How does your inner child bring out the best in you as a leader?
There are a few different things when it comes to children. First is that there are no biases and second there is a lot of trust. A child would never start by doubting a person. It’s built based on how the interaction works. Although I did not start of my leadership journey this way, I now feel that if you leave the biases out and you trust the individual, then they will deliver. That automatically elevates or accelerates the start point as opposed to starting with biases and doubts. Instead of saying let’s start here and build from there, we should say – why don’t we start here and if we have to take one step forward, and then two steps back, it is alright as we will learn from it. This helps me learn about the individual.
Authentic leadership leads to a lot of open conversations. Also, vulnerabilities are not being hidden and no one is moonlighting as an expert. Everybody starts from a place of doing things together. There’s a lot of intellectual curiosity, a lot of openness, and there is no showmanship, because you’re all starting from the same point.
What are your daily rituals that helps you to cope and thrive under pressure?
Being a people leader and leading multiple departments comes with the revelation that you don’t have to do everything yourself. That is a perk. But it is also important to bring people together. Because when you have multiple departments and they are not interdependent in the chain link, you need to bring them together. Some departments are forward and backward integrated, while there are others who are at the very beginning and at the very end of the chain and do not meet. So, how do you bring these links into the chain? How do you work with them?
My ritual is to pick up the list of things that we want to achieve in the week or in a month and see who all are involved in that. I then make a list of people I want to connect with and have a conversation with them without any presentations or agenda. The underlying intent or focus is around what we want to collectively achieve. You can call it a cheat sheet of the list of things I want to do.
The body, heart, mind and soul needs to be balanced in a leader. What do you do to bring about this balance in yourself?
A professor and a coach, who is no longer with us, used to tell me that the best way to connect with yourself, with nature, with family, with work and develop mindfulness is to take some personal time. For some it might be meditation, for others it might be a place of worship. For me, it’s my morning walk. I leave my phone behind. I do not listen to music or plug into anything. I just walk for an hour, and I think of a bunch of things. It could be anything from my child’s future to an upcoming event or hosting a customer. I just walk and observe and that’s my ritual.
What are the weakest links that you have observed in teams that brings productivity down?
I remember a quote I read a long time ago and I’m going to paraphrase it. It stated that the world would be a better place, or whatever we are attempting to do would be much better, if we did not worry about who gets the credit for it. So, credit is something we’re all worried about, including me. And I’m sure there are many accomplished leaders who have said the same thing too – at the end of the day, who gets credit for the job?
This kind of thinking sets people back because as soon as you think about credit, there is a territory that is established. Statements like – I don’t want to release my team member, I don’t want to work on this, or what’s in it for me, become common. I’m guilty of this behaviour and I’ve done it 15-20 years ago when I got promoted as a manager. I think to myself that if I had not done that, I could have fast tracked my career compared to how it is now. So, I think this is one of the main causes for conflict, concerns and delays.
Collective leadership is more important than individual leadership. This is not a one team sport. It is a league. And in a league, every team has to be really good. They have to compete with a certain level of respect along with rules and boundaries. It is all about sportsmanship and winning. This is why we used to love West Indies (cricket team). If they won, the celebrated. If they lost, they still celebrated.
I’m sure you tell some stories within the organization to inspire people. Tell us one such story so other leaders in the world can get inspired as well.
Storytelling is the best way to communicate a message without making it complicated. I like to share personal experiences and there are many. I recently shared one with my team and this was from my first job straight after college. I had not graduated yet and I was given the job on the condition that if I clear my exams I get to keep the job. My parents were conservative, and they never gave me more money than what was required.
I went to the company, and I met Mr Isaac, who I still consider my mentor and a good friend. He was 10-15 years senior to me, and we sat next to each other during the training. When it was lunchtime, he offered to take me out for lunch and insisted on paying. This continued for an entire week. He told me to earn my first salary and then buy him lunch. This stranger who I had never met before shaped the way I managed a team forever.
We need not be judgmental, and it does not have to always be about performance. Just take care of someone who is struggling or who is not even asking for help. I was not asking for help, but I needed it. So there are many such stories, and I share those experiences which have shaped my career. There is nothing wrong with sharing Zen stories or stories from epics or other books, but I always share my personal stories.
You would have come across many managers, leaders, and mentors. Share with us a couple of nuggets of the best advice you have received.
The biggest advice that I’ve received from many mentors is about integrity. It’s alright if at the beginning you don’t get anything right instead of compromising on integrity and getting it right. The first mistake can be fixed because you have integrity. But if you don’t have integrity you will never be able to fix it.
