When people research on leadership titles, they, most of the time, want to learn how to be extraordinary leaders at the workplace. Leadership in the corporate circle is one of the topics in the world, and everyone wants to learn how to become a billionaire and, possibly, be the best boss. However, leadership is not just limited to the work frontier. It extends to all of society. In fact, leadership began as a societal phenomenon much before it evolved into a professional one. Many of the present-day leadership qualities that corporate and professional leaders aspire to could be traced to the exploits of social and political leaders of the yesteryears.
Man is a social being, living together in large groups. Thus, he needed to adopt different roles and accomplish tasks in different groups. In order to give structure to society and help society grow and develop, people were naturally divided into leaders and followers. The leaders paved the way and moved from one frontier to another, directing the others, while the followers completed the tasks assigned to them and helped to build the society.
Understanding the role and impact of extraordinary leadership in society makes for an interesting study. While it is easy to break down the effects of leadership in the work environment into small, easily identifiable structures; analysing how positive leadership affects society is somewhat complex. Society is a many-sided structure, with a myriad of social forces, elements and factors at play all the time. Society is not limited to a few defined goals;instead, if it is in society, it is an enormous task.
Leadership and social change
Leadership is instrumental to achieving social change. All through history, whether it was for abolishing social norms, overcoming social evils or modernising history, social change has been impossible without the right kind of leadership. When it comes to mobilising the masses, igniting passion in people towards a common goal and motivating people to act towards the said common goal, it is not possible to without leadership. Someone has to initiate a movement, and he may not professionally be a leader, and does not have to be a political leader, but he should have the charisma to inspire people and motivate them. A great example from recent times would be that of Anna Hazare, an Indian citizen, who inflamed thousands of Indians against the injustices of the Indian political system and the rampant corruption in society and politics and launched one of the biggest civil movements Asia has seen in a long time. In terms of social change, the leader is the face of the movement while the people form its heart and soul.
Leadership for a positive and content society
It is interesting to note that one person or a small group of people has the power to influence the feelings of many. A society that is bereft of competent leaders is invariably thrown into dissatisfaction at a small scale and turmoil and anarchy at a larger scale. A good leader keeps people motivated and inspired, respects his followers and works for the greater good of society. When people have faith in their leader and feel that they are taken care of, be it economically or socially or politically, they are in a better frame of mind on the whole. Good extraordinary leadership creates a happy society, and a happy society can build a strong nation!
Leadership for improved professional performance
It is quite remarkable that even when social leadership is effective, it has an impact on people’s professions. When a society is led by a powerful, positive and forward-thinking leader, people enjoy professional development. It goes without saying that professional progress is required for economic growth and that no society can do well without financial stability. Hence, good leaders are those that take all factors into consideration, even if their role is limited to a niche.
A positive leader will always be mindful of the fact that people need to keep achieving in their chosen professions in order to lead the society forward, and hence the leader will emphasise the importance of education, picking the right career, working hard and focusing on performance.
Leadership for a strengthened identity
Most people fail to appreciate how a common leader is often the face of the society and a symbol for it. When people elect a leader they are proud of, or they are placed under the care of a leader who does a good job, there is a sense of pride and identification with the individual that also ties the society together. An effective leader is one that people of the society are happy to call their own, and in turn, the leader ends up bringing the society together and giving them a common, positive identity that the people are all happy to have.
Societies are often remembered by their remarkable leaders and not the people; and it is a unique social phenomenon that one man or woman can not only shape the future of several people but can also make them feel closer to one another and strengthen their bonds with each other giving them a common identity.
Extraordinary leaders help ordinary people believe the extraordinary
Though there have been multiple efforts to concisely define the importance of leadership, former U.S. President Harry S. Truman came closest when he said, “In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still.”
Africa has been standing still and there is no better time to have extraordinary leadership than now. Good leadership is often the fuel of progress, be it in a business, organisation or in a nation. Not only can good leaders help oil the nuts and bolts that keep society pushing onward, but they can provide the encouragement and support that help people move things along.
In the last few years, we have borne witness to four prime examples of leadership, all incredibly diverse but equally effective – Barack Obama, Queen Elizabeth II, Garrett Fitzgerald and Jonathan Sexton. All of these individuals are leaders and it is important to think about what makes them extraordinary.
First, Barack Obama, the American President, whose skills as an orator helped him to win the toughest battle for leadership in the world-the American presidency- convinced people to come out in their droves of millions to pledge support for his ideas. He captured the hearts and minds of millions of Americans and people around the world who believed in him.
Many believed that America would never see an African-American president but his charisma led people to identify with him and support his belief that ‘yes, we can’. People believed in his vision and more importantly in his capacity to deliver on it and this facilitated his rise to become one of the most powerful men in the world.
