Leadership & Life

This article is adapted from a talk I give in our final Leadership class. I believe the ideas apply to all of us, possibly every day.


The best definition of a leadership is someone who has voluntary followers or influences people.

"An effective leader is not someone who is loved or admired...Leadership is not rank, privileges, titles, or money. It is responsibility." - Peter Drucker

But is leadership a life pursuit or a career? No. It is an event. An event unfolds, a person steps up and leadership occurs.

Lincoln found himself in the middle of a civil war, while Churchill was asked to step up to take the helm of Great Britain after years of being in the wilderness. They stepped up and leadership occurred.

Is Leadership for life? Is it transferable to all walks of life? No!

A great athlete may be a joy on the field, but those skills are not guaranteed to transfer to say being a good businessman, a good politician or even being a good person. There are limits to leadership. We can admire or venerate leaders but let us not assume that they are gods to be worshipped for life in every endeavor they embark upon or every thought they utter.

Interestingly, Leadership occurs in many walks of life: look at the parents, the coaches, the teachers, the list is endless. Often the quiet ones - the ones who do not need to bask in the limelight to assuage their egos - are the great, and unheralded, leaders.

Leadership then is Preparedness meeting Opportunity.

How can we best prepare ourselves? Yes, there may be some skills to acquire and they can be learned, but the most important thing is to work on becoming, and being, a better human being. In our study (over 16 years, but decidedly unscientific) of good and bad leaders, we found that the differences between those leaders tend to come down to character, ego, emotional intelligence, and the people they surround themselves with. Ruminate on that a bit.


How then can we become better human beings? We need a clearly defined code of conduct. But Aristotle reminds us that it is not enough to know what is right, but to actually do what is right because we believe in doing the right thing. This he called Virtue. And virtue, he explained, is gained by practice, which in Greek is called Ethike and we call Ethics.

Every life is a canvas, a blank canvas to paint on. What will you paint on your canvas? A quest for power, wealth, and untold pleasure? Or will it be a tale of exploration, service, joy, and striving to utilize every ounce of your potentiality?

All of us have, within us, the seeds of a Mao or a Lincoln, a Malala or an Elizabeth Holmes. Which seed will you water, which wind will you follow, which plant will you help blossom?

The answer, despite all the doubt and fear, is the quest, the real journey of life. So, find your center, your balance, your equilibrium, here and now. Define your values, your principles and your boundaries, and follow your well-oiled, rust-free, fully functioning, compass and head towards your True North.

Remember: "It is not the mountain we conquer but ourselves.

Verinder K. Syal