Great Leadership is about Initiating, Sustaining, and Carrying through Ones Vision

Leaders are Made and Need to Have Three Key Characteristics

The cliché that leaders are made and not born signifies the fact that leadership and exceptional leadership at that can be within reach of anyone provided they do the steps needed for effective leadership right. To start with, leaders need a vision, which they can then use to inspire their followers and employees. Of course, there are many who believe that visionary leadership is the exclusive domain of particular individuals because of their unique abilities. However, our contention is that vision can be actualized by anyone who works hard, pays attention to detail, and combines both big picture thinking with nuts and bolts execution. We believe that to actualize exceptional leadership, one need not be a product of the leading business schools or engineering colleges. On the contrary, leadership can be actualized through initiation of the vision, sustaining the momentum, and carrying through the implementation. In other words, having vision is not enough and being hardworking is also not enough in isolation. At the same time, having a big picture focus is not enough if the nuts and bolts execution is not rigorous. This means that a successful leader has to have all of these qualities as well as an ability to spot the trends as they emerge or in other words, have the ability to lead from the future as it emerges.

Examples of Successes and Failures from the Corporate World

There are many examples of leaders who had the vision but not the other qualities. Similarly, others were good at execution but lacked vision and trend-spotting abilities. The legendary Lee Iacocca who served in Ford Motors and then Chrysler was a leader who had all the qualities. In more recent times, Steve Jobs was one leader who had all these and crucially the ability to anticipate the future. In Asia, the Infosys founders are examples of leaders who actualized their vision, had the big picture as well as the hands on implementation skills, and were attentive to detail. Similarly, Ratan Tata is one leader who combined all these traits to turnaround a conglomerate that was losing direction and making it competitive again. Of course, there are also failures like Carly Fiona of Hewlett Packard who failed to transform the company and in recent months, Steve Ballmer who failed to leverage on the internet boom to steer Microsoft into a leadership position in the Tablet PC and Smartphone market. In both these cases, the missing element was execution and implementation. In the case of Ballmer, it is surprising that he could not follow through on his and Bill Gates’ vision, as he was essentially a nuts and bolts leader who rose to the top. In the case of Carly Fiona, the failure was mostly being unable to see the big picture and implement the change. Of course, to be fair to her, it must be said that the board and key sections of the employees were not completely with her when she attempted the transformation.

Examples of Success and Failure from the Political World

Apart from these leaders, the example of Lee Kuan Yew in the administrative sphere is worth noting. Yew who was one of the founders of Singapore transformed the city-state from a backwater infested with crime and addiction to a booming mega polis that has the highest per capita GDP in the world. In Yew’s case, he had the vision, the discipline, the focus, and the attention to detail combined with the big picture thinking that helped him transform Singapore into what it is now. On the other hand, the former Defense Secretary of the United States, Donald Rumsfeld, failed because he could not follow through and implement his vision that is now proven a game changer. These two contrasting leaders offer us lessons on how all the three themes that are the focus of this article needs to be in balance for exceptional leadership.


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Leadership