Unconventional guide to becoming a leader and being a leader

Kashif Javaid

I recently took Advanced Leadership class in Santa Clara University as a part of my MSEE program. Class discussion took turn from conventional view of becoming a leader to philosophical yet practical view. Becoming a leader and being a leader are two distinct traits. In this post I will share my final paper. I believe it will make you think if leaders like Ghandi, Hitler or Mandela were born leader or they actually cultivated some leadership skills or perhaps they were just there at the right time. In the end, I came up with 5 leadership strategies to become a leader in your chosen field.

Becoming a leader involves tailer to the need of followers and provide a common vision but it involves much more. In fact, whether ethical or not, leadership comes with certain leverage where if leader runs into a wall, people following him or her will do so as well. Now there is more at stake and leadership comes with certain responsibility. Before an actor act for his or her role in a movie, they have to study the character, dress, walk, and talk like a character, in short, become a character. In-fact, becoming a leader is similar to becoming an actor. 

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In essence, becoming a leader requires an ability to read perception of target followers and adapt behaviors that correspond to desired perception. History is littered with leaders where they went in great length to create a perception that followers perceived. For-example, Hatshepsut, one of ancient Egypt’s first female rulers, chose to wear false beard along with masculine attire to preserve the status quo of that time and to become leader of her people. From the history channel website, “As pharaoh, Hatshepsut undertook ambitious building projects, particularly in the area around Thebes. Her greatest achievement was the enormous memorial temple at Deir el-Bahri, considered one of the architectural wonders of ancient Egypt. Another great achievement of her reign was a trading expedition she authorized that brought back vast riches–including ivory, ebony, gold, leopard skins and incense–to Egypt from a distant land known as Punt (possibly modern-day Eritrea).” [1] I argue that she accomplished all the above great feats by catering to the need to her followers and creating perceptions that followers demanded.

Being a leader is completely different phenomena than becoming a leader. Being a leader is all about developing an ability to seeing reality as it ‘is’. This cannot be taught in few days and may take a lifetime to develop it. The main thing is to develop an awareness that ability to see things as they ‘are’ really distorted by our intellectual, emotional and biological obstacles. 

Intellectual obstacles are beautifully captured by Kahneman book: Thinking Fast and Slow. Although the book discusses many heuristics, some tries to explain why our ability to see things can be distorted. In the heuristics, confidence over doubt, Kahneman assert, “When we detect what appears to be a rule, we quickly reject the idea that the process is truly random” [2] Since our brains are wired with pattern recognition, we tend to attribute causality where none exist. Our memories are fallible, but we tend to rely on it when a critical decision needs to be made. We are more suggestible than we are actually aware of. This is really important point because this could directly distort reality. 

Emotional obstacles are captured by Steinbeck book: Log from the Sea of Cortez. In his essay, he states: 

“But the greatest fallacy in, or rather the greatest objection to teleological thinking is in connection with the emotional content the belief. People get to believing and even to professing the apparent answers thus arrived at, suffering mental constrictions by emotionally closing their minds to any of the further and possibility opposite “answers” which might otherwise be unearthed by honed effort—answers which, if faced realistically, would give rise to – struggle and to a possible rebirth which might place the whole problem in a new and more significant light.” [3]

This one paragraph allude to a mental state when conflicting with a situation we tend to believe in an apparent first answer and eliminate tension with an alternative situation that might exist in the brain. The only way to see beyond the first thought is to stick with contradictions that arrises and create a mental leap where one take oneself out of the situation and reality or situation being observed unwind itself to present its true nature. 

Biological obstacles are discussed in the paper by Churchland, Ramachandran, and Sejnowski: A Critique of Pure Vision. The main premise is that we are hardwired in our brain to detect pattern where none exists and can be easily fooled by randomness. Essay further discusses how our biology hinders our ability to see reality which beautifully concluded by the essay:

“Obviously visual system evolved not for the achievements of sophisticated visual perception as an end in itself, but because visual perception can serve motor control and motor control can serve vision to better serve motor control, and so on. What evolution “cares about” is who survives and that means, basically, who excels in the fours Fs: feeding, fleeing, fighting and reproducing” [3]

Thus, our biology really distort the reality we actually see. Since being a leader requires the ability to see things as they are, so what can we do to overcome these limitations?

The only way to really know you are developing an ability to see things as it “is” that you have sincere and authentic humility growing deep within you. This is completely opposite of arrogance which blocks one’s ability to see the things as it “is”.

The  solution is to use of Hegalian dielectric thinking combined with emotional management. The gist is that once one has abstracted an idea and after developing some humbleness and staying with the idea long enough to create a tension, one reach a Aufhebung, a german word for sublation or overcoming. In this stage one let go of his or her bias and perceive reality as “is” rather than obscured by thoughts, bias and prior history and experiences. This is a broad topic and beautifully captured by Pravin Jain article, “A framework for embodying emergence in visioning. Emergence: Complexity and Organization [5]”

In summary, below diagram illustrate that a transition from becoming a leader to being a leader is bit like growing a tree where right ingredients such as directly asking questions to potential followers, by body techniques that followers value in the leadership, creating a track record or perception of it, but most importantly by quiet observation, reading and listening accurately what followers values and judges in a leader are needed to become a leader. But being the leader and ability to perceive reality is bit like sitting on the canopy where vision is clear of any branches, leafs or any other objects in the forest.

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5 Leadership Strategies:

Throughout the course, I was able to glean out some strategies which I will be personally using at my work and home to become an effective leader. Here are a list organized by the most important trait to the least important trait, but are keys to be an effective leader:

  1. Acknowledge and recognize personal paradigms that limits oneself to see what things actually are.
  2. Become aware of intellectual, emotional and biological obstacles to seeing the actual reality and develop a genuine humility from what we do not know, but also what we cannot know.
  3. Being more observant, study potential followers, a bit like when actor prep for his role.
  4. Create track records, work on body language, improve speech and presentation skills.
  5. Do not hesitate to engage in a struggle and learn to bring an order in seemingly chaotic group of potential followers.


  1. https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-history/hatshepsut
  2. D. Kahneman, (2011), Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, New York
  3. J. Steinbeck, (1995) The Log from the Sea of Cortez. Penguin Classics
  4. P.S. Churchland, V. S. Ramachandran, and T.J. Sejnowski, (1994), A Critique of
    Pure Vision. The MIT Press Cambridge, Massachusetts London, England 
  5. Jain P. Leadership and Steinbeck’s ‘non-teleological thinking’: A framework for embodying emergence in visioning. Emergence: Complexity and Organization. 2017 Dec 31.



About ExploreSilicon

My name is Kashif. I live in the heart of silicon valley and have been living here for a very long time. My passion is engineering, technology and traveling. My email is kashifjavaid@hotmail.com. Please feel free to contact if you have any suggestion or comments on any of my posts.
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