Leadership: Forbes India Leadership Awards 2022: Meet the Changemakers


RRussia’s invasion of Ukraine over the past two weeks has, among other things, exposed some perceptions and myths about leaders and leadership. Vladimir Putin is for many the marauding “strong leader” with ruthless and evil plans against a helpless neighbor. Some columnists were quick to portray US President Joe Biden as a “weak leader” because he was unable to intervene effectively.

The idea here is not to delve into the complex geopolitics of the situation and justify either Putin’s aggression or the West’s tepid retaliation. Rather, the point here is to explore the myth of strong (and weak) leadership—and not necessarily the political variant.

This is, after all, Forbes India’s annual leadership edition, where we honor the best leaders – from entrepreneurs to professional bosses – in the domestic business landscape. The Forbes India Leadership Awards (FILA) is a celebration of leaders who have been able to redefine and/or transform their organizations during a crisis – a pandemic.

Of course, “redefined” and “transformational” leaders can be more effective than those we label “strong,” according to Archie Brown, author of The Myth of the Strong Leader (2014, Penguin Random House), admits it. Brown’s universe is largely political, but much of what he writes applies to leadership in other areas, from business to sports.

A strong leader, as Brown puts the context, “is generally understood to mean a leader who concentrates much power in his or her hands… Putting great power in one person’s hands is inappropriate in a democracy, and it would be an unusually lackluster government, with one individual best qualified… to have the last word on everything.”

Now replace “democracy” with “corporate” and “government” with “board of directors” (no improper license to use), and essentially what Brown is saying is that it is simply not possible for one individual (the leader) to judge in all areas of business performance.

Brown also points to the limitations of what many believe to be the true McCoy: the inspirational or charismatic leader. Yes, they may have their uses, especially in times of crisis, but they are “often dangerous and often overrated”. For every Martin Luther King Jr. there is an Adolf Hitler.

Leadership is also contextual: leadership styles differ in war and peace and in a crisis versus calmer times, Brown claims. So perhaps a once-in-a-century pandemic called for a type of leadership that differed from an “all is well” phase.

The most effective and rare breed is that of the transformation type. Such leaders are rare in democracies, as such profound systemic changes often occur gradually over the span of more than one leader. However, in companies, founders and CEOs may be in a better position to bring about fundamental change in the early stages of the company.

Forbes India
Girish Mathrubootham’s Entrepreneur of the Year is one of those leaders who has played a pivotal role in transforming a little-known Chennai youth into a Nasdaq-listed Silicon Valley software products major to be reckoned with on the global stage. That Mathrubootham swears by collective rather than individual leadership is the confidence he has in his top team and employees. As he said to Harichandan Arakali, “Faith in the staff is the most important thing.”

The cover of Forbes India proves that leadership isn’t always about one person at the top – especially in the world of tech startups. Don’t miss Kathakali Chanda’s profile of audio and wearables startup boAt, which has made a rare mark in the New Age corporate universe.

Brian Carvalho
Publisher, Forbes India
Email: [email protected]
Twitter ID: @Brianc_Ed

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