Two decades ago, I stepped into the multinational corporate world. I started off as an engineer with a relatively unassuming stance. The first sentence I heard from my manager was ‘You got to display strong leadership skills here.’ He gave me a long list of rules on what leadership was and what it wasn’t; what a leader should or should not do. There were certain undocumented but deeply ingrained expectations as to how I should come across as a leader; what words I should use; what approaches I should adopt; what image I should rely upon, and what communication styles I should adhere to. Everything was ‘type cast’ beforehand.
For several months, that unearthly ‘leadership expectations’ continued to haunt me. It appeared like a mystic skill. I felt that it was an elite skill which is possessed only by a few ‘gifted’ people. Honestly, I was intimidated to a point where I thought that this was not my cup of tea. I was on the verge of quitting that role.
As a global authority on speed, I value speed with which any skill can be developed. There was something that I felt was inhibiting my pace of acquiring leadership skills. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to interact with some of the best leaders across the planet while conducting my flagship research on employee development. I figured out that these leaders did not follow a ‘textbook’ philosophy on leadership. Rather, they have some unique perspectives which not only set them apart from business-as-usual leaders but truly accelerated their leadership journeys.
As I reflect on my own leadership journey, I can’t help but realise that how poorly the leadership skills were presented and taught to me during the early years of my leadership roles. As I write my reflections, I critically think about a few things.
Have we glamorised the leadership skills more than necessary?
Have we typecasted it as some sort of elite skill?
Have we made ordinary people think of leadership as something beyond or above them?
Are we teaching the right kind of leadership to our next generation? Or are we turning them into corporate leadership zombies?