Sustainable Leadership
Posted on December 19th, 2009

By Manisha Fernando

Watching ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ the recent socio-economic developments in the country, I kept wondering whether we Sri Lankans were indeed cursed to always ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-miss a golden opportunityƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ for becoming the most developed nation in the region having vanquished the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world!

No doubt, it was leadership, courage, dedication and supreme sacrifices that won the three decade long war that previous governments failed to win as a result of poor leadership during those eras. The victory was not limited to defeating the terrorists but also other forces that were hell bent in destabilizing this island nation which is obviously located in the most strategic geographical location with commercial advantages in the region. Our victory is like a well brewed coffee and the result of several key ingredients including Leadership, Teamwork and Strategy in action!

Despite the many definitions of leadership, the simplest and perhaps the best says that Leadership is the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. Put more simply, the leader is the inspiration and director of the action and a person who has the personality and skills that makes others want to follow his direction. It is his directive that would be carried out by his subordinates. CEOs know how difficult it is to steer a company towards one goal, and as Commander In Chief of all THREE armed forces and the President of the nation, the credit of Leadership for winning the war and uniting a virtually divided nation as well as steering a majority of the masses towards one common goal should go to HE The President, – for he was the first to state that he would vanquish terrorism and unite the nation in his vision statement.

But people forget that all Rulers are not ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”trueƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ leaders! Leaders are a rare breed of people who have the skills and knowledge to achieve a goal and get their teams to pull in one direction. This is no easy task since individuals have different attitudes, personalities and characteristics as well as ambitions and ideologies. Leaders can emerge in various levels of an organization and a state administration including the military.

One key trait of a ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”trueƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ Leader is his ability to identify a personƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢s talent and deploy the right man for the right job irrespective of cast, creed or political differences or various accusations from opposing parties. His firmness in appointing the right person for the right job will decide his success or failure in the long run. Therefore, despite the back-door critiques, it was perhaps the wisest decision in the war that a gentleman with military background and patience to see the mission to the end was appointed as the Defence Secretary. The Defence Secretary in return displayed his leadership in recommending the appointment of the three force commanders based purely on performance and skills and not seniority. A lesson perhaps even many CEOs could learn from in developing the winning team and strategy!

Another true leadership quality is the ability to delegate sufficient authority to subordinates to carry out the tasks whilst taking the responsibility for the overall victory or defeat and any charges that may come with it. In many instances we often see that in organizational cultures including the military, talented people have been appointed without delegated authority to carry out the entrusted tasks. In some instances, people even shun away from responsibility despite the delegated authority ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” all which are indicators of poor leadership. For a nation, it is the Leadership responsibility to give the order to wage or stop a war, and therefore the responsibility, credit or blame lies solely with the leader.

The war on terror was won because the Commander in Chief and the Defence Secretary delegated the sufficient level of authority required for the Three Force Commanders to carry out their mission successfully. In turn each commander was able to delegate the level of authority to their respective field commanders to accomplish all their objectives. During the trying times, the overall leadership very clearly stated that overall responsibility lies with him and not a single military officer would be charged with baseless accusations of human right violations, whilst the Commanders themselves motivated and supported their subordinates in the difficult task in true leadership style. It is therefore unpardonable for individuals to later criticize their superiors, peers or subordinates stating baseless charges in the aftermath of the victory, especially if that person was part of the line command responsible for achieving the overall goals as a team. Such comments would mean that one is either an unfit leader or a foolish man who does not possess leadership qualities. A leader should have the strength to absorb any false accusation bravely whilst being modest about the victory and praise.

It is also not prudent to allocate all the powers to any one single man (despite some claiming that they want more authority to do this and that); as Leaders, one must understand that power should be delegated to the right person in the most appropriate ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”quantumƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢. Therefore it is foolish for anyone to ask for more than what is required since it may bring about more damage than good.

