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Saturday, 9 November 2013 | MYT 12:00 AM

All charged up to lead

Is personal energy the key to nurturing good leaders?

LEADERSHIP is one of those rare and elusive things that will make you immensely wealthy if you can figure out how to bottle and sell them. But nobody can. So the next best way to capitalise on the demand for sturdy leadership is to offer programmes to develop leaders.

That business is said to be worth up to tens of billions of dollars worldwide.

The leadership schools and gurus constantly come up with new theories and methods. And why not? It’s not as if there’s an exact science that tells us how to produce great leaders. There’s always room for fresh observations and ideas.

One of those will be the focus of an event in Kuala Lumpur early next month – the Leadership Energy Summit Asia organised by the Iclif Leadership & Governance Centre. A non-profit organisation backed by Bank Negara, Iclif describes itself as “an international, Asia-focused centre of excellence delivering practical corporate governance and leadership development solutions.”

(The Iclif in the centre’s name is an acronym for the International Centre for Leadership in Finance, which was what it was called when formed in 2003 primarily to serve the needs of Malaysia’s financial services sector. Its role has since been broadened to address the regional market and other sectors, and to encompass corporate governance.)

Why focus on leadership energy? Says Iclif in the event’s brochure: “The difference between leaders and non-leaders is simple – non-leaders give up, while leaders who conquer resistance mine deep sources of energy that keep them going.”

Iclif doesn’t claim authorship of the concept of leadership energy, which is sensible because a Google search will show that there are thousands of references to leadership energy. There’s even a 2008 book with that title, written by a guy who says he’s “a premier authority on leadership.”

Old or new, the notion that human energy determines the ability to lead is worth exploring. It suggests that if we know how to amplify and tap our personal energy, we can be better leaders.

In a yet-to-be-published op-ed, Iclif CEO Rajeev Peshawaria, poses this question: “Why do most leaders give up on creating a better future for their people when the odds seem daunting, while a small few persist regardless of the challenges?”

He then supplies the answer: “After much thought, research and personal experience spanning more than two decades of observing good and bad leaders all across the world, I have concluded that succeeding as a leader boils down to discovering one’s leadership energy.”

He says leadership energy has three elements. The first is a sense of purpose in wanting to create a better future for others. The second is the set of values that defines a person. He explains that these are the personal moral principles that the person will never compromise under any circumstances.

These two make up the baseline leadership energy, according to Peshawaria, who had been chief learning officer at both Morgan Stanley and The Coca-Cola Co before joining Iclif in 2010. “Clarity of purpose and values is the primary source of leadership energy. Most people do not have such clarity, and therefore lack even basic leadership energy,” he argues.

The third aspect of leadership energy is the harnessing of the power of mind to ensure that the leader lives a life of purpose and values.

“Those that create better futures seem to believe strongly in the mind’s ability to actually make things happen,” says Peshawaria.

“The mind may not be able to grow limbs on a disabled child, but it can create intentions and attitudes that at a minimum shift the atmosphere around them to pull other people and resources to their cause. And, at a maximum, that may even physically affect the course of events in subtle but important ways that we don’t yet fully understand.”

He supports this by pointing out that some people believe that everybody and everything are connected and as such, the human mind (as part of this universal connectivity) has the power to influence reality.

This pushes us deep into New Age territory, which isn’t compatible with Iclif’s positioning as a provider of practical solutions.

Here’s where Peshawaria brings science into the topic. His article cites research indicating that mind over matter and body may be real after all. However, he concedes that the evidence is “by no means definitive yet.”

Nevertheless, more of such findings and views will be presented and discussed at the two-day Iclif summit next month, along with talks by several people hailed by the centre as “inspiring leaders with limitless energy.”

If the speakers are persuasive and their messages compelling, leadership energy may well become an idea with some staying power.

Executive editor Errol Oh will be first in line if ever somebody sells leadership in a bottle. It should be more fun than attending leadership development programmes.

Tags / Keywords: Opinion , Optimistically Cautious

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