What we think | Practitioners Perspectives

How can leaders seek to stand up and stand out?

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Practitioner:

Srinivasan Venkita Padmanabhan

President & Global Head - OLAM Group
Srinivasan Venkita Padmanabhan is the President and Global Head of Finance at OLAM Group in Singapore. He has more than 28 years of extensive leadership experience, which comes from overseeing multiple regions and business verticals. He leads and develops multi-cultural teams. Mr Srinivasan, or Venkat as he likes to be called, shares his personal thoughts on how leaders can seek to stand up and stand out.
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What are a few inflection points that aided in your rise?

Moving from Trivandrum to Mumbai, I was about to join a well-known reputed organization. I had the offer letter from them too. There, I found a job advert in the newspaper. It was from a multinational company. I applied for the job and to my surprise I got it along with a high pay and a car. At the age of 25, in May 1994, it felt truly great and made me feel like I had arrived. Completely contended, I reported to work on the first day and realized that the office was an empty house with no one around. With anxiousness I spoke to one of my interviewers and was told that I was the 2nd employee and together we had to decide, define, and design the organization. After that there was no looking back and I’ve stayed with Olam for over 2 decades

How does one match skill with scale and speed?

For leaders to operate with agility, one needs to ask the question- Which is the biggest success in your life? It is not the car one drives or the mansion you have, it is YOU. So ultimately, it boils down to how much experiential value you can add as a leader.

When one wears the leaders’ hat, asking the right WHY and WHY NOT questions is the key to making clear judgements and at the same time learning like a child by delving deeper and understanding the depth rather than the width is crucial. Getting deeply involved makes you a part of it and that is when you realize that you are not ‘DOING IT’ but ‘BEING IT’ and automatically the skills evolve to perform better with agility.

As a senior leader, how do you manage your time and how does one maximize return on time invested (ROTI)?

Prioritization is important. But the key is to believe in your team. As a leader you do not need to be present always for things to happen. The aim is to be a sounding board for the team members while making sure that we do not take our eyes off the objective. Without going into details, we must guide them, do course correction and monitor deadlines. Get involved only to a certain extent. Just like how the organization believes in your leadership, you need to believe in your team. Once that belief is set, people can grow and deliver. 

When one wears the leaders’ hat, asking the right WHY and WHY NOT questions is the key to making clear judgements.

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How do leaders develop their team to be better than them?

I truly believe that people are blessed with an equal brain and maybe one that is better than mine. Humbleness and humility are important. Also, making mistakes is acceptable. Mistakes are the stepping-stones to gain experience. It is perfectly alright to occasionally give your team an enabling environment to fail and then succeed. You must also be a lifelong learner and not rest on your laurels. All this will make you feel proud of your team and create a legacy. The more redundant you feel, the more you grow. 

It is said that the future belongs to those who are right brained. How can leaders operate using the whole brain approach?

Firstly, in my experience exposing yourself to other parts of the world (in terms of culture) and other kinds of work (like voluntary work) will definitely get the creativity going. Secondly, developing an interest in maybe art/music or learning a new skill outside the mechanical day to day work will bring about a balanced mind that will help activate the brain equally and also enable one to take better decisions.

How can we get the best out of different cultures?

It is important to believe that everyone is blessed with great abilities, irrespective of colour or culture. As a leader, based out of different geographies, it is important to identify and operate on the strengths of individuals while also keeping in mind cultural nuances. This will get the maximum output apart from empowering them.  Understanding and respecting other cultures is very important as it helps to build lasting relationships.

What has been your biggest learning in the last 12 months during the pandemic?

It is important to feel grateful. Many people lost their lives, their jobs, their homes, and this made me feel humbled. Once you realize how grateful you feel, the way you deal with people automatically changes. Even if you can help people in a small way, it is good. As employers, we did not sack anyone or cut their salary. And although we do not expect it, we know this will also help to build relationships with our team. We can make 6yr or 10yr plans, but when changes come knocking, how you respond to it will decide the outcome for you and for your company.

Some final thoughts?

I believe in the ‘8 I’ principle and this is my signature.

Insight (generate)

Influence (people)

Involve (yourself)

Impact (the business)

Inspire (others)

Institution (create)

Inclusive (environment)

Introspect (everyday)

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