Believing in the India story

Author: Sarv Saravanan
V.P & M.D, India center of Excellence, EMC Corporation
Don’t try to control anything. The more you try to control something, the less you will have. Connect whatever you do to the larger purpose. Develop influence rather than control. That’s when people will rally around you. Leadership is not about position of power, but about the actions that you drive.

Leadership, as I see it
Leadership is about articulating a strategy and figuring out how to achieve it. It’s not enough to just have a strategy and a vision that is 5000 feet from the ground. You really need to make it happen on the ground. The entire team needs to be directionally aligned to the common goal and work towards achieving it together.

Leadership to me is:
* Consultative and participative: Empowering people to think innovatively and take risks and decisions. Encouraging innovation. Working as a team.
* Providing the right infrastructure, promoting younger leaders to take leadership roles, giving them freedom and allowing them to grow individually.
* Impressing upon people that you can grow and develop along the technical path. You don’t have to be in the management always. EMC is an ideal example of senior directors who are on the company’s board and directing product development.
* Not molding people in their own styles. All successful people do not necessarily have the same characteristics. I encourage and actively bring in people with diverse styles.
* Not exercising control. I realized very early in my career that the more you try to control the less control you will have. Inspiration through a common connection with a larger purpose and influencing is the best way to rally people around you.

I evolved 5 guiding principles over the years to guide myself as I approach a job or build an organization:

Connect with the larger purpose of an organization: If you don’t understand the purpose and vision of the organization, you won’t be able to contribute to it. If you don’t contribute, you will become irrelevant and redundant.

Being in demand: Achievers are always in demand – people with good attitude and deep technical competencies. Ensure that every member of your team is thorough in the technology of his area; while at the same time bring their best attitude to the job. This makes them sought after by other divisions within your organization as well as other companies. I take pride in this.

Be a role model:It is essential for a leader to listen to his team members, and be transparent and compassionate. Being transparent in one’s dealings and being compassionate creates an environment of trust and will inspire people to work with their leaders.

Earn the respect of customers: Credibility and trustworthiness are earned through the excellence in delivery of products and solutions. Clients will see value in the relationship if we are credible, trustworthy and predictable. When I say customers, I mean the larger eco-system of people who are connected to EMC - other teams within the company, senior management, customers, partners, and others.

Our citizenship is admired: This happens both within and outside our company. Driving innovation from ground up with a deep understanding of the vision of the company, assuming our responsibility as a corporation and as individuals to the communities and the society we serve.

Motivating others to perform
I have always believed that if you take your team along with you towards the business goal, you can achieve a lot. Partner with them and share the pains and joys of day-to-day challenges. That way, every milestone is appreciated, mistakes understood, and key learnings implemented.

All of us have aspirations. Understanding our peoples’ aspirations and help achieving them will go a long way towards retaining our key performers. We need to promote a culture where people can take decisions and grow, be bold and irreverent, think innovatively, and have a ‘can do’ attitude. I encourage risk-taking attitude. Above all, the values I personify are integrity, honesty, taking on big challenges, being open and respectful, and having the right attitude.

Promoting an open culture at work can be a huge motivator for high performance. I encourage people to share their ideas, discuss issues, and give them confidence once their ideas and feedback are acted upon. The actions you take and how you communicate back are critical.

Building a team
I look for the people with right values and attitudes. Their values should align with our corporate values. Again I apply my five core guiding principles when evaluating potential partners in my journey. I can deal with shortcomings in technical skills as they can be developed. But, my values and guiding principles are non-negotiable.

I grew up in a totally empowering culture as a professional. That has been the key enabler for me to be successful. So, I look to build the same culture in the organization I lead. I look for people who can thrive in this.

I don’t always look for people with a particular role in mind. I customize roles as I understand the strengths of the people and what they can do to help our business leapfrog.
How has your leadership role evolved and matured

From the beginning in my career, I had understood one thing right – leadership is not about position or power. Leadership is about the actions that one drives. It is so well ingrained in me that I always looked for ideas and initiatives that I could drive to make a difference to the business. I never looked for a mandate. I never worried about my ideas getting shot down. I never stopped at the idea level. I always took my ideas through execution. This helped me gain credibility.

Every three years I challenged myself to do very different roles that stretched me. For instance, I was a techie in my previous company until 2000. In that year, I moved back to India to run part of its India business with a P&L responsibility that I had never done before. After three years, I moved on to set up a large global delivery capability for that company and built a solid presence for them in India along with a few other colleagues.

In every step in my career, I always looked up to a model to grow. The models for me are leaders that I could watch everyday and learn from. I was fortunate enough to work with a couple of such model leaders very closely. To gain these opportunities, it is important to establish credibility.
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Posted by: SHALABH BHARADWAJ - Monday 09th, February 2009
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