Powerful Ideals

Almost six years ago I learnt about the concept of empire-builders vs influence-builders, in organizations. It was learning on the ground. I was watching both types of leadership around me, and was curious which one would win if put to test. And within a year the verdict was clear. No prizes for guessing – empires crumbled and influence prevailed.

This is why when someone says, grow your team, I take it to mean, grow your people. Not in ignorance, but by choice. I like to grow people. Growing a team is not a goal, but the means of achieving a goal. The goal is to grow influence. If I meet that goal, then the only way I can scale that influence is by growing my team (the non literal meaning).

Yeah, it’s a little convoluted way of getting to things. But this aligns with my theory of convictions and conveniences that I often toss around at people. We should take decisions based on our convictions and not our conveniences. Here’s a primer on that –

Papa tossed this concept at me when I was choosing between the brand name of Lady Sri Ram College (convenience) vs a BTech degree from a non branded Eng college in Nagpur (conviction). Based on my convictions I chose to not spend three years studying a subject I had zero interest in, in one of the best colleges in India. And instead I chose to go to Nagpur to study engineering. Nothing about my choice was glamorous – I was picking a state I knew nothing about, a peer group I was not excited about, a faculty that I did not know much about, and a long distance relationship.

I acted on my conviction when I said no to a role at Motorola, and instead  joined a boutique consulting firm, right after grad school. I could have paid off education loans twice as fast had I accepted the offer from Motorola. But I was convinced about not pursuing Systems Engineering for a hardware manufacturer as a career, despite it being a very convenient choice. I was so darn right 😛

Last week I learnt something new. It is always so exciting when that happens. Bear with me – I am still figuring it all out.

If we pick the influence builder track, it further bifurcates into – leading with ideals, and leading with power. I have witnessed both types of leadership and followed both types of leaders. It is true that leading with power yields immediate results. But there is something very inspiring about leading with ideals. I am certain that this is a personal preference. But I am always rooting for the idealists. I like to emulate them. And even if I don’t find them around me, I take it upon myself to set that example. It has not backfired yet. I took it to the extreme in my last role. It was very rewarding personally, but I don’t know how it would have panned out professionally, in the long run. 

In my opinion (not so humble in this case) – it is easier to lead with power, but it does not build leaders around you. This type of leadership helps with building a vision for the team. A vision people can easily follow and rally around. But it does not leave room for emulation. If your followers want to watch and learn, and they are not sharp enough to understand the source of that power, they might learn to wield power in ways that are not always inspiring, and can be taken to the extreme. That can breed bad leaders. And we all know there are plenty of those around. 

On the other hand, if you lead with ideals, you give your people a sense of purpose, along with the vision. And for your followers, you leave something very tangible to learn from. It is easier to emulate a leader who chooses to lead with ideals. And with ideals, just like facts, there are no interpretations. It is what it is.

I don’t mean to say that power is bad. Not at all. Just that it is not enough. And I find idealism way more powerful, and inspiring. That’s all.

So what did I learn – Well for one, I learnt that I love observing people and their leadership styles. It is so fascinating. Is there a science around this that I can read about or study more? Food for thought.

But more importantly, I am closer to finding an answer to the question I often ask myself and others around me.Authenticity, idealism, courage to do the right thing, and doing it in a way that is well aligned with my own principles – is that enough? I am not 100% there. But I have new leads in my quest. Follow on 🙂

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