Have been thinking a lot lately on what true leadership really means. Back in Jan 2014, I moved from doing Venture Capital in India to becoming a tech operator in Silicon Valley. Life has been a roller coaster since then…to say the least. Met people that willingly ‘punt’ on quality talent, as well as jacka**es that suck the life out of them. Worked with some awesome individuals, as well as shockingly dysfunctional teams. Experienced world changing visions, as well as weak products that did no justice to them. Each day has been fun, gut-wrenching and full of countless moments wherein I have questioned all my assumptions…and life choices.
In particular, one question, more than others, stares at my face daily — “What does true leadership mean”? No matter how many management books, expert blogs and leadership training you go through, none of them gives you solutions to the ambiguous problems that life throws at us — what to do when a team member who is well-intentioned and great at the job, is actually destroying team culture? How do you give feedback to a senior leader? How do you communicate in a different country’s culture where even the language isn’t shared? How do you react in a political work environment — do you participate or stay away from it?
To counter these situations, the advice always is “to do the right thing”. But what is the “right thing”? Isn’t the “right thing” always contextual? What if your “right thing” is different from my “right thing”, given our different personal compasses?
I have no answers to these questions — perhaps, navigating these challenges successfully day-after-day, year-after-year and decade-after-decade is what creates true leaders. Standing today, to me it seems true leadership is a path, a journey, a series of battles that need to be fought (not necessarily won!). You have to be brave enough to walk down this path, and keep walking. Even with all the business knowledge, models, frameworks and networks in the world, nothing can quite prepare you for this journey. You just have to experience it, fall down, cry, curse, get up, learn from it, move on and make the best of it. And maybe…just maybe…years later…you would have moved closer to becoming a true leader. After all, it took more than 25 years each for Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. And they were still questioned!!
Personally, as I have started walking down this path over last few years, following Robin Sharma and Sadhguru has given me fundamental concepts and energy that has helped me tremendously. What has helped you as you walk down your own path? What is your idea of true leadership and doing the “right thing”? Would love to hear your thoughts.
Will leave you with this quote by Robin Sharma that has left a huge impact on me — “To lead is to serve”.