Lessons from an insightful book that shows us how to take the tough climb towards exceptional leadership
Charting out the background, context and path for becoming an exceptional leader is a humongous undertaking. Almost akin to taking an expedition to Mount Everest.
That's the kind of journey Ravi Chaudhry undertakes in the expansive stride of his book Quest for Exceptional Leadership: Mirage to Reality. And he does it with the poise, preparation and panache of a veteran mountaineer.
No wonder, in his book, he has used the metaphor of climbing a summit for traversing the path of progress from being an average leader to an exceptional one.
At the start of this meandering, tough and uphill path is the starting point with certain physical traits (basic intelligence, energy and drive, professional will); the base camp is characterised by mind traits (realistic visionary, transactional skill, perseverance); and the summit is reached with traits of the heart (wholeness, compassion, transparency).
But that comes much later in the book. He begins with the recent failure of business and political leaders, especially in the western world, in preventing the economic crisis that continues to plague us to this day. He minces no words in lambasting the moral bankruptcy of the supposedly best and brightest people the alumni of the most prestigious institutions of the world, who joined the financial sector en masse, in preference to any other sector, and became proactive accomplices in complete degeneration of whatever was left of business ethics.
Chaudhry then goes on to get to the root of the leadership crisis, the seven prime realities of business that shape the decisions of leaders today: businesspolitical nexus, short-termism, corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a PR exercise, corruption of the mind, information overload, leaders blinded by power, and misdirected GDP growth.
A good thing about the book is that the author doesn't get bogged down by the moral or ethical rot he sees around. Or turn this book into a gigantic lament (like many others writing on such issues often do). Instead, he shows the reader a way from turning the apparent mirage of exceptional leadership into a reality.
One of his suggestions, for instance, is the need for organisations to shift their stance from CSR to ISR individual social responsibility, in which the CEO of a company is answerable for the decisions it takes. A far cry from the generic nature and muddiness of collective corporate accountability. (Something that Joel Bakan dealt with extensively in his excellent book The Corporation: the Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power.)
In the book, Chaudhry describes seven allies who have the capacity and muscle to initiate meaningful change today: consciousness-promoting institutions, consumers, media, educators, role-model CEOs, women, and independent legislators and ex-bureaucrats. While these agents of change can collectively steer the future course of history, argues Chaudhry, the task of creating synergy among them cannot be left to chance. (One wonders if that's one reason why the Occupy movement didn't succeed to the extent it should have.)
The path from average leadership to exceptional leadership, like the track of a high mountain, is strewn with difficult choices. But there is a path, all right. And Chaudhry's book, thankfully, illuminates it with ample light.
Title: Quest for Exceptional Leadership: Mirage to Reality
Author: Ravi Chaudhry
Publisher: Sage Publications