4Cs of a Credible Leader — Courage, Confidence, Competence, and Compassion
Confidence with competence is a deadly combination; confidence without competence is foolishness and dangerous.
Confidence with competence and courage is unstoppable; confidence without competence and with courage is suicidal.
Competence without confidence and courage is a sheer waste.
Many people keep building competence by acquiring new skills thinking that they alone will be sufficient, and do not pay enough attention to building courage and confidence to take up new challenges.
It is high time we teach our people to be courageous and instill confidence by creating the right environment in the workplace or even in our homes.
I remember having read somewhere that Steffi Graf’s father used to lose matches to her during her growing-up years. Steffi’s father was probably a thoughtful man to deliberately lose a game to his child to instill confidence in her. It eventually did, and she thought she could win with anybody. This is how you build confidence in your people and your children. Let them succeed and earn the laurel. You keep aside your ego temporarily.
I know an incident where a company undertook a new initiative and experimentation; unfortunately, the program failed. The project manager wanted to quit after the colossal failure. When he went to his boss to tender his resignation, his boss asked him, “how can you quit?” He said, I have allowed you to experiment and fail and learn, and once you have learned and become wise, how can I let you go? That’s how true leaders support their teams.
I am sure you would have heard the story of our ex-president Dr. Kalam talking about his boss Satish Dhawan. In 1979 when SLV-3 Mission failed and the satellite fell in the Bay of Bengal, headed by Dr. Kalam, his boss Satish Dhawan took the entire responsibility and addressed the press conference. Mr. Dhawan entrusted the responsibility to Dr. Kalam again, and when the next mission became a complete success, he did not turn up for the press conference and asked the team to handle it. What a great example of a leader? When the team struggles, you stand by them like a rock. You allow them to take the credit and celebrate when they are successful.
Unfortunately, today’s culture is growing in a way where all laurel goes to the leaders and all flak to the team. Some leaders are losing the spine to own up to things, and the media tells stories only of the heroics of the Generals and not the foot soldiers because they are unglamorous. This also happens often because the leaders live in echo chambers surrounded by sycophants. But it is only a matter of time before situations become untenable and things start producing diminishing returns. That is how the average lifespan of corporations has come down. A study by McKinsey tells that the average life span of S&P 500 companies is coming down to 18 years in recent times from 61 years in 1958. I am sure there would be many reasons for that, but the most important one we can guess safely is ineffective leadership. How many times have you read that criticism of those Generals? A smart leader should know and choose not to listen to conforming sound bites alone but also to what is unspoken. This is even true in politics.
Some of you will even say that I have been naïve and it is not pragmatic; this is kind of la la land and only an excellent esoteric idea for workshops. The real world is different; it is difficult, so you must be hard on people and aggressive to extract performances. This is where many leaders flunk and confuse between being hard and aggressive and driving result orientation and meritocracy. I am sure you have noticed that fear as a tool has a limitation, becoming suboptimal after a time. As people climb up in the career value systems, creative and knowledge workers would not like to operate under the realm of gloom and fear. They need real meaning in work to perform to their best potential. Post-Covid, people have started reflecting harder, which is why the big resignations are happening; people are looking for deeper meaning in what they are doing because they saw how human frailty was staring at them intently during the Covid.
So, maybe use the stick only to gain tactical advantages intelligently to win the battles, instill courage and confidence in people, and help them be competent on a sustained basis to win the war. And this is all possible only if the leaders are driven by inexhaustible compassion.