An inability to realize human relationships would be detrimental to the prospects of a good leader

Author: Jayshree V Ullal
Senior Vice President / General Manager, Cisco
When I first flew across the seas with my family to the U.S.—I was apprehensive of how an Indian girl would fare in the high-technology arena—little idea did I know that years later I would call this country my home and be immersed in high-tech in Silicon Valley. I had merely intended to pursue my college studies in the U.S., what I perceived as a well-to-do country, with a great socio-economic environment.

After graduation in electrical engineering, an offer to work for a U.S. semiconductor firm came my way, and I accepted it simply to get some professional experience. I was determined to return to my homeland, India. Few years later while I was at AMD (Advanced Micro Devices), I met my husband Vijay who was in a rival company, Intel. Both of us were attracted not only to each other, but to common dream and pursuit to return to India some day.

Return I did, temporarily, to the glee of my grandfather (whom I was very attached to), to set up the Cisco India facility ten years ago. He was the pivot of my desire to return to India and it was a great joy to see him smile. Why am I mentioning all this seemingly unessential trivia?

It is to answer a question I am frequently asked but rarely seem to have a clear answer, which is “What was your plan for success? The truth is that I did not have a mega plan of what I would do in my years ahead nor did I plot a grand graph of my career.

Like most professionals, I wanted to excel in what I did and be successful. I took one step at a time; success came in small doses and often success begets more success, with occasional set backs too. For example, after the demise of my grandfather, I took a break since I longed to balance time with my family. Thoughts of how the break would affect my career did surface, but I gave precedence to my personal priority. Therein lies another major lesson of my life; there can be no substitute for human connections. I realize today that the very same realization lies at the core of a successful CEO.

A good leader deals with people, understands people problems and analyzes, questions and adapts frequently. An inability to realize human relationships would be detrimental to the prospects of a good leader. It would be naïve to say though that I owe all my leadership skills to being sensitized to people alone. My school/convent education, which is otherwise steeped in conformity, equipped me with communication skills that have held me in good stead. We may all have many good ideas, yet very few can synthesize and then articulate them well enough to convince others. A deep understanding of people and communications skills can make a powerful combination.

Equally important are your mentors and supporters. I have enjoyed the support of my loving family as well as prominent leaders such as John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems. Being groomed in marketing under erstwhile CEO of AMD Jerry Sanders in the 1980’s was also a unique experience of real-world training. Though I was in an engineering role then, the company gave me opportunities to learn the ropes of marketing and the necessary guidance. My transformation from engineering to technical marketing and later general manager, propelled my desire to find what I was really good at (not just average at).

My early presentations to customers were marked by nervousness and a ‘butterflies in the stomach’ feeling, yet I turned those feelings into a positive energy and adrenalin to connect and engage with my presentation topic and the audience. Technologies too have changed from connectivity to the internet to semantic and social networking (such as Web 2.0), but the skills continue to be foundational and vital, throughout these technology transitions.

Unlike my earlier years in semiconductors/chip design, where one needed to predict the future in 3-5 years, the concept “internet time” has reduced development and deployment cycles from years to months. Adapting to that requires a technical ability, combined with customer analysis, and extrapolation of industry position. Even today, I tend to do fair amount of pattern matching; for example looking at trends in data center and correlating with security and vice-versa. Past history can be a great indicator of the future trends.
A certain part of the decision, of course, has to be taken in the realms of the unknown and the ambiguous. That’s where the role of ‘gut’ comes in; one must learn to trust in ‘gut’ to leap and think ahead , without all the facts and data.

Speaking of leaps, India taking giant strides today in economic and global affairs, where the world is taking notice. They are realizing what we all knew years ago, of India’s tremendous potential. A well-kept secret is now become a big hype. I am hopeful that rising above this hype, more and more Indian leaders assert themselves at leadership level globally.
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Reader's comments(36)
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Posted by: tata tatababy os - Friday 30th, October 2009
3: It is a good article | practical experience in life people face, learn | rectify to grow.
Posted by: Sundar Sundaram - Monday 06th, July 2009
4: Very touching at the same time, very thought provoking article.
Posted by: AM I A HINDU HINDU - Friday 19th, June 2009
5: Excellent...keep posting this good stuff.
Posted by: Jitendranath P - Wednesday 03rd, June 2009
6: Excellent article.Why Americam management failed and resulted into great economic recession.? Neel can solve the problem.

