How leadership has changed over the past two decades
Sohan Tiwade | Corporate Soft Skills Trainer & Motivational Speaker | The Edge
Sohan Tiwade | Corporate Soft Skills Trainer & Motivational Speaker | The Edge

“A boss is unnecessarily necessary all the times, a leader is necessarily necessary most of the times and a great leader progressively becomes unnecessary over time!” – Anonymous

If we could grasp the meaning of the statement, we would well do understand the evolution of leadership overtime. The following story illustrates this point beautifully:

More than 200 years ago, a man in civilian attire spotted a group of battle-weary soldiers who were busy digging what appeared to be an important defensive position. The leader of the group seemed uninterested in helping, only stopping to shout orders and to threaten to punish the group if the work was to remain incomplete within the hour. The stranger then asked on horseback: “Why aren’t you helping?”

The leader answered back -“I’m in charge! The men follow my orders.” He added: “Help them yourself if you feel so strongly about it.” To the surprise of that mean leader, the stranger got off his horse to help the men. Having helped finish the job, he congratulated the men for their work, and approached the confused leader, saying: “You should notify top command the next time your rank prevents you from supporting your men, and I will provide a more permanent solution.” Up close, the now humbled leader recognized the stranger as being none other than General George Washington. The leader was humbled by this incident and was taught a lesson he would never forget!

If you see in this story the man shouting orders and threatening to punish his subordinates is a typical example of a ‘boss’. ‘A leader’ would probably not shout orders; he would have gone a step ahead and motivated, trained and supported the people to get the job done. But watch what George Washington does, he gets down to the level of the people he is assigned over and serves them! George Washington is a type of how leadership has evolved over the years; he is a type of servant leader who progressively becomes unnecessary! In the Bible, New Testament when talking of a leader, Jesus Christ says to his disciples, “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant…”

During the Industrial Revolution in 19th century when Henry Ford came up with the assembly line for production units most of the employees turned up for the work and they were directed or told what was to be done. They lined up on the assembly line did their part of the work whole day and went home. It was this method of working that the industrial revolution demanded an autocratic style of leadership. McGregor in his famous theory terms this as ‘Theory X leaders’. This is a typical boss who believes that employees need to be motivated externally or by fear of negative penalty. This is the popular ‘carrot and stick’ method of leadership where the leader promises the carrot for the work completed and penalizes with the stick if the desired output is not given.

At the end of the Industrial Revolution when the Berlin Wall came down, the knowledge era ushered in and it was a time for knowledge boom and revolution. It was during this time that we had what McGregor terms as ‘Y Theory Leadership’. These leaders adopted a democratic style of leadership, they started valuing their employees more and taking them into consideration during decision making so that they feel valued part of the organization. Here the leader did not tell the people what to do but left it to their good judgement to figure out how to bring out the desired outcome. They realized people are internally motivated and their energies need to be channelized.

Abraham Maslow was especially critical of this Y Theory of Leadership by McGregor. He said that there will be those people who do not have enough inbuilt resources to encourage themselves, they are not internally motivated and may require some sort of structure to be built in the organization that would help them to draw their inner strength and motivation.

Today we are transiting from the ‘Knowledge Era’ to the ‘Age of Wisdom’ as per Stephen Covey in his popular book ‘The 8th Habit’. He characterizes this age as people recognized not on the basis of manual work but the knowledge that they bring to the workplace and how they implement it to come up with solutions. So people cannot be directed with the old industrial model of ‘carrot and stick’ or even the McGregor’s theory ‘Y’ Leadership fall short of managing today’s workforce and it is here that we have the concept of servant leadership. This is brought out wonderfully by Simon Sinek in his book, ‘Leaders Eat Last’. He says that today’s leadership should have 3 roles –

  1. Safety means progress: When we care for the people in our organization and provide them a secure environment where they don’t have to worry about where the bread comes from tomorrow, then we can be sure of getting cent percent from them at our workplace. If people are always in the default mode of mind that is trying to figure out for their safety, they won’t bring out their best game in the play.
  2. Responsibility: Responsibility means truly caring for your people. When as leaders we make decisions, Simon Sinek says we should also have empathy for our people because we are responsible for their lives and well being. Many times, we see in organizations that the leaders make decisions at the expense of other people.
  3. Focusing on Value: As leaders we have not to reward people on the numbers, they contribute for the growth but the value they add to the organization by their efforts. We all feel exhilarated when we hit a number or a goal, but then we crave for more instead of focusing on the value we are caught in a rat race.

Coming back to Stephen Covey in the 8th Habit when talking of servant leadership, Stephen Covey says that we should be leaders over our people to bring out the best that is in them. We have to help them engage physically by providing them for their needs, intellectually where we give them challenges that stimulate their minds for creative solution, emotionally where we help them to synergize with others in a team to bring out the best of results and finally, we engage them spiritually where they understand that they are serving a purpose that is beyond them, it is helping them to contribute towards the greater good of humanity.

At a construction site, 3 labourers are laying bricks. First one is questioned what is he doing, he retorts angrily, “Can’t you see I am laying bricks?” Second one says, “I am earning my bread” and the third one replies, “I am contributing to build a beautiful school building that will build tomorrow’s generation for the world!” The first one’s boss is inconsiderate of his employees’ opinions and had made a bad habit of shouting at them. The second one’s boss has told him, till the time you work, I will pay you. The third boss has helped the brick layer engage his body, mind, heart and spirit at work; he has helped him to see that together they are contributing towards a greater vision than themselves. Let me conclude today with this statement that throws a light on leadership and a leader in this era, “One becomes a leader when one realizes that he/she is not a leader of the people but for the people.”

– By Sohan Tiwade, Corporate Soft Skills Trainer and Motivational Speaker, The Edge;
Assistant Professor at Sanjay Ghodawat Institutes.

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