Musings #25: Leadership Qualities

Dec 05, 2020 4 MIN

Musings #25: Leadership Qualities

A founder I admire pinged me recently, asking if I had read – “Power of Positive Thinking” by Dr. Norman Peale (first published in 1952). This founder is an avid reader and doesn’t recommend books often, so I asked him why he thought I had read it. And he said, “Anand, you seem to be practicing what’s written in the book.” And so, I read the book this week, and many of the book’s principles resonated with me. And I plan to practice it more consciously in the future.

That got me thinking. About the qualities I admire in this leader who referred the book and other leaders, I have the pleasure of observing – both near and far. And I came up with four categories. It is a quick list that is top of mind.


There is rarely a leader whom we end up admiring who is not a visionary. The bigger the vision, the more the admiration. These people tend to be dreamers who want to change the status quo. When Martin Luther gave the “I have a dream…” speech – those dreams were big and bold given the times. Or when the government asked Nandan Nilekani to head the Unique Identification (UID) effort, it was an ambitious project. Nandan had to envision and execute this massive project that has provided an Aadhaar UID for every Indian. Dreamers and Visionaries are the ones who change the world, and as a VC investor, I’m fortunate to get ringside seats to learn from and observe many of these dreamers and visionaries.

People Skills

But, dreaming up an idea is the first step of a million ahead. Most dreams would die without the right “Whos” to make it happen. Many of the leaders I admire are “talent magnets” who can identify, attract, hire, and cultivate great talent in their teams. They are “Builders of People” who see both the pros and cons in people and help amplify the strengths and shield the weaknesses. It reminds me of what Girish Mathrubootham said in a recent podcast – “No point in hiring Sachin Tendulkar and giving him improvement feedback for bowling.” No wonder Girish is so “Loved and Respected” as a leader in Freshworks – due to his ability to hire diamonds in the rough and cultivate them.

These leaders also tend to have a “Giver mindset, and that is a crucial aspect of building up people and being a loved and respected leader. But, they also care and are “radically candid” when nurturing their team with constructive criticism for achieving peak performance.


Another aspect that sets great leaders apart is their mindset.

“Optimism in a leader, especially in challenging times, is so vital …Optimism sets a different machine in motion. Especially in difficult moments, the people you lead need to feel confident in your ability to focus on what matters, and not to operate from a place of defensiveness and self-preservation…The tone you set as a leader has an enormous effect on the people around you. No one wants to follow a pessimist.” – Bob Iger (ex-CEO Disney)

A positive mindset is essential for being a good leader. Yes, there may be many challenges we face, but it is necessary to be “Gritty” and work with the team to get to a solution. It is draining to be around people who are perpetual pessimists. But don’t get me wrong. It is crucial to recognize the mountains we need to move, but with Optimism, it is essential to start working on the task at hand. Paraphrasing the words of a wise person, “Hope for the best, but be prepared to tackle the worst.”

As a leader, it is also important to cultivate a “healthy confidence” with the right dose of humility. It is a tough balancing act. There are bound to be trying times when we need to back ourselves to get out of the corner. But, when the going is excellent, it pays to be humble as well. Rudyard Kipling said it the best:

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;”

And the final two aspects here would be a learning mindset and flexibility. Both these go hand in hand, in my opinion. If we want to have a learning mindset, we need to absorb new information from various sources and adapt that to our circumstances. Harsha, co-founder, and CEO of Swiggy is probably one of the best to exemplify this, and he talks about it in my chat with him. The ability to hear all sides and adapt to figure out the right answer in any given situation is a superpower.

Work Ethic

It is the fourth and final bucket. Integrity in every aspect of our life is top on the list here. Many a leader has been wiped out due to slips in Integrity. Warren Buffet’s Newspaper front-page test is best to adhere to at all times. I have not seen a leader who is not hard-working irrespective of skills and intelligence. And one final aspect is that these leaders put the cause first over themselves – this is not easy to follow, but great leaders put the cause above their own personal gain.

Those were some of the quick observations based on leaders that I admire. I am sure I missed out on various other categories and aspects within each category. I would love to hear your perspectives on the same – think about leaders you admire and what you admire about them. What all did I miss?

To Ponder

Are there any other common qualities you have noticed in leaders you admire?

Which of these qualities come naturally to you?

Which of the above would you want to cultivate?

This is our 25th Musings. Plan to move to a twice a month schedule from this issue onwards. If there are specific topics you would like me to write about, please do share either as a comment or ping me directly. It would be greatly helpful as I plan out topics for next year over the next few weeks.