The second advice was from my mother, who I consider my biggest mentor and coach. She did not explain it to me but rather showed it to me. And this is something my professors and other coaches have also shared. They say that in any relationship, you must give more than what you take. This is applicable in both personal and professional relationships. Even if you meet someone for the first time, you should give more than you take.
I remember a quote I read a long time ago and I’m going to paraphrase it. It stated that the world would be a better place, or whatever we are attempting to do would be much better, if we did not worry about who gets the credit for it.
What have you learnt about cross cultural diversity and integration, which is serving you well when you work across cultures?
While the answer to that is to respect the culture. You must also understand that every culture is evolved and has its own systems, beliefs, processes, faith and nuances. I think as human beings, the basic expectation we have is to respect each other. By respecting, you accept the individual for who they are and leave the biases out. So, the rest of it becomes immaterial because by design you’re going to treat them fairly and equally.
This ties back to my belief of giving more than I take. When you give more, you get it back in multi-folds, and I’m a beneficiary of that. So, just be respectful and approach individuals with the mindset and the thought process that they probably have a reason for what they are doing.
I’m grateful to work in an organisation where the value system is all about trust, having fun together and celebrating diversity. I therefore feel I’m a natural fit in this ecosystem because these are things I value most too.
Everybody wants multiplier growth, but teams are sometimes risk averse and think about incremental growth. How do you change their mindsets?
Ten years ago I would have said that if you set the process and get the right technology then things will fall in place. But now it is more about aligning the individual with their purpose. For example, inventors or innovators are intellectually curious. If you ask them to follow processes and steps then they are not going to like it. Their purpose is to create something new. I’m a strong believer that you can grow professionally, personally and financially only by enjoying what you are doing. So, if you are getting the best salary and have the best title but it does not match your purpose, then you are not going to grow or enjoy the journey. So my one line answer to the question is to match people with purpose and the rest will fall into place.
Would that be your hiring mantra as well when you hire leaders?
Absolutely. If you get the right role, then the salary will follow. And if you pick the highest salary, then the role will match the salary. What is not discussed or captured in the JD or title is how can we keep the individual in the organisation for 20 years. Or how can we keep them engaged for eight hours when they are at their desk?
Engaged leaders automatically lead to engaged and inspired teams. And an inspired team will bring in inspiring results. So in this journey the important thing to find out is the individual’s purpose. What do they want to do, and as a team what do we want to do? Do those two things align? If not, then find out what will make them align. Find out what they would really like to do?
There’s loads of change happening around you, whether it be people, process, technology, ecosystems, or platforms. How do you stay ahead of the change?
There are three things I’m very passionate about. One is surrounding myself with intellectual people. All the leaders that I work with in the organization are really smart people and they are some of the best you will find in the industry. I sometimes connect with them with no agenda and discuss a wide variety of topics from sports to business.
The second is that my parents were both teachers and preachers. I could have chosen teaching as a profession, but I did not do that. However, I have a lot of passion for teaching, coaching and mentoring. One way I stay connected to that is by coaching and mentoring start-ups, especially start-ups that are not only interested in ROI but also changing the ecosystem and the community that they serve. So, I have some really sharp youngsters that I connect with and speak. The third is that I set aside a fund and at the end of every decade, I go for a refresh. I go to a campus for a few weeks and study – no online courses. I recently completed a course, and I did one more in 2010. I have found that I learn more by being on campus, because in a decade everything has changed. B-school professors, a decade ago, were teaching completely different case studies and concepts. Last decade they were talking about innovation, this time they were talking about authenticity and finding your true north.
What advice would you provide to leaders for them to discover their authentic selves?
Stay true to yourself. I’m saying this because as leaders, we are constantly trying to self-critique ourselves and we try to make too many changes. I’m not saying don’t make changes, but you don’t have to sculpt yourself every morning. I have over 20 years of experience and I’m surrounded by people who also have about 20 years of experience and have gone through the same journey as me. If I try to be someone I’m not then they will know immediately. We have all met people like this personally and professionally where deep down they are a different person, but they put up a different act, which is easily identifiable. So, the only way to find what you want to do early in your career, and stay the course, is to be true to yourself and continue to realign without changing your core values and belief system. That would be the guiding principle for a wonderful journey towards authentic leadership.
What one or two elements of advice would you provide leaders for them to be greater leaders?
Listen to your team. The answer is always within the team. We spend top dollars to attend conferences, or we engage consultants and tell them that we don’t understand what our customer wants. Sometimes we are more open to external voices than internal voices. I also constantly reiterate that to myself. The team does not necessarily mean the core group that you work with. There are people who want to meet you with great ideas. But we don’t usually make the time for that. That I think is the biggest way to address a problem. The answer always lies within.