During my Civil Services training in Mussoorie, an IAS officer conducting a class once asked us, “What are officer-like qualities?”

Soon we rattled off a barrage of heroic qualities: Integrity, courage, vision, persuasion, eloquence, teamwork…

When the list on the whiteboard crossed 22, one fellow trainee said, “Sir, more than officer-like qualities, these are God-like qualities.”

We all started laughing.

There is a common tendency to idealize ‘officer-like qualities’ or leadership so much that you wonder, where does this Superman live?

In fact, I see some very highly regarded people on social media eloquently postulating ‘A great leader does this’ and ‘A great leader does that.’

Sorry, that idealized ‘great leader’ does not exist.

One case study we did at Wharton was about a ‘great leader’ who changed the car industry. Today, he is a fugitive from law.

A guy, who built India’s largest engineering firm, was an obsessive, hands-on, detail-driven guy, while others are hands-off and strategic.

One IPS officer, who crushed terrorism in India, would hardly speak a sentence, while others won’t shut their mouth. Some leaders are kind, while some are notoriously insensitive (Steve Jobs?).

To be a leader, you don’t need all those 22 qualities, though you surely need some (especially, integrity).

If people will follow you, and you can lead them to a better place — you are a leader.

You can be a great leader, so can someone very unlike you. There is no template.

– Rajan


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