So Alex Ferguson retired. After 26 years, after becoming a legend, after creating history. It’s not often that you come across a personality who makes a name from the sidelines, without actually being on the field. At least I can’t think of anyone so larger than life in modern sports.
So what is it that makes him wield so much power even without playing the game? Charisma? Leadership? Passion for the game? Being a shrewd strategist?
And that makes me wonder about the qualities of being a great leader, the age-old debate about whether leaders are born or made.
Yes, leaders have to good at what they do and lead from the front? But the reverse is not necessarily true, i.e. even if you are the best in your field, you may not be a good leader. Case in point: Sachin Tendulkar.
Leaders also need to have a keen mind, listen well and be receptive to ideas, stay calm, be humble and not take themselves too seriously. Which is why I admired Mark Taylor as a captain even when he was struggling for form.
Leaders need to be inspiring, articulate and fearless enough to believe in their dreams against all odds. But you may be all of those things and yet not be a sustainable leader despite the initial wave of success. Who better than Adolf Hitler to exemplify that.
Most of all, leaders need to respect the people, win their trust, stand up for them and put their interests ahead of his/her own. But you can only do that when you are completely secure as a person and secure about your acceptance. History is replete with examples of insecurity and mistrust playing havoc with the psychology of an otherwise good leader.
Thus the question remains: are people like Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela rare gifts to humankind or can you actually groom leaders?
Can the B schools over the world, with all their fancy jargon and smart shoes, actually impart leadership skills to students or do they simply churn out ‘managers’ instead of leaders?
And can Manchester United really replace Sir Alex Fergusson, not just as a coach but as an eccentric yet inspiring personality with an uncanny ability to bring out the best in people?
With great power comes great responsibility, but can you be responsible even without resorting to power? And can you command respect without demanding it?