Choosing a Leader

The qualities of a good leader are well known – ability to provide a vision, belief in himself and in the team, ability to reduce scatter and focus and above all excellent work ethics. There are others that are situation specific but you get the drift. I see a rather disturbing trend in the corporate sector – and this is not just in India – of creating a hierarchy that goes like this. A good performer can be made a good manager who in turn can be made into a good leader. It is undeniable that in some cases this sequential move can and possibly does make sense but making this a norm has dangerous consequences.

I keep a curious eye on companies that promote COOs to CEOs. A good majority of those companies fall into the leadership trap where they concentrate too much on internal workings (a COO’s forte) rather than leading the business externally with customers. Interestingly, many Investment Bank watchers look out for this cue (of COO’s made CEOs) as a sign that the Bank is in desparate need to clean up its house.

Team sports are even more interesting. While it is necessary for the team to have an on-field captain, the parameters that often dictate the choice is quite polar to the reason why a leader should be present in the first place. Selectors often play it safe by choosing a good performer because that ensures continuity, glossing over the potential absence of leadership qualities in the chosen one.

Americans display a different set a parameters while selecting their leader (the President, that is). Shashi Tharoor argues that often those parameters are quite not what the electorate in general posses yet they demand that their leader has them!

It is fascinating to observe the process by which different functions from different walks of life choose their leaders.

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