On 25 October 1854 during the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War, a British light cavalry was instructed to pursue and harry a retreating Russian artillery battery. However due to a miscommunication at the military command, they were sent to a different Russian artillery battery, one which was well prepared to defend and repel any attacking force. Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade written six weeks after the battle best described what actually took place at that time.
The Light Brigade faced withering direct fire and was badly mauled. Even though they reached their target they were forced to retreat immediately with only a handful of survivors. The famous charge was fatal and futile. However, what was obvious was the absolute loyalty of the soldiers to their leaders. They obeyed the instructions of their leader. They did not reply. They did not reason. Their only duty was to do and die. This is certainly one aspect of leadership. Absolute loyalty.
Leadership in its simplest definition is the power of one individual to guide the actions of another. Leaders are individuals who guide others towards the accomplishment of goals in such a way that followers want to follow.
One Chinese philosopher, Lao Tsu in 630 AD said “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, not so good when people obey and acclaim him; worst when they despise him.”
Joseph S Nye of Harvard Kennedy School noted in an article entitled “Soft power, Hard power and Leadership” (2006) that leadership styles are changing in today’s information age. Nye’s hard power referred to a patriarchal leadership style which was assertive, competitive, autocratic and focused on commanding the behaviour of others. While soft power referred to the feminine style which was cooperative, participatory, integrative, and aimed at co-opting the behaviour of followers. However Nye argued that as a leader, you need to use a combination of the two. There are times when you need to be persuasive and times when you need to be coercive or to play hard ball.
Today’s leaders need a variety of tools and traits. Forbes Magazine in 2012 came up with ten qualities which make good leaders.
1/ A Leader must be Honest
Whatever your ethics of belief when you are responsible for a team of people, it is very important to be an honest leader. Your organisation and the people who work in it are a reflection of you, and if you make honest and ethical behavior a key value, your people will follow suit.
2/ A Leader needs to be Creative
There are times when a leader has to make decisions on the fly. Your people will look to you for guidance during critical situations. You as the leader need to think outside the box and choose the best options.
3/ A Leader needs to trust his Intuition
When there is no roadmap on what to do, you need to draw on past experiences and trust your natural instinct on what needs to be done. As a leader, learning to trust yourself is as important as your people learning to trust you.
4/ A Leader must have the Ability to Inspire
Inspiring your people to see the vision of future successes is vital. A leader must be able to inspire people to focus on future goals and also on current issues. It is your job to keep spirits up.
5/ A Leader must have a Sense of Humour
Morale is linked to productivity, and it’s your job as the leader to instill positive energy. If you are constantly trying to find the humorous side of challenging situations, your work environment will become a happy and healthy space that your employees look forward to being in.
6/ A Leader needs to be Confident
Part of your job as a leader is to put out fires and maintain the team’s morale. Therefore you need to keep up your confidence level and assure everyone that setbacks are natural and that the important thing is to focus on the larger goal. As the leader, by staying calm and confident, you will help keep your people feeling the same way.
7/ A Leader must have Commitment
If you expect your team to work hard and produce quality content, you as the leader need to lead by example. By proving your commitment, you will not only earn the respect of your team, but will also instil in them that same hardworking energy.
8/ A Leader must have Positive Attitude
You want to keep your people motivated towards continued success and keep the energy levels up. Whether that means providing snacks, coffee or relationship advice, remember that everyone on your team is a person. Maintain a fine balance between productivity and playfulness.
9/ A Leader must be Able to Delegate
Delegating tasks to the appropriate people is one of the most important skills you can develop as your organisation grows. The key to delegation is identifying the strengths of your people and capitalising on them. This will not only prove to your people that you trust and believe in them, but will also free up your time to focus on the higher level tasks.
10/ A Leader must be able to Communicate
Being able to clearly and succinctly describe what you want done is extremely important. If you can’t relate your vision to your team, you won’t all be working towards the same goal. As the leader, making yourself available to discuss interoffice issues is vital. Your people will learn to trust and depend on you.
Haji Rozan currently holds the post of Permanent Secretary (Media and Cabinet) at the Prime Minister’s Office. His busy schedule does not deter his writing where he has the longest running column at The Brunei Times and has written more than 250 articles. He has also published three books. He has also presented a number of papers at international and local conferences and seminars.