Think leadership and what is the first thought that comes to your mind? Authority, Control, exclusivity? We imagine a dominating person with a commanding personality, someone who remains elusive and elite, preferring to maintain a distance lest the team members get too close for comfort. Leadership has thus through the ages been considered synonymous with exclusivity, and anyone who deviates from this established school of thought is termed as “soft” and “mild”.
Do good leaders then deliberately work at carefully maintaining that impression of aloofness by never crossing the line between personal and professional, by never letting conversations stray into the zone reserved for friends? Is this born from the fear that excessive proximity would most certainly lead to excessive familiarity and blur the boundaries between designations?
Unfortunately, more often than not, we would have to reluctantly admit that these barriers have become essential in order to cultivate that authoritarian aura, an indispensable trait possessed by those at the helm, without which it is seemingly impossible to exercise control, to have people look up to you and defer to your leadership. Empathy, humility and amiability are not normally traits one would associate with leaders and if such a person were to don the leadership mantle, there is every possibility that he would be considered a misfit, even before he got a chance to prove his critics wrong.
The corporate world abounds with examples of situations where employees, after having been promoted, choose to steadily distance themselves from their former colleagues, either of their own accord or after being “advised” so by their superiors. The same philosophy extends through all walks of life wherever there exists a hierarchy – between juniors and seniors, instructors and instructed, the administrators and administered.
This brings me to the question – are we programmed to accord respect to those who demand it by virtue of their temperament rather than to those who earn it by virtue of their emotional quotient? Do we unconsciously give in more easily to the authority of the whip wielder rather than a more tolerant, democratic and amiable leader? Do we tend to take the latter for granted? Is that why the term “soft leader” assumes the sobriquet of an oxymoron?
Leaders are those who can lead by example, who can bring out the best in their subordinates simply by connecting with them, believing in them and giving them the freedom to work without rigid controls. It’s time we redefined the concept to accept individuals with softer qualities, a more inclusive approach and less sterner exteriors as leaders instead of clinging on to cliches that only serve to widen the chasm between the controller and the controlled.
Do you think that this chasm is a necessary ingredient to drive productivity? Or is it just a hype created to make it easier to wield power? Do share your views and experiences.
Read more about some interesting nuances of corporate culture here