When Competency is Leadership
We have often come across unique personalities in our daily lives. People who inspire us show us a new frame of perceptions and eventually become our role models. This makes us aspire to emulate them, and most of us try our level best to achieve what they have. Yes, in our hearts and minds, our role models are our leaders. True leaders earn this kind of respect; they do not steal, inherit or buy it. This is what makes them so special to us.
But, in the midst of all this, we forget one crucial criterion in this equation of admiration. To truly become like this leader, one has to rise above the average and embrace all that comes with being special. We assume that if we work hard and do whatever it takes to reach that level, we will automatically imbibe knowledge that helps us deal with being that distinguished. But this is almost never so. How often have we seen our leaders falter at the top, appearing to be suddenly susceptible to all the adverse repercussions of a mistake in judgement? To truly be a leader, one must begin to deliver on the very expectations one has from his own leaders.
The most subtle of these expectations is competency. A leader is one who has what is commonly referred to as core competency. He has come as close to perfection as possible in the craft of his choosing. Be it the undisputed number-one ranked tennis player, or the self-made IT billionaire; they would have been the best at what they do best. This, obviously, reflects their adeptness and skills at matching and overpowering all other competitors to this top position. Therefore, to be the true leader in a field, there is no doubting the need to be the best in the field; by the virtue of one’s own core competency.
However, we might always overlook the other face of competency – how to use your core competency, and how to deal with its consequences. There are leaders who have let their skill overpower their basic judgements, and have lost everything to their ego. There are leaders who, at their prime, begin to indulge in extravagancies only to realize that their edge has diminished in time. But worst of all are those leaders who betray all the people who helped them to be who they are, and in the process, betray their admirers as well. We can give innumerable examples of these from history – all underlying the simple point that core competency is not everything.
What, then, must a true leader wield as strongly? For one, he must be fully averse to compromising on his values. A leader sets himself apart by defying the norm. But if he does so by defying his own values and compromising on his integrity, he reduces himself to the vilest form of behavior. He disrespects what makes him who he is, and in the process loses himself to himself. Secondly, a leader never overestimates his competency. It is by merit of his fortitude, hard work and perseverance that he has risen to where he is today. To extend his reach beyond his grasp is blind egotism, and every such overreach stretches his ability to cope with his burdens even further. Eventually, he will bring about his own collapse. Finally, a leader does not borrow courage. He fights his own battles, making the victories that much sweeter. He does not cheat, or use underhanded techniques to give sharpen his edge. Even if you are a police commissioner’s son, having policemen as bodyguards does not make you immune to the law. Using borrowed resources and purchased power will never make anyone a true leader.
At the end of this, one will realize that there is nothing that one did not already know in the above paragraphs. All of us have heard these words before. On some inspection, we will then realize that a true leader is not very different from each and every one of us, except that he has made the decisions that many of us ignore everyday. It takes hard work to develop core competency, and determination to wield it well. Every single one of us is capable of this. Every single one of us can be the leader we deserve.
It had been a long day, and a lot more of the same. I was happy I was heading home, but the walk back always reminded me of things that I had left behind, and things that seemed incomplete. An insufficient meal that I had to leave halfway in order to make it to class, an ubrupt conversation with someone I should have paid more attention to, an incomplete thought on the severity with which depression strikes some people, and an unfulfilled idea that kept being pushed further back in my list of tasks for the day. The walk back was solitary, and that was a good time to reflect. But atleast it ended when I opened my door every evening. That’s when I was back in my world.
“And where have you been?”
“Nuff? When did you get back?”
He had left a month back. No mention of where he was going, and no word on when he’d return (and if he would). I didn’t expect him back, actually. He’d left nothing behind.
“I’m back, and you haven’t done much since I’ve left”.
“What do you mean? What was I supposed to do, your laundry?”
“Hilarious. That’s not what I meant. Any change since I left?”
“The quarter’s almost done, but nothing eventful besides that. Why?”
“Come with me”. He put on his jacket.
“No man, it’s the middle of the week. I don’t have time for your games”.