The modern (Western) management concepts of vision, leadership, motivation, excellence in work, achieving goals, giving work meaning, decision making and planning, are all well discussed and implemented but failed miserably.
The greed is a more fundamental and better explanation than the principles of economics and the impact of government policy on economic decisions. Misses the point that most people and businesses are motivated to improve their condition and that this force is always at work. Why did greed suddenly cause this meltdown? What allowed it to get out of control. There is one major difference. While Western management thought too often deals with problems at material, external and peripheral levels, our PM tackles the issues from the grass roots level of human thinking. Once the basic thinking of man is improved, it will automatically enhance the quality of his actions and their results. If businessmen wanted to rape and pillage, I mean maximize profit, you wouldn’t have to force them to loan money. Their profit motive gives them an incentive to “serve” the community. If certain communities aren’t being served that signals the presence of other forces dissuading businessmen from selling their product or service. Implicit in this argument is the belief that customers have a right to demand the services and goods provided by businesses. Of course, this idea underlies arguments for universal health care and whatever other service or good deemed to be too valuable to trust to the market.
The management philosophy emanating from the West is based on the lure of materialism and on a perennial thirst for profit, irrespective of the quality of the means adopted to achieve that goal. This phenomenon has its source in the abundant wealth of the West and so 'management by materialism' has caught the fancy of all the countries the world over, India being no exception to this trend. My country, India, has been in the forefront in importing these ideas mainly because of its centuries old indoctrination by colonial rulers, which has inculcated in us a feeling that anything Western is good and anything Indian, is inferior. Gita does not prohibit seeking money, power, comforts, health. It advocates active pursuit of one's goals without getting attached to the process and the results.
The result is that, while huge funds have been invested in building temples of modem management education, no perceptible changes are visible in the improvement of the general quality of life - although the standards of living of a few has gone up. The same old struggles in almost all sectors of the economy, criminalization of institutions, social violence, exploitation and other vices are seen deep in the body politic.
The source of the problem
The reasons for this sorry state of affairs are not far to seek. The Western idea of management centers on making the worker (and the manager) more efficient and more productive. Companies offer workers more to work more, produce more, sell more and to stick to the organization without looking for alternatives. The sole aim of extracting better and more work from the worker is to improve the bottom-line of the enterprise. The worker has become a hirable commodity, which can be used, replaced and discarded at will.
Thus, workers have been reduced to the state of a mercantile product. In such a state, it should come as no surprise to us that workers start using strikes ( gheraos) sit-ins, (dharnas) go-slows, work-to-rule etc. to get maximum benefit for themselves from the organizations. Society-at-large is damaged. Thus we reach a situation in which management and workers become separate and contradictory entities with conflicting interests. There is no common goal or understanding. This, predictably, leads to suspicion, friction, disillusion and mistrust, with managers and workers at cross purposes. The absence of human values and erosion of human touch in the organizational structure has resulted in a crisis of confidence.
Western management philosophy may have created prosperity – for some people some of the time at least - but it has failed in the aim of ensuring betterment of individual life and social welfare. It has remained by and large a soulless edifice and an oasis of plenty for a few in the midst of poor quality of life for many.
Hence, there is an urgent need to re-examine prevailing management disciplines - their objectives, scope and content. Management should be redefined to underline the development of the worker as a person, as a human being, and not as a mere wage-earner. With this changed perspective, management can become an instrument in the process of social, and indeed national, development.
Now let us re-examine some of the modern management concepts in the light of the Bhagavad-Gita which is a primer of management-by-values.

Posted by: mulavana parameswaran bhattathiri - Sunday 03rd, May 2009
7: Dear Jayshree, I see it as visualizing the opportunity and encashing or utilizing the opportunity that has come across. Many times the opportunity that come across us are not visualized properly and the option is missed. You have utilized your opportunity very well and I appriciate that you shared with others.
Posted by: U P Kalmadka - Thursday 23rd, April 2009
8: Its very true | motivational
Posted by: Neel Kumar Garg - Thursday 09th, April 2009
9: We have to accept the fact that both in personal and professional front we lack real sense of relationship. We all talk for hours about building | balancing relationships in personal and profession. Are we really bothered?... I'm sorry if i am harsh. Offlate, we are doing only fire fightning | crisis management in everything we do with short sightedness. Having short term approach, all our human relationships are dying each and every day. How many of us are really concerned about other person.? Our indian system has a wonderful concept of human relation by having joint family, family get together which were followed very religiously when we browse into our history. They understood the real sense of human relations. Now nucleus, small | independent family are killing the human relations among people and they are going self centred. When we make effort to realise the base, then we are through with only one drop of ocean. Good luck
Posted by: Ravi Upamanyu - Saturday 07th, February 2009
10: Excellent, It sounds an Indian's successfull women confidance.

Dheeraj Leekha
Posted by: dheeraj leekha - Sunday 28th, December 2008
11: Great Article....really inspiring and shows love towards India.

Someone asked summary, here it is :
1] There can be no substitute for human a CEO you need to deal with the problems, every problem is related human somewhere.
2]A good leader deals with people, understands people problems and analyzes, questions and adapts frequently
3]success came in small doses and often success begets more success, with occasional set backs too
4] They are realizing what we all knew years ago, of India’s tremendous potential. A well-kept secret is now become a big hype. I am hopeful that rising above this hype, more and more Indian leaders assert themselves at leadership level globally.

Uday Kadam,
Posted by: Uday Kadam - Friday 12th, December 2008
12: good one -thks
Posted by: prashant vora - Wednesday 10th, December 2008
13: Mam,
Thank you verry much for your valuable post.

