Leadership is an interesting position to be in. Most of us aspire to be there and really work hard to make it to the top. A leader’s life is perceived to be glamorous: (s)he controls the entire organisation, gets to meet the who’s-who of the industry, and travels the world. I got into a leadership role at a very young age, and let me tell you that if you cut out all the ‘glamour’, being a leader is not as easy as it looks. I’m yet to see a day where the percentage of good news outweighs the bad news and there is no crisis to manage. Most of my time at work gets consumed managing things that went wrong and coming up with solutions to the crisis. After all this, I barely get time to be with my family and friends.
As a leader you are expected to be energetic, highly motivated and to exude positivity at all times. This is an irony, considering that you’re in the midst of negativity. Yet, you are expected to be that so-called superpower who can handle everything that comes your way. In light of all the responsibilities and expectations, leadership is often associated with burnout, depression and anxiety. We often see most leaders walk away by either retiring early or opt to do things that fuel their passion like traveling, farming or photography. This behaviour of leaders makes me wonder why a person would go for a role which s/he is not ready for or is not passionate about. If I really am happy with what I’m doing, then instead of walking away from it, I will pursue it with greater determination and tackle the challenges that come along.
Analysing the fundamentals of leadership further, it is important to look beyond the materialistic gains—which I feel are always short-lived. For instance, when you buy your first TV or car, it may give you happiness initially, but a few months down the line, the same things won’t make any difference. Similarly, once you cut all the glamour out and get down to brass tacks, leadership is just about the responsibility of meeting expectations.
The essence of being a successful leader
Circumstances and challenges will always remain for any leader. Successful leaders are the ones who rise above it all and make their mark in their respective fields. Leadership is all about being the calmest person in the severest of storms. I feel the calmest place when a storm arises is the centre of it, not the sides or fringes where there are chances of being sucked into the storm. This analogy very well articulates the characteristics that a leader needs to have. (S)he must be well-centred and rooted despite all the crises around, so as to remain in control of the situation at all times. However, the centre of the storm is a delicate position to be in. The slightest diversion can wreak havoc. A lot of discipline and mental training is required to beat the negativity and be calm and self-motivated.
Many educational courses and motivational talks may tell you that stress is an integral part of leadership and one can manage it by taking a break from work in some manner: such as going on a vacation. However, nobody talks about the mental conditioning of a leader and the fact that it is a tough and demanding job, which needs you to stay affirmative even when things are falling apart around you. I think that mindfulness, the ability to look at things dispassionately, having a high degree of empathy and looking at business as not just a means of earning, but something that serves your purpose in life to make a difference, will help you gain mental strength to move back to the centre of storm and lead with grit and determination. Moreover, having ‘yesterday’s’ mental framework will neither benefit you or your business, but will pull you down further. Hence, it’s essential to be relevant considering today’s age of hyper-connectivity where information flows at a supersonic speed.
Influence on the organisation
I am yet to meet a person who is able to calm others by being stressed himself or herself. Just like you cant pass on wealth if you don’t have any yourself, you cannot help colleagues stay calm and handle their stress if you’re not calm yourself. I firmly believe that the ideology of the leader resonates with the organisation; what becomes of the leader, becomes of the organisation as well. A stressed leader with no compassion and purpose in life can’t expect that the organisation or employees be otherwise. Before managing stress of your colleagues, you need to introspect on whether you are in a position to give and be compassionate towards yourself, and only if you are, you are capable to lead and motivate people around you.
Stress is a factor that comes along with leadership. Accepting everything that leadership entails, being at peace with oneself, having compassion and the will to do better, be better and motivate others to be at their best is the way of a leader.