“Since when do you have a choice?”
“Since I decided to put my foot down”.
“Well, look who it is. Nice to meet you, finally. I’ve heard so much about you. Do sit down”.
I had no idea if he was sober, straight or sarcastic. With Nuff, it was very hard to tell. But mostly, I didn’t care enough to think about it twice. This time, there was genuine interest on his face. He didn’t ever lie, atleast with his expressions. Maybe to himself sometimes, but not otherwise.
“What’s going on Nuff?”
“I want to tell you something. Something I think may be useful to you”.
“Sure, let me sit down, this is probably going to take a while”.
“It’s not like you’re doing any better by yourself”.
“Shut up Nuff, I’m in no mood for beration”.
“Then pay attention. Do you know what a hyperplane is?”
“Yea, it’s a linear equation in….”
“…in n-dimensional space, good. What would you think is special about it?”
“Nothing much, it’s pretty basic. It’s used in some…”
“I don’t want to know where it’s used. What is special about it?”
“Why don’t you just tell me, since I’m not going to…”
“Alright. It separates spaces”.
“Draw a line on a sheet of paper, and that line separates an infinite plane into two equal halves”.
“And nothing – what does that say to you?”
“That you have a very limited understanding of geometry.”
“Hilarious. And still, I’m not drawing lines everywhere, closing in my spaces and hoarding in any room to move. I’m not stifling myself with boundaries and edges. I’m not rooted to any reference point in my silly little loop-de-loop. I am boundless”.
“You are a bum”.
“You are between jobs”.
“My point is simple – you are getting in your own way”.
“Indulge me with another answer – what is a fractal?”
“This is getting tiring Nuff, I’m in…”
“A fractal, in the simplest terms, is a self-similar pattern. It’s the same from up close as it is from afar, but the complexity can keep you busy for hours”.
“Let me guess, you’re a fractal? How very interesting, you’re actually drawing a mathematical analogy to how self-absorbed you really are”.
“Now now son, play nice. I have a point to make”.
“Be still, my fluttering heart”.
“You, sir, are a hyperplane. No matter which dimension I pull you into, you remain a flat little surface. Uneventful, rudimentary, plain, boring. I can extend you any way I can, but you will remain flat and boring. Do you know why?”
“Because that’s what the math says.”
“Because that’s what you have collapsed into. A sorry little linear nothing”.
I could see what he was saying, but I was in no mood to play along. Then again, this was Nuff. Playing along was the only way to follow anything.
“So what should I do?”
“I want you to really understand something – no matter what you think or believe, no one is going to pull a miracle out for you. You are your own misery, and your own spring of joy. You have to learn to be comfortable with the loops at all scales – large and small. There are problems at both scales, some that might seem irrevocably distinct. But remember that, in this fractal sense, they are not opposing. They aren’t separate. They’re just at different scales, and you might need to back up or pay more attention to understand them”.
“That’s not deep at all Nuff, you’re slacking”.
“Everything isn’t as deep as I make it sound. Sometimes, I’m just in it for the ride”.
“And other times?”
“Other times, I’m just here to make you stop thinking about lines and boxes”.
“What about curves?”
“Like the trajectory of your chances in beating me at FIFA? It’s an angry bird’s flight path – silly, screaming and all the way down”.
“Hah! Bring it on”.
Nuff couldn’t work miracles. He couldn’t even make sense all of the time. And he definitely didn’t have all the answers. But what he could do was get me out of my own head, and help me out when I refused to admit (even to myself) that there were certain things that wouldn’t ever make complete sense. I didn’t ever tell him, but what he said got me thinking. There are striations of complexity, and it was important to not get lost in the transitions. It was even more important to keep a handle on the scale, and to step back to know when you’re through.
With Nuff, it didn’t seem as hard anymore. Until then, Nuff would keep at it. Even if his math didn’t make sense. Or maybe until it did.
Nuff said: “My vision will turn your world inside-out, tear asunder all your illusions and bring down the sanctuary of your ignorance crashing down around you. If it doesn’t, you haven’t been listening”.