I am often asked whether leadership is an art or a science. My reply has always been “Both”. Recently, I have had a rethink and now, if anyone asks me that question, I will answer unhesitatingly “Art”.
In Singapore, where the worship of the intellect is second only to the worship of mammon, such a view is capital heresy. We pride ourselves as being world-class where critical thinking is concerned. Science and Technology are at the forefront of our collective consciousness, and everything can be mathematically and empirically proven. Every problem has a technological solution and even emotions and appreciation of art can be measured in some scientific way. We are capable of analyzing our way to the depths of any problem to get answers. How can something like leadership, which has existed and has been studied and has been analyzed scientifically for so long, fall into the realm of something as nebulous as art?
Therein lies the fatal fallacy. We forget, in our pursuit of excellence and of being Number One in those spheres where we feel we ought to, that hard science answers the question of “How Leadership Works”. It does not answer the “Why?” In seeking to find the most profitable ways of prosecuting a business, we forget the paramount importance of the raison d’etre. We equip our leaders with the best leadership tools, but fail to prune and mould them so that they can grow and become leaders in their own right, not clones of some vaunted leadership framework. Leadership frameworks are great and work very well, but they will imprison you if you fail to recognize that they are what they are – frameworks to be used, not complied with blindly.
Enter the leadership sensei. The one who is able to enter any situation and immediately discern what is needed most. The sensei knows what to look for, who to ask, what to ask, and how to ask. He needs little else to know what your organization needs where your leadership style, attributes, character and expression are concerned. If you go to him and ask for a leadership conference, he might tell you not to waste your resources, but replace your General Manager of 20 years because that esteemed General Manager of yours has stunted the growth of everyone else in the company, and therefore the business as a whole is slowly dying of anaemia. He might even suggest to you that you fire yourself as CEO because you have failed to prevent this.
How does the sensei do that? Does he have some mystical sixth sense or third eye? No! Very often, it is because the sensei has had a great depth of experience with the science of leadership. He knows many frameworks and theories well, and has gone through leadership positions and struggles himself. No, the sensei has no extra advantage over anyone else. What the sensei has done is apply the science of leadership to the art. You might say that he has mastered the tactical and is now a practitioner of strategic leadership. When he practises his art, it seems mystical to the uninitiated simply because they have not gone through the basics.
Are there senseis in your organization? Are you one of them?