Sunil Kumar Das
Posted by: Sunil Das - Tuesday 09th, December 2008
14: It is so brilliant.
Posted by: sarss sani - Saturday 06th, December 2008
15: awesome article....most of the article will be carrier and technical stuff but yours is quit different ...good one

Test engineer
Posted by: hariharan chandramohan - Thursday 04th, December 2008
Posted by: ARVIND s MHASANE - Tuesday 02nd, December 2008
17: Hi Jayshree,
I must compliment you for your sharing. Sharing personal examples and insights does help one to connect instantly and effectively.
Indeed a mast piece of write up, most important thing is that you analyses your potential and your week points and transform your weakness in strength, As you said communication skill is important and it play a very vital part to curve your career.
I wish you more success and looking forward to see many such inspiring articles and it influence me that being a women you had achieved your goals and dreams.

All the best and keep writing.

Sooraj Ottur
Solution Architect
Posted by: sooraj ottur - Tuesday 02nd, December 2008
18: Jayshree,
Indeed a mast piece of write up, most imp thing that you analyse your potential and your week points and transform your weakness in strength, As you said communication skill is imp and it paly a very vital part to curve your career and now all the top positions need excellent communication skills Oral and written, your schooling give you the leverage to speak effectively and understand human nature.
Glad to read a really road map of your career and it influence me that being a women you had achieved your goals and dreams.
All the best and keep writing.

Avani Prasad
Recruitment Manager
IBM Dubai
Posted by: Avani Prasad - Friday 21st, November 2008
19: whatever department u head, its the people u will always have to interact with.. hence HR skills are very imp... that also involves the personal one... as they say "u cant concentrate on work if ur personal life is imbalanced"

Posted by: Neel Shah - Thursday 13th, November 2008
20: Your aricle is excellent.

Posted by: Tikaram Pokharel - Wednesday 12th, November 2008
21: How can one analyse you except to say that you are a formidable person bringing great lustre to the feminine world. You are an example for others to follow.
Posted by: PARAMASVARAN KANDIAH - Thursday 06th, November 2008
22: Its an very interesting article written by you. In fact I really appreciate the values you have expressed towards your family.
Posted by: Madhav Kamath - Wednesday 22nd, October 2008
23: wow
it's really amazing and admirable.and that spirit developed india into the worlds 4th largest economy.
really very impresive.

Posted by: Mujahid Pasha - Sunday 19th, October 2008
24: Thats a real inspiring article , its really been tooooo long that I came across a good write-up like this one.
Posted by: Kalpesh Mehta - Friday 03rd, October 2008
25: Hi Mrs. Jayashree,

Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts with us.

Posted by: sandeep kumar - Thursday 02nd, October 2008
26: awesome...!!!

Posted by: mahesh magi - Wednesday 01st, October 2008
27: Hi Jayshree, I must compliment you for your sharing. Sharing personal examples and insights does help one to connect instantly and effectively. This is what has exactly happened. As a reader I could relate to your thoughts and was deeply impressed. I wish you more success and look forward to many such inspiring articles for larger good. Keep writing. Not many are blessed with this art and you are surely one who is abundantly bestowed with these skills and success. Good luck...Cheers, Deepak Deshpande (
Posted by: Deepak Deshpande - Saturday 27th, September 2008
28: Dear Mrs Ullal,
i am a fresher and its been only a month wen i ve started took my first step in the journey of my career. I have really inspired me a lot..after reading your article i am looking at my career in macro terms..but also i have understand that sucess comes in step by step...
looking forward for many more inspiring articles by you...
Have a nice day...!!!!
Posted by: Emma Rakesh - Tuesday 16th, September 2008
29: Hi Mrs Ullal,

You are very lucky enough to have such a cooperative Enivornment, & and about decesion making it will come with our environment and financial status they are gems in our country but lack of these two they remain unpolished stones if people like you take initiation we can bring the best of our country is'nt it???????????????????????????
Posted by: roja reddy - Tuesday 12th, August 2008
30: The description is like a smooth sailing to the top.There must have been some tough times also to get to what you are now.Your experience is very absorbing and could be hepl to others coming up.
Posted by: Shiva Kayshap PMP - Monday 11th, August 2008
31: Iam always proud to see a indian on the top.Iam proud of you Jaya
Posted by: Paul Kiran - Wednesday 30th, July 2008
32: Excellent!!! Its great to read your article which gives a good motivation for the younger generation.
Posted by: Rishi Keshavalu - Thursday 24th, July 2008
33: Hello Jayashree,

Your article is amazing and provides lot of pointers for the young (women) professionals. I have faced some of scenarios that you have mentioned. It was a great, motivational and very useful article.

Just a suggestion - I believe you can write a book on your acheivements which will be more focussing on the challenges that you faced and how did you overcome the same.

Posted by: Latha Murthy - Sunday 13th, July 2008
34: Hi

It is very motivational!!!!
Posted by: shiva kumar - Friday 11th, July 2008
35: Superb.........You've done agreat work. Really Aprreciate your point of view about life. The fine balance you have maitain between personal and Professional faces of life, is truly appriciable. Hats off to you.
Posted by: Naro Jamir - Thursday 10th, July 2008
36: Superb ! I am really happy to read your article and really proud of Indian women enterprenuers / Ceos. Saluets !
Posted by: pawan saxena - Saturday 28th, June 2008
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