On a recent trip to Turkey, I happened to be a part of a pottery workshop facilitated by Master Khalil. We were told becoming a “Master” takes years of hard work and practice to understand what kind of clay can be moulded into what sort of art piece. And this is often done under the mentorship of an experienced master which takes years of learning. To be able to outdo one’s mentor and envision what sort of clay will end up making what kind of piece is the sign of a true master in making.
Becoming a leader is a similar exercise that takes years of patience and hard work to master. As a leader, you might end up shaping the careers of people directly or indirectly. Leadership is often taken as a right, a seat of power but it is more of a responsibility. Responsibility because being a leader would mean you might end up influencing the trajectory of someone’s career or even life. Simply because that person might be looking up to you or they would be in your team. Leadership doesn’t come by the virtue of holding a title, but it starts from the day when you think how do I build great individuals/teams?
But is it easy to build individuals or teams? What framework should a leader follow to make sure this happens? Is there a certification or a workshop that one might attend to start being a leader? Maybe there are some powerful questions that we can ask to unleash the leader within. If I must answer all the above questions, it would be a big NO! To become a leader, one needs to understand him/herself well and be comfortable in their skin. Understand one’s limitations, constantly improve and be humble enough to apologize or accept when you are wrong. And of course, learn to make promises which one can keep.
Surprised? You might argue that leadership is about pushing others to get better and grow. But to do so one needs to be secure in his/her being. We all know a great team is where the weakness of one team member can be the strength of another and in this manner, they push/pull each other to get even better. This is an environment where the team feels comfortable in expressing both positive and negative emotions as well as providing support instead of perceiving each other as a threat or competition. Such a team can only be built by someone who is secure and understands that the true essence of leadership is to inspire not intimidate or dominate.
Leaders who can build safe environments, win, and fail together with their teams. You would never see them blaming someone when things go wrong but are rather solution-focused and keen to move forward. They often praise/appreciate in front of others and give constructive feedback individually. Mentor when required and give ample space to learn from failures but at the same time make sure you are improving. They do not have a habit of putting people in a box but instead give people the confidence to think out of the box. For them, the onus is always on outcomes. The success of such kind of leadership can be best seen by the impact their influence has even when they are long gone.
Master Khalil had a profound thought to share with us at the end of the workshop,” Pottery is an art where you project your inner thoughts/feelings on the clay you are trying to mould. If your mind is clouded, the piece might not come out right. So having a clear mind with a vision of what to mould is the difference between building a masterpiece or an ordinary piece, after all the clay is too precious to waste.” At the start of my career, I was confused not sure what I wanted to do with my career and life. My initial years at work exhibited an unclear mind which almost led me to switch careers. What I missed at that time was someone to mentor and push me in the right direction. When I look back at the years which saw me grow exponentially came under leaders who exhibited the qualities highlighted above. Leaders who showed confidence in me and had the trust that I would be the right fit when I was not sure if I was up for the task. *I guess they just had a clear mind and the vision to mould me which inspired me to dream more, learn more, do more and become more. Years ago, Ronald Reagan said,” The greatest leader is not necessarily the one who does the greatest things, they are the ones who get the people to do the greatest things.” Words which hold true even now!
*Part of this sentence is taken from a quote written by John Adams
*Picture copyright belongs to the author*