THE BLOG
03/21/2012 11:06 am ET | Updated May 05, 2015

An Ideal Leader Versus a Practical Leader

An ideal leader or a practical leader: many people think the two should go hand in hand. "A leader leads by example." "Follow the leader." Adages go on and on. It seems that the person leading a group should stand for all that is right and good in this world. Logically, it would seem so, right?

A generic dictionary defines a leader as "a person who leads or commands a group or an organization." Simple human psyche would obviously suggest that this leader stands for all the happy and hunky-dorey stuff. Also, in case of a failing on his part, he should be immediately removed from higher authority in whatever swift motion possible.

Of late, I don't think this is the correct thinking. I feel that the fallacy lies in equating an ideal leader with a practical leader. In the real world, an idealist cannot be a leader. Following an idealist leads to very narrow-minded thinking with a linear thought process. It's bad for creativity.

A leader is just a homogenous part of the group, someone who understands the dynamics and helps them solve problems that may befall upon that group. A leader is one who stands by the group in happiness and sorrow. Why should he (not gender specific) not be reciprocated when he fails? Isn't it the duty of others to forgive him just as he would have for the rest of his team?

I have recently come to this realization, having read countless instances of leaders being brought down because of small errors in judgement on their part. History is rife with such accounts of state leaders being removed for lapses which have absolutely no bearing on the function of their office -- CEOs of companies taken out of hard-earned positions because of something that happened beyond their knowledge. Is a leader supposed to know everything that happens? Not necessarily. Keeping tabs on the on-goings: yes, that would be his responsibility. But micro-managing the group is not in his purview. Isn't that what differentiates a true leader from a dictator?

After all, a leader is but a human being. He deserves some slack; how much slack is a line to be drawn on a case-by-case basis. True, he does need to possess some basic ethics, such as forgiveness, being considerate and understand, humility and so forth. He chooses new people, chooses who gets to do what, and he helps figure out a way to define a future course of action.

An ideal leader is someone bordering on a closed-house dictatorship, leading with a whip and telling everyone exactly what to do. A practical leader understands the limitations of each member's capability and allows for self- leadership. Sometimes a few hard measures are necessary, but that's a decision a leader should make. All factors irrelevant to decision making should be discounted for him. Why should his religion come into the picture while taking a financial decision for his company? Such narrow-mindedness has landed mankind into trouble where everyone is clamoring to find a person to get us out of the mess.

There is no more "power of the masses." Everyone is looking for a man with the power "to turn it" around while going about his or her daily business. Isn't it the responsibility of each person to think of the betterment of the group? I am now interchanging the analogy; equating the group to mankind and the leader as a mythical messiah. Lemmings running towards certain death is quantity and power of the masses too, but it's not for the collective good of the race. Human beings are better. We're supposed to be able to think. Why can't we think for the collective good and quit being egotistic and cynical? What would happen if we had a quality mass? I mean, why choose between quality and quantity when we could have a huge mass of good quality people? In that case, the leader would have to simply give a direction, and each member would be able to figure out what he or she would have to do based on his or her personal situation. Ergo, you have a practical leader -- a modern day leader.

Engineering has a new field called System of Systems. It can be defined as a collection of independent entities that can function but have no constructive purpose independently; collectively, however, their abilities and results go way beyond their own capabilities. Extending that to the human race, each person is a system working towards a better cause, trying to help further the race. Each entity, therefore, has his own responsibility. If the decision of good and bad lies with the entity, not on the leader, bad elements are automatically eliminated. The leader simply keeps tabs and makes higher level decisions. It's not the brain to be blamed when something goes wrong in the body. Likewise, it's not the leader at fault when the group is not working. It's as much a fault of the members for the overall failure. One shouldn't ditch the leader when things get out of hand, because that's when each member needs to put his or her head down, grind it out and emerge victorious.

A practical leader is just an enabler, not a follow-me-blindly ideal leader. A smart group is not someone looking to be fed with a silver spoon but one that helps build a silver spoon for the not-so-lucky ones. Wouldn't that be the perfect scenario? No more desperate search for the "Great One." It would be true "power to the people." A harmonious living for all. Now, that would be an ideal situation with a practical leader... Paradox?