In April, two Air India pilots handed over the controls in auto-pilot mode to two female cabin attendants to take a short nap. They decided that their sleep was more important at 33,000 feet while flying the 160-passenger flight from Bangkok to Delhi. They returned to the cockpit after 40 minutes when one of the cabin attendants accidently knocked off the auto-pilot mode.
The angry Twitterate asked for pilot’s license suspension, removal from job and legal charges for culpable homicide. Everyone questioned their work ethics and shock at their irresponsible behavior. Air India investigated the incident, suspended the pilots and sated that passengers’ safety was never compromised. Unbelievable, how can passengers be safe without any pilots at the helm?
1. Double Standards in Evaluating Corporate Leaders
The pilots were crucified for risking the lives of passengers. However, surprisingly the pilots of the corporate world do not suffer the same fate. The wizards and titans of the banking industry crash landed the world economy, but they didn’t lose their CXO seats.
Look from another lens. Did any senior in Supplier Company or the multinationals lose their job in the Bangladesh factory fire? In Foxconn, the Apple contractor, 11 employees committed suicide, four died in an accident and one collapsed after continuously working for 36 hours. However, Steve Jobs was rated as the second most popular leader by the CEOs in a survey conducted by Price Waterhouse Coopers. The first and third were Winston Churchill and Mahatma Gandhi respectively.
Now this is going to rattle my readers but let me say it. Steve Jobs was a great inventor, designer, strategist and marketer. However, when it came to people, his employees considered him rude and manipulative, and his competitors found him uncivil. Though Apple achieved great heights, he paid low salaries to the employees in the Apple stores, paid no dividends to the shareholders, pushed down suppliers to manufacture at lowest possible rate and didn’t believe in charity or corporate social responsibility. His behavior and actions weren’t people centric or humanity oriented. So my question is – do we consider him a great leader because he managed to put Apple on top? That makes him a great CEO, not necessarily a great leader.
2. Misconceptions of Leadership
The problem arises due to the definition of leadership. Read the dictionary meaning:
Leadership is “organizing a group of people to achieve a common goal”.
– We don’t focus on how the group of people were gathered; by inspiring them or arm-twisting them.
– We don’t focus on the nobility of the goal; was it to exploit others or liberate them.
– We don’t focus on the method adopted to achieve the goal; was it by breaking the rules or a journey of virtue.
In the present world we see leaders leaving dead bodies in their path, walking over people as if they were stones and sucking the life out of them. Great leaders create leaders not followers, they make others blossom like flowers.
Be it a corporate leader or political leader, we don’t wish to question the leadership methods. Our thinking is, how it matters to us, we have nothing to lose. We have everything to lose, and Martin-Niemöller-Foundation words at Hitler’s time still resonate:
“First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Our own silence will kill us and the society we live in. When humanity is at stake, can we close our eyes and say nothing is at stake.
3. Leadership Training
The Institute of Strategic Change reported that – “the stock price of ‘well-led‘ companies grew by over 900% over 10 years, compared with 74% for poorly led companies”. Warren Bennis in 1998 said – “The Truth is that no one factor makes a company admirable. But if you were forced to pick the one that makes the most difference, you’d pick leadership.” However, how many companies train on leadership or do a performance evaluation on leadership qualities?
Quite a few would be saying we do it. So let me clarify. In organizations bosses tell the juniors what to do and how to do it. They give rave reviews to the employee who completes the task as they had stated. They promote that employee and now he becomes a boss. At best, he will be a good manager, not a leader.
Corporate world determines success rate by title and salary. Neither guarantees leadership skills. Employees aim to become a boss, not a leader. The terms are not synonyms.
According to Malcolm Gladwell, all outliers practiced their talent for over 10,000 hours to achieve greatness. In the corporate world, how many hours are dedicated by each employee to learn leadership? Learning leadership is a by-product of the main job, till CEO level. Then isn’t it surprising that we do not have many great leaders in the corporate world.
Maximum damage in the world was caused by people who got powerful positions without good leadership qualities, be it Hitler, Jeff Skilling, Bernie Madoff or Lance Armstrong. The biggest risks in the corporate world are leadership risks. It is the leaders who make the decisions, so unless we have a system of putting the right people in leadership positions we will continue to have these disasters. Hence, our job is to develop good leaders, select good leaders and continuously monitor the leaders.
Wishing my readers a Happy Mother’s Day. Being parents is the toughest job in the world,. They are responsible for raising the next generation of leaders.