The new age leadership is defined by a set of qualities amongst which the capacity to take knowledge-based decisions comes first. However, success comes to an individual because of not only the ‘leadership traits’ but due to the ‘leadership ways’ as well. When both are in play they guarantee that the leader would - through appropriate human resource management and defining of organisational ethics- take the enterprise to its goal. Since all business is human activity the leader should not only have an interest in human psyche and behaviour but also a comprehensive ability to handle interaction with subordinates, peers and the body to whom he or she would be accountable.
A successful leader works within a 7-point framework of principles of dealing with others. First of all, the leader should come off as a person with power of authenticity who was reliable enough for those below to repose their faith in him and for the colleagues and superiors to place their trust in him.
The next crucial aspect of leadership is the ability to keep information to oneself wherever this became necessary and to understand confidentiality. Confidentiality is an instrument of success not only in the profession of security and vigilance but in competitive business as well provided it was not practised for personal benefit but for the organisation's good. A person who can not keep anything confidential for a cause can not be a leader because today knowledge is power and information discreetly kept in an authorised way is a doubly potent secret power to be used for a legitimate gain. The leadership of a set up must understand the ‘need to know’ principle as that is an aid to running an enterprise efficiently in the age of information.
A third paradigm of ‘leadership ways’ is communication, which in effect is the bedrock of effective interaction. Communication is the base on which all human relations are founded. Good communication is totally unambiguous which means it cannot be interpreted in more than one ways and saves the leader from the risk of being misunderstood. The leader should realise that in an affective communication brevity must not be at the cost of clarity ever. Communication reflects the competence of the person making it. Failure of communication can cause the failure of a project. A good communicator is not short of listening and understands how emotions can shape the conduct and responses of the person being spoken to. Importance of framing and raising the right questions cannot be overemphasised. It is the key to unlocking the fountain source of knowledge.
Fourth, the new awareness with which teams are constituted and mentored is now integral to successful leadership. Today an employee has to be treated as a ‘knowledge worker’ and as a distinct production centre because he applies also his thinking - not merely his hands - while at work. Garnering tacit knowledge carried by a team member is important. Nobody knows everything but everybody knows something. Team signifies the interplay of individual strengths and weaknesses and the leader is aware that productivity is the sum total of the efforts of all individual members of the team. The leader knows how to get the best out of the people available to him. His role in nurturing the talent of the men working for him has therefore acquired a new- found importance. In an age of ‘flat’ organisations - with their reduced vertical hierarchy - a satisfactory boss- subordinate grid has acquired an added importance for enhancement of productivity because the boss here is in effect a team leader too.
Fifthly, the leader's competence about steering a situation of change is basic to success in these times of rapid pace with which businesses are conducted and the frequency at which contingencies could arise calling for a mid- course correction or a totally new human resource deployment. The new organisational ethics of an intensely worked organisation demands that no failure will be considered absolute and will rather be looked at as an honest effort that did not succeed. Course correction in the light of experience gained or the arrival of new information is becoming a norm and the mettle of a leader is tested in the moments of challenge of riding a change or pulling through a crisis.
Sixth, it is the leader's responsibility in the Age of Information to ensure that the organisation understood the value of time as a resource and to promote for this a work ethics in which members worked 'with a sense of urgency even when there was no emergency'. In organisational working there are three acknowledged time stealers- the gaps between information and decision, between decision and its communication down the line and between the communicated decision and its implementation. The new age leadership knows the importance of eliminating delays. Leading corporates make large investment in accessing authentic information and getting it analysed for understanding what lies ahead by way of opportunities and risks.
And finally, the leader must realise his share of responsibility in establishing a safe and secure work place for all his people. We live in an unsafe world and the nations, organisations and individuals have to be aware of the security environ that prevails around them. This translates into the need for the leadership to find ways of messaging the members that they had a secure work place and that the leadership was giving attention to security issues even outside of the office establishment. Many leading enterprises located in threat-prone territories spend on establishing secure residential colonies for their personnel.
In short, leadership today is not an entitlement but a recognition that has to be earned. A leader is made not born and it is the advent of the age of information that has changed the concepts of leadership, worker, team, tacit knowledge and business intelligence. Success today comes to those who follow the mandate of this age that being well - informed and taking to knowledge - based decision - making were fundamental to progress. It might be useful for the management institutes of India to adopt value - add segments in their senior semesters to keep their students abreast of the impact of Age of Information on management and corporate governance.
(The writer is former director of Intelligence Bureau)