Toughness of A Leader

Human beings are not like a pack of wolves. The latter are much dependent on the presence of a leader to ensure their very survival.  Always ahead of the pack will be the strongest and  bravest wolf that runs the fastest of all.

Naturally, however, a human being remains curious about who will play the role of leader and places his trust in this leader.  So the leader (of human beings) must be able to show that he is indeed a leader.  He must be tough and show that he is tough.

Why must a leader be tough?  White, in his book The Nature of Leadership  (AMACOM) published  early this year, gives five reasons as follows:

1. The toughness of a leader is needed to give a chance to his organization to succeed.

An organization is an entity exposed to the dynamism of the external environment.  The external environment not only offers opportunities but also poses threats.  A threats posed by competition, raw material scarcity, customer pressure, government regulation and the latest innovations, for example, can instantly make a company obsolete.

Of the 500 companies on the prestigious Fortune 500 list in the 1950s, only 71 companies remained on the list in 2004.  Of the many large and powerful private companies in Indonesia prior to the economics crisis, only a handful survived and belong to the old owners. Many of these firms have gone bankrupt or been acquired by other companies as a result of their incapability to deal with the changes in their environment.

It is not only profit-oriented organizations that have to deal with threats and difficulties. Government institution cannot escape pressure from the people,  who now have a better understanding of their rights.  They demand better services, more transparency or regulations reflecting better justice.  Non-profit  organizations have to deal with a scarcity of resources and changes in the public’s way of thinking.

The toughness of a leader is needed not only when his organization has to deal with difficulties but also when this organization is in its heyday. Success can easily catch someone off guard and they can get carried away with comfort it produces.  A leader must never be caught off guard.  A leader must never get carried away with his success.  He must remain alert.

2. Toughness is needed to set a standard in the ranks of leadership.

A leader must set the standard that  will be applied in his leadership to determine ethics-related matters.   How to dealt with a colleague involved in a dishonest practice in the company?  Corporate regulations obviously  stipulate that any dishonest  practice is subject to dismissal.

However, this matter may concern someone who has been working a long time for the company and has all this time performed excellently.   Dismissed or forgiven?  Should he be dismissed because of his involvement  in a dishonest practice? Or should he be  forgiven  because this is  his first time and all these  years  his achievements  have overshadowed  that of others, who have not been involved  in dishonest  practices?

Toughness is needed to determine the standard that a decision is based on.  This decision must be firm, rational, objective and independent and must also be based on evidence.  If a leader decides that this colleague must be fired, this is the standard that must be applied.  The same is true the other way around.

3. Toughness is needed to establish  and mantain authority and credibility.

If an ambitious person wishes to be a leader, he may believe that once named a leader  he has achieved the goal of his life.  In reality, he has just started performing his task.  The reason is that someone will enjoy a higher level of formal authority and power  as they assume a higher position.  A leader generally find himself in a high position, or at least  in charge of a group  of  subordinates.

Higher authority is meaningless unless the leader exercises it.  He can exercise this authority, for example,  to distribute jobs, to mete out punishment and give rewards  and to make  a decision that reflects justice in order to reach the goals of the organization.  A leader must be prepared to exercise the power on which this authority rests.

This powered must never be exercised at will or cruelly; instead, it must be used in a firm and responsible manner.  In this way he will not only maintain his authority but also confirm his credibility.  Exercising one’s power at will causes the credibility to collapse as does the exercising of power that fails to reflect justice.  Toughness is needed to enable someone to exercise authority responsibly.

4. Toughness is needed to guarantee that work will be completed and responsibility performed.

Just imagine that a leader must set deadlines, determine quality standards, refuse to accept excuses and demand discipline.  That’s why a leader frequently looks stubborn.

Now imagine working in an organization  where the work is often not completed  or if it is eventually completed, it is done so way past deadline.  This is an indication that this organization is full of lazy or irresponsible people with the right competence.  Where is the leader, then?  What is the leader doing?

Patience, perseverance and determination are the three components of toughness.  A leader must always have these three components so that he may become  the source of enthusiasm on the part of the leadership ranks above or below him and also so that his subordinates realize that their leader means business.

5. Toughness is needed to give inspiration and shape new leaders.

The toughness of  our parents in raising us in a pleasant atmosphere at home will inspire us in leading our lives, and also later when we raise our own children.  Toughness becomes not only inspirational in our private lives but also in the life of an organization.  Toughness inspires future  leaders.

Collins (2001) in his highly enlightening book From Good  to Great (Harper Collins) says that being  determined, demanding perfection  and  working extraordinarily hard are the characteristics of the leaders successfully developing their companies from being good to being great and maintaning this level.  The toughness of a leader  is educational for prospective leaders in an organization.  In this way  there will always be a supply of future successors having the same quality as their predecessors.

If you are a leader in an organization where you work, be a tough one.  There are many reasons why a leader must be tough.  If you are yet to play the role of a leader, build your toughness by starting  to build your mental and emotional toughness.  Of course, all this must be based on a sound physical condition.

*This article was published at the Jakarta Post, October 31. 2007.

Ningky Risfan Munir blogDr. Ningky Munir, is lecturer in the Business Management Post-Graduate Program, PPM School of Management, Jakarta.

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