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Lead By Example

Some say leaders are born while others say they can be made.

Shobhika Puri

Some say leaders are born while others say they can be made. In either case, leadership is not easy to come. Many people leave no stone unturned to get a coveted position of power and once there, they feel assured that they have become leaders. This is the biggest mistake one can make because leadership is not about the position but about the action.

Indian politics is full of such pseudo leaders who assume to be leading their people just because they have won in an election. They come up with policies after policies in the hope that they shall be followed. Unfortunately, they do not realise that leadership is practiced not so much in words as in attitude and action. One must lead by example. One should walk the talk.

When Manmohan Singh became the Prime Minister for the first time, there were a lot many sceptics who expressed doubts about his leadership qualities. However, six years into power and many, if not all, have changed their opinion about him. He may not be a great orator or aggressive in parliamentary debates, but one thing sets him apart from the rest -- he leads by example. During one of his first foreign visits he asked for foreign currency for his expenses, much to the surprise of the people around. Then, he stood in a long queue to get his licence renewed. Why did the PM of our country have to do this? The answer is symbolism.

Our Parliament sessions are infamous for misbehaviour by our MPs. But, has one ever seen the likes of Manmohan Singh or Sonia Gandhi cross the line? If they expect their MPs to behave themselves, then they ought to lead by example. And this is precisely what they do.

Rahul Gandhi represents the Congress party and the youth of our country. A majority of both do not believe in discrimination of any kind. His act of going to a poor Dalit’s house and having a meal there is symbolic of that. Had he wanted, he could have taken his chef along with him to cook hygienic and sumptuous food for him, but he chose to do otherwise.

Rahul Gandhi also openly defied the Shiv Sena by travelling in a local train in Mumbai soon after the latter vehemently opposed his ‘Mumbai for all Indians’ remark. He neither created brouhaha about his visit nor did he employ any cheap tactics like entering into a verbal fight. He simply acted in what he believed was right.

Attitude of politicians is seeing a sea change not only in India but elsewhere too. Barack Obama portrays the image of a family man. How? Simply by giving his wife the attention she deserves and that too in the public eye. After all, nobody can assume such a high pressure role till he has the support of his family.

The newly elected British PM, David Cameron, won the elections partly because of the image of the common man that he portrayed. Like any other common man, just a day before he was sworn in as the PM, he was seen buying bread from the neighbourhood grocery store. He too, like Obama, walked to the path of victory with his wife by his side.

Some may call all this a pretence, a media image, but let us not miss the wood for the trees. The important thing here is symbolism and not the act per se. The objective is to get the right message across.

Leaders are not restricted to politics alone. Corporate leaders like CEOs or MDs of companies are also realising the importance of leading by example. These days one can spot even the top management standing in long queues to take their lunch, irrespective of their position or power, or even work pressure. Also, increasingly more and more parking slots are being allotted on a first-come-first-serve basis and the concept of reserved parking for the top management is fast diminishing. Infosys and Adobe are befitting examples of this culture.

Ex-Miss Universe Sushmita Sen is actually fulfilling the promises she made before winning the crown. By adopting two girl children she has become a role model for many.

Bollywood stars are leaders in their own light. Onscreen many actors stand for the truth come what may, but in reality, many chicken out. In the 2003 Bharat Shah case, Preity Zinta was the only witness not to retract in court her earlier statements against the Indian mafia. She too set an example for many.

It is not necessary to be in a position of power, or to be in the public eye to become leaders. Even the common people like parents or teachers can become leaders by their actions. A teacher can always be punctual to his class to motivate his pupils to do the same; a parent can always mind his manners in front of the child to make him well behaved and so on…

Thus, a true leader is one who obeys before he commands and one who practices what he preaches. In short, a leader is one who leads by example.

(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer and an LSR(DU) and IIM Lucknow, Noida Campus alumna)