Winning is always the result of Teamwork and Team spirit and can never be a ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”one-manƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ show, especially when you are only a member of a larger Team. But some still try to advocate this philosophy in vain! A single individual would only have a certain amount of skills and talents whereas a group of individuals would have multi-dimensional talents and skills that complement each other. When in a team, these skills and talents of members generate what is called synergy. Synergy is created with the interaction of two or more forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual impact. For example you canƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢t win a cricket match with bowlers alone or batsmen alone. Bowlers will bowl and batsmen will batƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦ put the two together and you have a team that can drive a winning streak! Similarly a war can only be won with the synergized team effort of the Army, Navy and the Air Force.

Whilst the Army marched forward on the ground gaining the LTTE held areas, the Air Force took out terrorist targets and heavy weaponry to support the ground troop. They kept air vigilance on terrorist movements so that strategists could work out the attacks and continued in air rescue missions of the injured. The Navy destroyed over 10 vessels that were carrying weapons for the terrorists strategically reducing their military power and supplies and demoralizing them mentally, and they made sure that the sovereign waters of Sri Lanka were not encroached by pro-terrorist groups. The mounting international pressures and baseless charges were held at bay in true leadership style with the deployment of other expert teams.

The leadership qualities of an individual are highlighted by the level of team spirit they advocate and the way they treat subordinates and peers as well as superiors. In the aftermath of the victory in May 2009, it was heart-warming and well praised by the masses that the President, the Defence Secretary, The Air Force Commander and the Navy Commander modestly gave the well earned credit to their respective subordinates and teams as well as the joint team efforts of all three forces. Never for once did they stoop to levels of self glorification. Given the media coverage on the war, unlike the days gone by, the masses are not fools and they know it was indeed a Team Effort and not a one man show. If one were to say otherwise, he or she would be ridiculed as a selfish and individualistic person who lacks the team spirit required of a leader.

Allocating the right resources at the right time is a key leadership obligation. A psychologist and management theorist named Belbin identified 9 roles for Managers (or Leaders) with one of the most critical roles being that of a ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”Resource AllocatorƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢. Whilst the war was raging, resources both human and physical were made available at the right time to the three forces to keep the momentum going. This was argued by many short-sighted groups saying that war expenditure was rising despite the fact that defense expenditure was still at a 4% level in par or sometimes even less than regional counterparts and more developed nations. Even economic growth was maintained at an average 6% level while the war was raging. In contrast none of the previous ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”leadersƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ were able to take on this challenge in this magnitude at any given time. Whilst it is the result of able leadership it is also the fact that the leader was willing to listen to his advisors on many fronts, looking far beyond petty politics and willing to take on calculated risks!

Lastly but not least, A true Leader should have a source of power that is sustainable and strong to help him achieve his vision for the nation. Five bases of power were identified by French and Raven, and which later were expanded by various management theorists in defining power and authority of leaders.ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚  In addition to the leadership traits and behaviours above, the power base a Leader opts to use would determine his ability to sustain the leadership and gather people towards a common goal in the long run.

Coercive power rests in the ability to force people to comply with an order through the threat of punishment. Coercive power typically leads to short-term compliance and in the long-run produces dysfunctional behavior. Coercion reduces satisfaction of the masses, leading to lack of commitment and anarchy and the gradual erosion of the rule of law. Coercive power is found commonly in military regimes in the world and quality management gurus like Philip Crosby and Edwards Deming suggest the use of coercive power would result in an atmosphere of insecurity or fear.

Legitimate power rests in the belief that an elected ruler has the right to give orders based on his or her position. Whilst the Executive Presidency is one key power base that helped push the war on terror forward legitimate power alone is not sustainable in the long run unless supported by more sustainable power bases. Historical events have shown that sometimes, people can be disillusioned in to believing that legitimate power is sustainable if used with reward or coercive power, driving such individuals to ruin.

Reward power, as the name implies, rests on the ability of a leader to reward and motivate people to do a task. It is often used by many aspiring would be leaders who succumb to material rewards to get them elected or keep them in power. But they fail to realize that reward power can backfire because officials may be tempted to unethically or even illegally meet the goals and material rewards are never sustainable. However, reward power has other more sustainable forms. Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., relies heavily on intangible awards, indicating that “nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise. They are absolutely free-and worth a fortune”. When reward power is used in a flexible manner, it can prove to be a strong motivator, as Crosby, Deming, and others have shown.

