By Ganesh Chella
For several decades, management thinkers and others in the field of human psychology and leader development have led all of us to believe that it is an individual’s magnetic qualities that inspire followers to follow. They have led us to believe that it is an individual in the position of leadership who rallies his or her troops, gives them a sense of purpose, creates passion and hope and leads them into a greater future or helps them get what they want.
To me, that notion of leader as a person is under peril. I have been witness to a series of events in the past decade which has led me to question this overemphasis of the individual or even glorification of a single person as the cause for leadership.
A few recent events (especially in the city of Chennai, India) have convinced me that it is the cause and not a person that provides real leadership or inspires followership.
In December 2015, the city of Chennai was ravaged by the century’s worst floods. Citizens witnessed unimaginable misery and hardship. In the midst of this calamity, the city discovered leadership. This leadership was not in the form of a politician, a social worker from an NGO, a Member for Parliament or anyone else. It was the “cause of flood relief” that moved thousands of people to demonstrated exemplary levels of compassion empathy, jump in and participate in the flood relief which was “The cause”. It is the cause of helping people that served as the leader or provided the emotional draw that no leader could have ever provided. Interestingly, there wasn’t a single person or even group of persons who stood out as leaders at that time and that really helped.
The month of December 2016 saw the sad demise of the then Chief Minister of Tamilnadu, Selvi Jayalalitha.
What citizens and the common men and women of Chennai feared most at that time was violence as an aftermath?
Interestingly, and to the surprise and relief of people, the entire funeral and the transition was completely incident free. No leader stood up and appealed for peace or asked people to maintain calm. The cause of maintaining grace and dignity and demonstrating true respect was so strong that it served to mobilise people to act in perhaps the most civilised manner.