GeneralHr Library

A new lens on leadership

Source | FoundingFuel : By K Ramkumar

The mighty elephant is hidden inside the wood
The mighty elephant hides the wood
The Creator is hidden inside the expansiveness of the universe
The magic of Creation hides the expansiveness of the universe

                             — A translation of a verse by Tamil saint Thirumoolar

Each of us perceives the world differently because our brain decodes it differently based on sensory inputs—sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. To make meaning of all this, our brain then overlays emotions on the sensory inputs, followed by another filter—our beliefs. The way we make meaning of the world influences our choices and decisions. It is precisely these perceptual differences that give rise to the many hues of the same thing—our different world views, or the lenses through which we perceive the world.

It is these different lenses that make leaders interpret opportunities and threats so differently. The lens of a leader impacts his perspectives, ambition, risk appetite and orientation to trust. These in turn impact the approach the leader takes with respect to his comprehension and choice of vision or ideology, strategy, innovation, organisation culture and decision making.

Let me illustrate the various ways their lens impacts their decisions.

1. It makes leaders interpret the same context differently and hold it as their personal realities.
To give you an example from the world of politics, see the different approaches of American presidential candidates Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton—and our reactions to each.

Trump, the Republican party nominee, sees a world which is dangerous enough for the US to contemplate building the modern Great Wall and erect an iron curtain that will keep its enemies out (and throw out those already in). He is unable to see this as a wall and a curtain that will also isolate Americans. His idea of America is of a land only for the new “native Americans”, never mind that the US was built by immigrants.

How could Clinton, the Democratic party nominee, be so blind to the “realities” that Trump sees? How could she deny that the US is probably the most hated nation after Rome? Is she naïve not to know that America’s allies want to bite off the hand that feeds them? Is she oblivious to the deep religious and ethnic fault lines across the world and which threaten her homeland? Unlike Trump, she sees hope and opportunity and not fear and despondency. She accepts that the idea of America as envisioned by its founding fathers—that all men are created equal—is still work in progress. Yet she wants “togetherness” and an inclusive America for all.

2. It makes leaders believe that opposite ideas will achieve the same objective.
Before Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, during all the 2,500 years of recorded history, no group of people were able to evict a foreign occupier without military engagement. A mere decade after Gandhi, even with Gandhi’s example before them, the African National Congress became disillusioned with about 50 years of other means to overthrow apartheid. Goaded by Nelson Mandela, it chose armed confrontation, until it changed its approach again a decade after.

Communist revolutionary leaders like Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh and Fidel Castro sought to obliterate class inequality by curtailing individual freedom. Others have sought the same outcome through free market, free enterprise and freedom of expression.

Many of us extoll the Chinese model of development. Some leaders believe that democracy and freedom can co-exist with development. Some believe that if it comes to a trade-off between individual freedom and development, they will elect the former. Still others believe that it is agreeable, though not prudent, to sacrifice individual freedom in favour of economic development.

These themes play out in other institutions too. For example, some business leaders believe that they need to restrain employees—serving and those who have left—from critically reviewing them or their organisations. They see this as bringing disrepute to the institution. The values they espouse are, all secrets should remain within the family and the family honour is paramount. They put loyalty above freedom of expression and transparency.

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