Barack Obama displays many of the qualities needed to be a leader: charisma, a belief in his own abilities, a great use of language and an awareness of human emotion. His delivery of words was convincing and inspiring, and his capacity to communicate has earned him the highest position in public life.
Queen Elizabeth II is another notable example. Many have questioned the ability of monarchs to lead, as they are chosen due to their bloodline as opposed to being elected or chosen by the people. However, HRM Queen Elizabeth continues to show a quality of a true leader, which is often underestimated. She demonstrated humility as a sign of regret for mistakes made by her family in the management of their relationship with Ireland over the years. It takes courage to stand up to an enemy but it takes true bravery to stand against one’s own. This characteristic of humility and her capacity to name her own errors or failings is the mark of true leadership.
Also, Dr Garrett Fitzgerald was a distinguished Irish leader in the 1980s. History may not recall him as a dynamic leader or a charismatic orator like Mr Obama but the outpouring of eulogies spoke of his belief in the ‘Irish brand’ and his belief and concern for the Irish people. This quality is one that exists in the ‘statesman leader’. The statesman leader exudes a certain kind of respect and admiration for intellect and good intention and the ability to represent people in any setting. This type of leadership and identification is different but,nonetheless, an important leadership quality.
Finally, you will remember Jonathan Sexton, the young Leinster Rugby player who apparently spoke out in the dressing room at half time. He spoke out amongst his more senior peers and commanded the room to listen to him. Young Sexton rallied his troops around and began to recount the great comebacks in sporting history and he believed that this his team had the capacity for a similar feat. This leading from the front, self-belief and more importantly the capacity to bring others along with you is one of the most remarkable characteristics of leadership.
In the difficult years that lie ahead, it has never been more important to breed leaders in our young people. So, how do we do it? Daniel Goleman identifies a quality called ‘Emotional Intelligence’. This is the concept of being able to read the emotions of others and being aware of the emotional state of ourselves. This quality, he claims, is far more influential over our lives than academic intelligence. Emotional Intelligence is the capacity to tap into the needs of others, respond appropriately and have an in-depth knowledge of one. This is what creates the capacity to lead. It does not equate that those who score 600 points in their First Leaving School Certificate Exams will grow to become great leaders. It is not the case that success and fortune are the signs of great leaders. Leadership comes in many ways but a firm grasp of one’s own emotions and the ability to communicate effectively with others are essential leadership criteria.
In order to raise leaders for the future, we need to teach young people the power of communication. There is need to encourage interpersonal skills and awareness among them. They must be taught to dream, have hope and doggedly see to the attainment of their goals.
In the same vein, budding leaders must be allowed to experience challenges or adversity and they should not be pampered. At times, there is a great need to taste adversity in order to effectively lead and inspire. One has to lose to know how to win. It is important to experience disappointment, frustration and heartache in order to identify with those who experience it. In fact, it is in times of adversity that true leaders emerge. If heroes are ordinary people who do extraordinary things then leaders are those who help ordinary people believe that extraordinary things are possible. In addition, extraordinary leaders provide the following:
- Motivation. Extraordinary leaders provide motivation and inspiration for a group. Whether they are supporting a group member or providing mentoring, leaders can push a team to achieve things they didn’t know were possible. Motivation can improve morale and productivity, as well as encourage participants to think outside of the box and come up with creative ideas.
- Direction. Extraordinary leaders provide direction forthe group. With different people working in various capacities, it is easy for a group to fall out of touch and not realise how their work might jeopardise other people’s efforts. Good leadership will ensure proper delegation of duties, streamlining of activities, and improvement of the efficiency of a team and their overall productivity.
- Mediation. A nearly inevitable component of group work is interpersonal conflict. Whether this conflict stems from competitiveness, work accountability or simply personal irritation, it can disrupt the working process and drag the production of results or decision making. This is where an extraordinary leader can make a difference. A great leader will be able to step in when necessary to mediate interpersonal conflict, serving as an objective for pushing parties to some form of compromise or reconciliation.
- Prioritising. A commonly used maxim preaches the perils of failing to “see the forest for the trees.” When working on individual components of a task, group members may lose sight of the larger objectives. Leaders are charged with the responsibility of the entire project. They have the perspective necessary to set priorities in the work schedule and ensure that tasks are being completed in the most beneficial manner and on the right schedule.
- Evaluation. The only way a group can work effectively together is if there is some form of accountability. Though it can work in some situations, even levels of authority can lead to an inability to effectively assess and improve upon performance. Extraordinary leadership can aid in continual growth. Because a leader is a level above the group members in authority, he will usually have the experience and perspective necessary to effectively critique work done and provide guidance for improvement.
* This is part of the LEADERSHIP INSPIRATION FOR EXCELLENCE series.
Lere Baale is a Director of Business School Netherlands www.bsnmba.org and a Certified Management Consultant with Howes Group – www.howesgroup.com