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5 questions every leadership aspirant should be asking?

06 November 2012
Vineet Nayar

The other day a journalist asked me about the key attributes I look for in young leaders. It’s always tough to answer such questions because leadership is such a vast subject. There are so many angles and perspectives to it and more importantly the dynamics of the mix – tens of positive traits of a leader can get completely diluted with a single one that is overwhelmingly regressive. It’s therefore never easy to pick the top traits that constitute a great leadership potential. But is there pattern at all? Well, the answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’. YES, because there are some common attributes I have observed and NO because all said and done, leadership cannot be a factory model. I remember the advice from a friend at the start of my journey: “The biggest myth of corporate success is that you can push yourself into the next rung. That never works. You have to be pulled up”. Essentially what he meant was that no matter how talented you are, you can never reach the top on your own. The people in the rung above and below have to support you and find you worthy of being “pulled up”. So what makes a great ‘pull up’ choice? I don’t know for sure but let’s look closely at five key questions that may help define a possible manifesto:

1. Do you have the mental agility? The first attribute is intelligence itself - the IQ. Do you have the mental agility to be able to deal with the complexity we see around ourselves and connect dots which others are not able to connect? Intellect is definitely a necessary foundation but it’s not the be-all-end-all, EQ matters just as much.

2. Are you ‘emotional’? EQ is very, very important in today’s world. Do you lead by heart or do you lead by mind? You can become a true leader only when people follow you, and that is only possible when your employees “feel” for what you stand for. So as a leader you need to have a big heart and a vision that appeals emotionally to your followers.

3. Are you an ideas person? The third attribute is ideas. Ask yourself honestly – are you an “ideas person”? What is your idea? What do you stand for? Are you ideas unique? The reason people followed Mahatma Gandhi is because he had a unique idea of gaining independence for India with non-violence. What is that idea which you stand for?

4. Are you irrational in your thinking? People who are irrational get a lot of attention because others are always curious to understand the ‘different’ point-of-view. So if you want to be a leader, there has to be irrationality in your expectation from yourself, from your team, from your idea, from your company, and even the world at large

5. Do you have a higher purpose? The ultimate test of leadership is to have a purpose aligned to the greater good of society and not just economic gains. Leaders with a higher purpose have an inner strength and a unique moral compass which guides them to effectively lead their teams through hopeless situations. These leaders excel in great adversity because people trust them and their intentions.

If you have read this article thus far and are still wondering how to put any of this in action, the truth is: I don’t know! However, how will you know unless you start somewhere, anywhere? Maybe the best piece of advice I can give you then is to put your laptop aside, ignore what I have said, walk to the mirror and ask yourself the most important question: What are you going to do with this bundle of talent you see in front of you and when?