What is Leadership? (Part 2)

VKS 1-8-13By Verinder Syal

(This is the second part of a two part post on leadership. To read the first part click here.)

In the first part of our post we discussed what leadership means and how to start taking on leadership positions. Now we’ll discuss how to ensure you’re being a good leader.

“The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers. Some are prophets, others thinkers. But without followers there can be no leader.”—Peter Drucker

Let me start by saying that followers are not coerced followers, nor followers by virtue of a title or bound by a religion, caste, or some other commonality. Followers are voluntary and it is a cause, an idea, a philosophy, or a common goals that binds them.


“An effective leader is not someone who is loved or admired. He (or she) is someone whose followers do the right things. Leadership is not rank, privileges, titles, or money. It is responsibility.” –Peter Drucker

George Washington could easily have been elected “King” of a grateful nation if he so wanted. Instead, he left power willingly. Contrast this with Mao, Hitler, Stalin, Hoffa, Hussein, Castro, and Chaves. Did any of them leave voluntarily? Che Guevara was intelligent, literate, well-read, and occasionally charming—all typical characteristics of leaders. Fundamentally, he was a murderer and a despot (the Hollywood makeover not withstanding).

People are often misled by visions that such despots espouse. They always cloak themselves in lofty ideas and even engage in some seemingly good acts. In the work place, the idea is the same. If you only put on a façade of caring for your employees or coworkers while secretly working for yourself, the truth will eventually come out. You might be able to act and succeed for a while but it will never last and the results can be devastating—far more difficult to deal with than acting for the greater good from the beginning.

Understanding the limits of leadership.

Leadership is not a degree or skill set that can be easily transported across all walks of life. Being good in sports does not make you a good spouse or being a good actor does not necessarily give you great insight into economics or politics.

A few years ago a small group of us had dinner with the former President of South Africa, President De Klerk, the man who freed Nelson Mandela. He was mesmerizing when he recounted his thought process and the events that led to his decision to free Mandela. A halo seemed to hover over him. He then decided to answer questions related to the Middle East and other world affairs—and revealed himself to be an absolute idiot.

Even great leaders such as Mandela and the Dalai Lama can fall into similar categories. Such leaders may be good at liberating a country, but they often lack the basic economic knowledge to run it thereafter. Jobs are presently being outsourced from South Africa to Poland and the Dalai Lama, a man I admire spiritually, recently professed his continuing zeal for communism—so much for understanding political and economic freedom!

As we discussed in the first post, this is where humbleness plays a role. As you become a leader, become a great leader by recognizing when to allow others to express their own expertise. Do not micromanage; let others shine and use their own skills. This will only make them respect your leadership more than if you try to prove yourself an expert in every realm. Leadership is a continuous process, so make sure you take time to reflect and see how you’re really effecting others as often as possible.

We’ll finish off our thoughts on leadership with a good rule of thumb for evaluating leaders: Would you follow them? If not, why would you ask others to do so?

Verinder Syal is an entrepreneur having started Filterfresh of Chicago and Syal Consult. He also teaches highly regarded classes on Entrepreneurship, and Leadership at Northwestern and guest lectures at Loyola Universities in the Chicagoland area. He has run both large companies and small ones at Quaker Oats, Stella Foods, Rymer Seafood.

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