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Sri Lanka needs its own leaders

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We are in the era of chaos. Breaking news has now become very common because of some sections of media. People talk about corruption, discipline, and all the weaknesses of politicians. But how many among the general public in Sri Lanka would like to reflect on their own behaviour? A country should be governed by people, not by politicians, but do we have people like that? Many of the so-called ‘general public’ do not have any plan to contribute to the country and they simply criticise each other. People talk about the need for better leaders for this country as well as for business. The intention of this article is to see what kind of leadership is needed at this moment.

In his 1996 book ‘Emotional Intelligence’, Goleman argued that EQ (or emotional intelligence quotient) might actually be more important than IQ


The concept of strategic leadership has been discussed by Kautilya’s teachings (4th century BC), which leader has been considered as a strategist (Jain and Mukherji, 2009). Furthermore, according to Nuumann (1999), the idea of strategic leadership style is derived from the work of Bass (1985) on transformational leadership. Bass’ (1985) theory is an extension of Burns’ (1978) classification of transactional versus transformational political leaders. However, transactional leadership is defined as a series of exchanges and bargains between leaders and followers in the short-run (which we can see in the current context in Sri Lanka, with all deals, businesses and all sorts of ill practices). 

Transformational leadership goes beyond mere short-term relationships and focuses on grooming, inspiring, intellectually stimulating, and motivating followers for long-term expectations. I think, at the moment, we have a problem of transformational leaders. According to Bass (1990), “most experimental research, unfortunately, has focused on transactional leadership, whereas the real movers and shakers of the world are transformational”. At the moment, not only in research but also in practice, people would like to talk about transactional leaders in consumer society. It is worthwhile to elaborate on “four magical factors”, which is important to develop a transformational leader.

Idealised influence (charisma) applied by leaders is considered as role models for their followers. They show great persistence and determination in the pursuit of objectives, show high standards of ethical and moral conduct, sacrifice self-gain for the gain of others, and share the success and the limelight (Coad and Berry, 1998). As a result, those leaders are admired, respected, trusted, and followers identify with them and want to emulate (Avolio and Bass, 1994). Sometimes we can witness leaders only with this aspect. But you need to have all ingredients to become a perfect leader.

Inspirational motivation creates a clear picture of the future that is both optimistic and attainable. Leaders set high expectations, use symbolism to focus on efforts, and communicate a vision to followers in simple language. Followers react by willingly increasing their efforts to attain the vision (Avolio and Bass, 1994). Even in business, we can rarely see leaders who can communicate the vision clearly to the followers and align with the vision of the organisation and subordinates. 

Intellectual stimulation describes leadership behaviour which encourages followers to use their imagination and to re-think old ways of doing things. The leader provides a flow of ideas, questions, and assumptions, creates a broad and imaginative picture, and encourages followers to come up with their own structures and solutions to problems. The message is that followers should feel free to try out new approaches, and their ideas will not be publicly criticised when they differ from those of the leader (Avolio and Bass, 1994). Furthermore, Thomas (2007) observed that intellectual stimulation is what makes leaders challenge the status quo and influences the intellect of the subordinates. This is one of the areas lacking in politics and business. Most of the leaders in Sri Lanka do not like their subordinates to challenge their decisions, which ultimately, in the long run, are described as “dictatorship”.

Individualised consideration means that the leader gives personal attention to followers, building a considerate relationship with each individual, focusing on that person’s needs. The leader provides challenges and learning opportunities, and delegates the authority to subordinates to raise their skills and confidence. In the process, the leader exhibits trust, respect, and some tolerance for mistakes that occur as learning proceeds. The result is that followers are more likely to be willing to develop competence and take initiatives. Furthermore, they feel trust and respect for the leader (Avolio and Bass, 1994). 

The proposed four specific dimensions of transformational leadership – namely charismatic leadership or idealised influence, inspirational leadership or motivation, intellectual stimulation, and individualised consideration – can be considered as important for managers to become “leaders”. If you are a leader with all four qualities, you will automatically become a leader with sense. We call that emotional intelligence (EI), according to Goleman (who is serving as an author, psychologist, and a science journalist). For 12 years, he wrote for The New York Times (specialising in psychology and brain sciences). EI is a construct of an array of positive attributes including political awareness, self-confidence, conscientiousness, and achievement motives rather than focusing only on intelligence, which could help individuals solve problems effectively (Brackett and Geher, 2006). In his 1996 book ‘Emotional Intelligence’, Goleman argued that EQ (or emotional intelligence quotient) might actually be more important than IQ (see box).

It is really interesting to see how psychology will impact the behaviour of people. And on the other hand, it can be argued that candidates with IQ but not EQ is not a good choice as EQ is a better indicator of success of smart people! Keep in mind that Albert Einstein’s IQ was estimated at 160, Madonna’s is 140, and John F. Kennedy’s was only 119!

Sri Lanka needs to study about King Ravana, Parakramabahu, and Dutugemunu as well as all the ancient kings who brought us pride and prestige. There should be a methodology to blend what we discuss earlier as ‘magical factor’ of transformational leadership with ingredients of our own heritage and culture. Simple copy-paste might not work in this context. There is a need (or duty) for scholars and practitioners in the subject domain of leadership to revisit our history by researching leadership qualities of people in past. We may come up with different dimensions which could be better than transformational leadership! There is a need for us to search for our own leadership style!

The writer is a professor in Management at the Open University of Sri Lanka


IQ is still recognised as an important element of success, particularly when it comes to academic achievement. People with high IQs typically do well in school, often earn more money, and tend to be healthier in general. But today, experts recognise that it is not the only determinant of success in life. Instead, it is part of a complex array of influences that includes emotional intelligence among other things.

The concept of emotional intelligence has had a strong impact in a number of areas, including the business world. Many companies now mandate emotional intelligence training and utilise EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) tests as part of the hiring process. Research has found that individuals with strong leadership potential also tend to be more emotionally intelligent, suggesting that a high EQ is an important quality for business leaders and managers – Psychology Expert Kendra Cherry

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