Let me be so bold as to say that you will never find or be the perfect leader. To be human is to make mistakes. But I hope we all strive to continuously improve our intrapersonal, interpersonal, technical, and managerial skills. This inevitably leads to a happier and correspondingly more productive workforce. The aim I believe is to transition from being a boss (driving the employees and inspiring fear) to a leader (coaching the employees and inspiring enthusiasm).
I have had the pleasure of reporting to a wide range of different leader personality types and behaviors. From experiencing an uncommunicative but skilled boss (let’s call him Mr. A) who operated in a clique of yes men (and maybe he still does) to a leader (Dr. B) who had less technical knowledge but whose door was always open for communication of any of my concerns. I much preferred the latter. Permit me to delve further into my personal experiences with Mr. A and Dr. B.
Mr. A rose to stardom in his organization very quickly. He was technically adept and his reputation was his performance on the job, especially with regards to writing reports. Therefore Mr. A was promoted very quickly through the ranks and inevitably attained supervisory responsibilities. It was around this time that, myself, a fledging engineer joined this organization and fell under Mr. A’s responsibility. But I was in disagreement with Mr. A’s attitude towards me. He often insulted me in the presence of other personnel and was never willing to share his knowledge. He bad-mouthed the performance of others, even those under his supervision. Those who agreed with Mr. A’s views were absorbed into his clique. I became one of those who were left to fend for myself and learn the engineering skills I needed on my own. I subsequently left the organization, mainly because of Mr. A.
As a mechanical engineering researcher later on in life, I was supervised by Dr. B. For any researcher performing doctoral studies, there comes a transition point where the knowledge of the researcher may exceed that of the supervisor in a particular research area. For some it comes after 2 years of study, for others never. For me, it occurred after 6 months of study. This placed a lot of onus on me to ensure that I was on the right track in my studies. There were times when I felt the doctoral study was directionless. However, I would not have traded that experience for anything else in the world. Mainly because of the outstanding leadership qualities of Dr. B. He catered to my administrative and psychological needs. He was there to offer his support when I encountered personal obstacles at the university. There was nothing that I couldn’t talk to Dr. B about. Dr. B always made it a point to inquire about the well-being of my family and wife. I subsequently graduated from the university in a period of time that was 1 year earlier than the average time taken for a doctoral researcher in that region.
The perfect leader may be in the eyes of the beholder. To the ones in Mr. A’s clique, he was probably the perfect leader. I have never spoken to Mr. A since but those who presently work under him report of his dictatorial ways. I have heard stories of him personally monitoring, on a daily basis, the time his employees enter and leave the compound. I guess he has decided to further improve his skills into being an excellent spy. I regularly maintain contact with Dr. B, and we intend to collaborate in the future on research activities. Dr. B still inquires on the well-being of myself and family.
I am not exempt from blame in the scenarios I have described, especially with regards to interactions with Mr. A. I was often rude to him and this was in retaliation to his attitude. Perhaps I should have been more tolerant of his ways and mannerisms. By doing this, I would have performed better in my job then. But I thank him because I strive on a daily basis to not be like him. For if I never experienced his type I would not know how it feels, for example, to be ridiculed as an employee in the presence of others. I also need to consider Mr. A’s turmoil as he was put into a position of supervision at an early stage of his career. I don’t know how this can affect a person’s psyche and the added expectations that are placed on one by his organization.
I do know that I have and will continue to make mistakes as I try to be a leader. I basically strive to do the things that I deemed as positive from Dr. B and avoid doing what was negative from the experiences with Mr. A. My personal experiences have confirmed that leaders are not specific to developed or developing nations or the degree of education they have attained.
Leaders are found throughout the spectrum of companies, organizations and all walks of life. Is it the case that leaders are born, do they emerge over time, or is there a bit of both? I don’t know. However, it is often the power hungry that rise to the organizational/corporate top quickly. They are the ones that lack the skills required to keep a group or workforce happy. And I strongly believe that an employee’s happiness is directly related to his/her productivity.
About the author:
Dr. Chris Maharaj is the Assistant Professor of Design and Manufacturing at the The University of Trinidad & Tobago, O’Meara Campus, Trinidad. Chris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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