Referent power is one power base that ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”shinesƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢ from the individual through his or her activities, conduct and actions. This power is magnified with peoples’ respect for the ruler and their desire to identify with or emulate him or her. In referent power, the ruler leads by example. Referent power rests heavily on trust and the influence of the leader models the behaviour of his people. This is one power base that money cannot buy or people can take away! However, a single act of treachery or mistake can destroy the referent power overnight!

Expert power rests on the belief that the leader has a particularly high level of knowledge or highly specialized skills. He may even have a highly specialized group of advisors. Sadly, sometimes people mistake the extent of their expert power. For example when a Technician comes to the CEO’s office to fix a malfunctioning piece of machinery, no doubt the CEO outranks the repair person; yet regarding the specific task of getting the machine fixed the CEO is likely to follow the orders of the repair person. That does not mean that the technician can run the company and vice- versa!

The unfolding events today however show that some individuals would do just about anything to gain absolute power even with the betrayal of fellow comrades and the motherland and tarnishing our National Pride and sovereignty. ƒÆ’-¡ƒ”š‚ This is the typical Machiavellian attitude ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” where Niccolo Machiavelli has justified the rule by force rather than by law and advocates a number of actions to perpetuate power from acquisition and expansion to the use of it in governing the state. Yet even Machiavelli was wise enough to warn a-would-be-leader/ruler of two fundamental mistakes they should NOT make.

The first is the use of mercenaries. Whilst in military terms, mercenaries are paid fighters; the definition can be broadened to include anyone – even political parties that were one shouting pro-terrorist slogans and hurling human right violation slogans and other outcast groups who are ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”¹…”paid to be loyalƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢-¾‚¢. Machiavelli says these mercenaries are useless to a ruler (or president) because they are undisciplined, cowardly, and without any true loyalty, being motivated only by money and greed for power. They will support only the highest bidder or the guy who has the best basketful of promises and agreeable to their demands! In fact these people can even be funded by various sources locally and internationally.

Secondly, he warns a-would-be ruler against using the support of auxiliary forces or troops borrowed from an ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-allyƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ because if they win, the ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ…-RulerƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚ (and in this context the President) would be under their favor ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” and may not necessarily satisfy the masses! If the alliance loses, the ruler is completely ruined! In fact auxiliary forces are more dangerous than mercenary forces because they are united and controlled by more capable leaders (perhaps politically experiencedƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ”š‚¦) and may even turn against the elected Ruler in the future! In this modern day and age, auxiliary forces can be broadened to include political parties that were castaways and groups of individuals that were once supporting the terrorists and their ideologies!

Looking at the events that unfolded, we have seen that HE the President has proved to be a rare Leader, with true leadership qualities and traits as well as possessing several of the power bases ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” some of which are indeed sustainable. What is now needed are the right people (or at least the majority of the people) to rally round him in developing this nation as the strongest and the most developed nation in the region ƒÆ’‚¢ƒ¢-¡‚¬ƒ¢¢”š¬…” and this definitely requires a second chance for a true leader to reap the fruits of peace and foundations of development that he had sown!

3 Responses to “Sustainable Leadership”

  1. Tikiri Banda Says:

    Very good account of leadership qualities and very well written. This is a good example of quality writing for all those who write useless comments in Lanka Web reports. Keep up Manisha you’ve just done this report at the right time.

  2. Billy Says:

    The article covers a very wide-range of important components on effective leadership. You’ve captured the subject matter quite well and, the suggested activities are very good to help leaders focus on carrying out their responsibilities.

  3. DrPadmaWijesekara Says:

    Manisha, you have given an impressive analysis of the political situation of Sri Lanka on the basis of modern management science notion. If you do the Belbin analysis of individuals who are with Sarath Fonseka, I am sure it will show the worst team you can ever imagine. A very good case study for Management Science experts. I strongly recommend Lankaweb should publish this paper in Sinhala.

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