05 Oct 2020 21:02 IST

A leadership cookbook for the VUCA world

In the first of a three-part series, the author writes about what it takes to be an effective leader

A practical way to resolve the long raging debate whether leaders are born or made is to say that there are several examples to justify both paths to leadership. This three-part series will, however, be focusing on the more useful path for most of us who are in pursuit of becoming good effective leaders, i.e., working towards becoming one such leader. As an outline for the series:

1. The context will be that of becoming a “corporate leader” though several, if not, all the points outlined are helpful in attaining leadership in any chosen profession be it social, political or, religious.

2. Focus will be on the “characteristics” of a good leader and less on the “styles” - about which we may be familiar as “styles” are self-evident while characteristics could be relatively more hidden and therefore less accessible.

Also, all good leaders share almost a common set of “characteristics” while having different leadership “styles”. For example, Mahatma Gandhi and General Patton had vastly different leadership styles; however, one may argue that they shared a lot of common characteristics such as being determined, possessing effective verbal and non-verbal communication skills, the bias for action, use of symbolism, etc.

3. Lastly, good leaders know their target audiences very well, they also know themselves very well and also consciously endeavour to know everything else around them like the other stakeholders, the business environment, the competition, and the like.

This three-part series focuses on what an individual, who wants to become an effective leader, should consider practising consistently over a considerable period of time in his/her pursuit to becoming an effective leader. “How long should this practice last,” one may ask, and the rhetorical answer will be: becoming an effective leader is a journey and not a destination by itself!

Needless to say, this series is not about the horrific leaders who lead by fear – a very troubling contemporary quintessential characteristic that is unfortunately global in scale and dominating all spheres of society.

Overall characteristics of an effective leader

As the first leadership characteristic, the word “wise” comes to mind in almost all of human civilisation — contemporary and regardless of geography

Second, effective leaders seemingly appear to be calm and unaffected by elevation or deterioration in conditions around them. They march on towards their vision with “dispassion”, at a steady pace with quiet conviction, observing but not overreacting to the happenings around them.

Third, effective leaders are disciplined people. They put in a process and stick to a routine every day which increases their ability to think calmly and respond differently than the others. They are consistent and aware in their speech and actions – always trying to leave a memorable impact

Lastly, effective corporate leaders are always very keen to understand their customers very intimately so that they can harness their organisational capabilities and the overall environment to meet the stated and unstated needs of the customers. Their curiosity towards understanding customers is both insatiable and infectious.





Successful corporate leaders instinctively adopt what Peter Drucker had declared in his book The Practice of Management that there is only one purpose of any business — to create a customer.

Who is a “wise” leader?

Wise people are characterised by their attractive calmness about themselves.

They consciously develop this quality by “watching” their thoughts and deciding whether they need to be expressed in words or deeds or to simply let them go, by not saying or doing anything – making that “wise” choice. This is the way effective leaders maintain and exhibit good emotional health.

Secondly, “wise” leaders also take care of their personality and physical appearance to leave a favourable visual impression. This can happen only through a conscious routine around fitness, diet and personal grooming aligned to, of course, what their target customers “value.”

If the target customers are impoverished and hungry then one must relate to them by bridging the visual dissonance and carefully develop a suitable physical personality. It will only be “wise” to consider developing an appropriate persona to empathise and enhance the acceptance with the target even before uttering a word or doing an act.


Steve Jobs


We have all seen Steve Jobs’ dress-code of a black t-shirt with blue jeans — a standard that lives on even today in the tech world.

Lastly, a “wise” leader is an avid listener, a keen observer and a voracious reader (we see statements like: Elon Musk recommends these 20 books to read; Bill Gates recommends a book list for Christmas and so on) who has an open mind to absorb diverse information and assimilate them in his/her own way and consciously leverage the knowledge at opportune moments.

Objectivity and curiosity

Apart from having incisive analytical and logical skills, they also possess the objectivity and curiosity to seek out clarifications (no pet theories), and the intellect to interpret and derive actionable insights. “Wise” leaders have a unique way of interpreting external information which, on most occasions, will appear to be “counter-intuitive” but eventually prove to be the “wisest” thing to have been done.

For example, the famous Intel Pentium hardware bug disaster of 1994 almost decimated Intel even though the probability of the bug surfacing in home computers was extremely remote (probability of appearing once in 27,000 years of spread-sheet usage).


Andy Grove





Andy Grove, the then Chairman and CEO of Intel, decided to recall millions of Intel Pentium chips and replace them for free because he realised that his customer segment — the home users — is not technically aware to appreciate the “improbability” of the bug and that “facts cannot sell” to these customers. To re-establish credibility Andy Grove, dispassionately and perhaps even illogically one may say, interpreted the situation as “grave” and took the call to simply replace all the chips for free, costing the company millions of dollars, estimated to be $475 million in 1994.

This seemingly “dispassionate and illogical” action of his is now recognised by several academicians and business leaders alike as the reason why Intel still has a future.

A “wise” leader is one who is very aware of the value of physical, emotional, and intellectual health, and consistently and systematically invests in developing them.

(The writer is Managing Partner of CorEssentials).