leadership learned or is it something a person is born with? The argument that goes in favour of a born leader is that the essential personality traits of the individual are pretty much set by the time you become an adult and there is not much you can do about it. However where we fail is to recognise “Competency” that is cultivated, and skills and knowledge that gets refined over a life time.

People often mistake personality traits for leadership. Attributes such asenergy, maturity, inspirational presence, communication,charm, empathy, among many others are taken as leadership attributes.What we miss out on and ought to be looking for are the competencies to go along with the personality traits! We need to avoid putting too much emphasis on personality traits and not to neglect the competencies that one needs to build and rebuild organisations.

Highly experienced people, senior professionalsand corporateboard members make mistakes while hiring CEOs and leaders, getting influenced by the personality traits, overlooking the competencies, only to realise much later, that they hired a wrong individual. The true leaders polish their competencies over a lifetime; this is what they are trained to do.

True Leaders do not learn about leadership by attending leadership workshops and reading leadership books. They study successful people deeplyand accordingly modifying their behaviour after them. One needs to realise that personality traits reinforcecompetencies and competencies reinforce traits, it is a virtuous cycle.

Competency separates performers, it helps position the business for future, enables to pin point change. Competency allows you to build the right team by getting the best talent, judge people and place them in roles that in turn match their competency. To detect patterns of impending change in the external environment, you need to lead a business in today’s challenging environment.

Success needs to come on a sustained basis, leaders continuously hone their skills. When we talk about competency or talent, the names Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan immediately spring to mind with their thousands of hours of dedication and practice. Learn, practice and refine the talent, it comes after years of practice. Business competency is not taught in school, it comes from the field, and takes years before it becomes instinctive to be exercised at the right time.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the Ten Thousand Hour rule in his book, ‘Outliers’ “No one succeeds at a high level without innate talent, achievement is talent plus preparation.”One also needs to understand what your strength is; each person needs to be linked to his/her own competency matrix. Each good decision reinforces the competency, and a wrong decision helps move away from it. It helps to select the right assignments along with self reflection to imbibe the learnings.

For example afinanceprofessional who lacks sales and client facing experience, or a sales leader who lacks financial understanding. For another the weak area could be people judgement. Competency requires innate intelligence; cognitive bandwidth is necessary to look at various points of view. A leader needs to build competency to have both, a 50,000 ft view for conceptual thinkingand at the next moment a worm’s eye view for understanding the ground situation.


The competencies to look for are:

• Ambition: Whether you push yourself and others. Ambition shoud not be blind though.

• Drive and tenacity: Seeking solutions, drilling down problems requires high energy.Search for information and clues, keep tweaking till it gets to work and till you find the result.

• Self confidence: A leader has to endure lonely moments. You must speak your mind and sufferconsequences; fight your personal demons and yet not be arrogant. It allows you to experiment, try new things without fearing a risk of failure

• Open Mind: Explore, be open to external influences and accept change. Seek information and diverse opinions proactively. Be transparent and not inclined to classifyingeverything.

• Balance: Are you balanced;do you have a realistic view? While being confident, do not become overambitious and make wrong judgements about business and people. A fine balance between optimism and pessimism the key.

• Appetite for learning: Competency gets built over time. Be eager to learn, and seek challenges and experiences that allow you to learn.