What Does Leadership Mean to me ? Straight from a Bureaucrat Series

Kalpana Gopalan IAS_Indianbureaucracy
Kalpana Gopalan IAS_Indianbureaucracy

I have always wondered why so many of us want to be leaders. What is it about leadership that makes it so attractive across cultures and continents? We attend training programs, read books, emulate role models, all in quest of the holy grail of leadership.

I doubt whether the leaders of the world are on a search to “find” leadership. They are not bent over their little pads, listing the “qualities of a good leader”, nor are they googling “leadership-best practices”. No, my friend, they are out there, working, doing, and being.

For me, leadership means just a few simple things. The first is authenticity. One cannot fake leadership, those around you will see through you in time. You have some qualities that are uniquely you.  If some part of the essential you is not something you are happy with, do work on changing yourself. But you cannot hide what you are; leadership is not a cloak that you can wear and take off as you please.  Be yourself all the time, every time.

Leadership is responsibility. Increasingly, we find authority and accountability are divorced from each other. Everyone is quick to point fingers and find fault. From podiums and television boxes, those who merely observe feel entitled to comment and criticize those who actually do. We live in a society where multitudes of self-styled experts can tell us what the problem is and what is the solution. But to walk that messy thorny path from the problem to the solution, that needs You, my friend.

Leadership is the courage to walk alone.  It is not an easy world we live in. in our professional life, there are vested interests and competition is unhealthy. As one Watsap sage said: “Once you are public, you need to have a thick skin and a short memory”. Anyone in public life is fair game, even Mother Teresa had haters. So, there will come a time in your life, like it does in the life of every leader, when you have to hold head high, hold on to your conviction and say “ekla chalo”. The bard of Bengal knew this, the Mahatma experienced this, and so will you.

In that moment, my friend, You will emerge from the chrysalis, a Leader.

Author: Dr. Kalpana Gopalan is presently Principal Secretary at Food, Civil Supplies, Consumer Affairs & Legal Metrology Department, Government of Karnataka. A Practitioner, policy-maker, scholar, author, volunteer and mother, Kalpana Gopalan wears many hats. A serving IAS officer for 27 years, she has worked in land administration, urban management, rural development and education. She is a NLM-UNESCO awardee for her work in adult literacy and Advisor to the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike. A Doctorate and Masters in public policy from IIM Bangalore, she was rated among the “top two percent of Doctoral Candidates in the past decade”for her research on infrastructure PPPs, . A gold medallist and topper in her undergraduate and master’s, she was a Visiting Fellow at McGill and Concordia Universities in Canada, EU fellow in the University of Salerno, Italy, Chevening scholar, IDS, UK and Maxwell Public Policy scholar in Syracuse University, USA.

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