Starting with the basics – Who is a leader?Before we move on to the crux of the matter, it is quite necessary to clear up this basic query. In the simplest of terms, a leader is someone who leads. But what exactly do we mean when we say that? What is the meaning of 'leading'? Is it simply throwing your weight around? Or does it include a bit of leniency?
Each and every organization or institution has certain goals to achieve. To achieve these goals, one person is very often inadequate. Therefore a team of several individuals, each with their own varied skills and experiences are appointed to fulfill the organizational goals. However, it is also necessary to channelize the energies of several individuals. Otherwise, instead of being a proper team, it will remain a motley crowd of various persons. Therefore, the position of a leader evolved so that proper channelization of the energies of the team could be done and the goals achieved easily.
When studying about leadership, it can often be useful to take recourse to history. In the last couple of centuries or so, the world has seen some amazing personalities as leaders. Each of them had their own unique personality. Leaders like Gandhi or Nehru appealed to the good sense of their followers. Obviously, they had their own version of strictness and leniency as well whenever necessary. At the exact polar opposite, we also saw leaders like Hitler who, in spite of turning their country into a superpower, are today remembered as 'dictators', rather than as 'leaders'.
How does a leader mould the 'Character' of an institution?So far we have discussed what a leader is. A leader is someone who channelizes the energies of a team to achieve the organizational goals. But take a re look at the title. We have not discussed much of the 'character of an institution' or how a leader influences the character of the institution. Each and every institution has a certain characteristic feature of its own. Certain institutions are welcoming to new members while others are not. Certain institutions believe in winning at any cost, disregarding the consequences. Some others are calmer-headed rather than being aggressive. The inherent character of an institution thus differs.
For cricket fans, it might be easier to understand the subject matter of this article through one or two examples of some famous cricket teams, both of the present as well as the yesteryear. Remember the late 90s and the early 2000s, when Waugh's Australia dominated the cricketing world? The mainstay of that team was the policy of systematic 'mental disintegration' which was inspired by Waugh's attitude itself. They believed in not just defeating their opponents, but grinding them down and inflicting permanent scars on them.
That was the character of that team. And what was the source of that character? Obviously, the role of personalities like McGrath cannot be discounted, but the chief source of that character was the leader of the pack himself. In his autobiography, Waugh has offered us what went through his mind when he asked his fast bowlers to launch bouncer after bouncer on the tail end of the opposition. The attitude rubbed off not just on the rest of the team, but on his successor Ponting as well, under whom the sophisticated techniques of mental disintegration turned into something resembling open aggression. Or you do not need to go that far either. Just look at Virat Kohli's test team. You will understand what I mean when I say that the leader is the source of the institution's character. In the Ranchi test against Australia, when Kohli had to leave the field due to injury concerns and Rahane was made the captain, the entire aggression of the team suddenly disappeared.
And this principle is not just true in sports. Just look at any corporate team and you will understand the importance of a leader. Certain leaders believe in the policy of the stick when dealing with their subordinates. They act with the belief that the subordinates will not do anything if the leader is lenient. Moreover, they are unwilling to accept their own faults. They also refuse to accept the suggestions of their subordinates. Consequently, the 'character' of the institution becomes somewhat similar to that of an authoritarian state. There is a feeling of continually being suppressed. The organization may or may not move forward, that is a different story. But due to the inherent lack of freedom in this team which is, in turn, the result of the leader's behaviour and actions, the organization gets moulded in a particular manner.
Being a good leaderThere can be no doubt by now that the leader is the pivot as well as the engine of the team. A good leader always recognizes the impact that his actions can have on the institution. Being polite to the subordinates and being strict without being impolite, recognizing the hard work that the team has put in and appreciating it accordingly and even wishing the subordinates on their birthdays etc. are some of the simple things which a leader can do (and needs to do) to maintain a healthy team feeling. If a team or an institution's character does not allow the subordinates to feel that they are the part of the team, then a major part of the blame has to go to the leader.
Though we can generally agree to the article subject matter as suggested in the title there can be a reversal also.
We get to see this in many service organisations and even in government departments. Police stations become friendly place for people after a particular person has taken charge. Press and public have more access to a particular minister or Chief Minister or a district collector. In all these cases, the result and effects undergo a paradigm shift even though there are no major changes in the underlying system or infrastructure. Only the leader has changed.
So I am of the view that even the character of an institution can change by the character of the leader.