12 Oct 2020 20:37 IST

What it means to be a dispassionate, disciplined leader

Great leaders can focus objectively in adverse conditions and are guided by their vision, values and beliefs

In the previous part, four broad characteristics of WisDom, Dispassion, Discipline and Devotion towards customers (4Ds) were outlined to become an effective leader. The characteristic of wisdom was explored with the example of the Intel Pentium chip recall event, which also illustrated the characteristic of dispassion to some extent.

This second article in the series focuses on what it means to be a dispassionate and disciplined leader and why these characteristics are important for becoming an effective leader.

The “dispassionate” leader

Dispassionate here means without strong likes and dislikes; doing things for the “larger good” and terms like “leading by example” come to mind. MS Dhoni as ‘Captain Cool’ is a good example of being a dispassionate leader who did not show extreme emotions reflecting the state of the match. He appears to be unattached to the match status while going about his game with a calm yet alert mind, enabling the team to focus on the game yielding remarkable results.

It is important to clarify that dispassionate does not mean being emotionless. The emotions that represent a dispassionate leader would be of compassion, accountability, responsibility, appreciation, gratitude, respect, not hurting anyone and volunteering help towards all without any passionate likes or dislikes.

These emotions may not come naturally for most and therefore need deliberate practice through gestures and words to back-propagate to the mind and thereby training it for naturally generating such thoughts and emotions.

Why is this important for becoming a successful leader? A leader is a leader if there is at least one follower, and towards the objective of recruiting followers these emotions are not only handy but they also help establish a very strong self-propagating positive connect between the leader and the followers. It forms a nice ecosystem of mutual appreciation — a very powerful environment that is a productivity multiplier and facilitates speed of response — a much-needed characteristic for any organisation in this increasingly VUCA world.

It will be “wise” on the part of the aspiring leader to indulge in acts of compassion, gratitude, help and the like periodically, deliberately perhaps in the beginning before they become second-nature.

We do see examples of these in public figures like politicians, actors and in the form of CSR of large corporates. These need to become a routine at an individual leader level in corporates to foster a healthy work environment, among other things, which will eventually lead to business success.

The disciplined leader

Effective leaders have their “inner-world” sorted out neatly. It is always in a well-oiled state that is ready to deliver even in the face of adversity with calmness and poise. All great finishers in the game of cricket exhibit some, if not all, of the following characteristics:

1. A mind that obeys them (mental discipline) — at the drop of a hat their minds can focus completely and stay focussed on the subject for extended periods of time. This gives them the ability to absorb information quickly for any decisions to be taken thereafter. Cultivating a calm, unwavering and almost always available mind is a precious “inner-wealth” an aspiring leader can have.

Mental discipline can be acquired by spending some “alone” time. Effective corporate leaders spend at least couple of hours daily by themselves looking at real-time data and news.

2. They are invariably “data-driven” in their daily decision, bereft of emotions and feelings and relying on objectivity to guide their daily discussions. This also means that they will not run behind convenient data that support their pet theories.

3. All good effective leaders remain unflustered even in the most adverse situations by emotionally maintaining their distance to observe, assess and infer the right actions to be taken. The leader’s calmness under such circumstances gives the others the much needed hope. In an increasingly VUCA world, this characteristic is very essential in a successful leader.

The way to cultivate this characteristic would be to periodically undertake personal projects such as learning an art form, or fasting and/or doing difficult physical exercises. These measures will help condition the mind to develop endurance and patience.

4. Lastly, they all have a purposeful vision supported by a personal set of values and beliefs that guide them every day. Effective leaders remain unequivocally faithful to their vision, values and beliefs.

As they say “it is very lonely at the top” so an aspiring leader needs to be adept at solving problems themselves, with little or no help from others, particularly when the rest of the organisation is looking up to the leaders for answers in this VUCA world. Unfortunately, most contemporary leaders are veritably the “problem,” let alone them finding solutions for their masses!

As a final thought, great leaders “lead by example,” have great mental discipline to concentrate objectively even under very adverse conditions guided by their vision, values and beliefs.

(The writer is Managing Partner of CorEssentials).