Leadership is about Respect and Rotation

Author: Shan Ponnambalam
Head of Operations, Applied Materials India
It is easy to sermonize about leadership, and it is easier to do that - dole out duties and responsibilities to a team that works under you. But two decades in the industry have taught me that such an authoritative style of leadership and the results it produces are far less efficient than ‘influential leadership’.

What essentially happens in influential leadership is that the leader earns his credibility on the basis of the value he brings to the table, not on the basis of his position vis-a-vis his subordinates. People don’t essentially report to an influential leader, but rather are accountable for the tasks they take on.

In practice, I follow this style of leadership by articulating what I seek from a project or from a team, and then seek the opinion of the team members on how we could go about it. Collectively, we then follow what we as a team feel is best suited for the goals. That way, a leader does not sell his decision to the team members since they themselves have helped arrive at it.

This ‘bouncing of ideas’ with your team is very important in the influential style of leadership; it brings out, as it must, your respect to the view of each one of your peers.

Over the years, I have taken this idea of respecting one’s teammates a notch further by putting into place what I call ‘rotational leadership’.

Let me explain. Let us assume there are six different managers in my organization viz. HR, finance, facility management, security, et al. All of them have different roles which are singularly critical to the successful completion of a project. In the rotational style of leadership, one among them is in charge of the operation for a month’s time, with each one taking turns to run the show. During such occasions, I often withdraw myself to a secondary position. It is basically about who decides how to manage the situation, track performances, and achieve goals.

There are three important things this model achieves. Firstly, it helps build leaders within the organization. Secondly, the level of collaboration among the team goes up since the other managers realize that their turn to run the show would also come in the ensuing months. They also learn from each other’s approach and often every month sees an improvement on many aspects as new ideas are generated. Lastly, it gives the six respective managers a sense of respect and achievement while those lower down on the ladder also know that their turn too would come one day.

This value system, like I said earlier, is easy to talk about but more difficult to put into place. What it requires more than anything else is someone who leads by example. People in my organization will do something I ask them to with sincerity only when they see me following the same edicts. When I say giving respect to everybody is essential, I must practice it in my daily life while carrying out my responsibilities.

For example, I may have a person working under me who has only three years of experience, but it is essential that in a situation, I respect him on the basis of the importance of his job to the overall project; in my rotational style of leadership, he could be the one running the show too. When my peers see the success of this in practice, they too adopt the philosophy that I seek to inculcate in the team and therefore follow it.

Getting the right team
While it is essential that a leader knows what attributes he is looking for in his team members, unless he is the one who chooses the team he will have to work with a set of people who are already there, selected by others. In such a case, he must first understand the individual strengths of the team members and figure out whether it matches the role they are in. In any case, what matters most to me is the attitude of the person; I would rather work with a person who has scored only 75 percent but is comfortable working in a team than someone with 90 percent but not comfortable in a team setup.

Among other things, a leader must ensure that he has a mentor, whether within or outside the organization he is working in. Also, he must maintain a work-life balance. I always discourage meetings during the time I allotted for my family; in fact it is essential that all employees allot a specific amount of time for their families and avoid hopping between work and family without a proper time management plan.

Lastly, a leader must praise in public but give feedback only in private. While praising in public gives a fillip to the confidence level of a person, doing the same when it comes to pointing out the negatives often severely dents his confidence and his standing among peers. Leaders must therefore give feedback in private and in a way that eggs people on to conquer what they have failed to earlier.
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Reader's comments(4)
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Posted by: tata tatababy os - Friday 30th, October 2009
3: â€œRotational Leadership’ – as christened by you is a great innovation and a perfect fit in Indian context. One normally finds more than one leader in the same department exuding confidence and willingness to take up higher responsibility. It may not be however possible for the company to promote the person for various reasons. Revision in CTC can be considered in this case but may not essentially satisfy the person. Rotational Leadership in this case shall fit better. It will help the person/s psychologically, reduce chances of job-retractions and offer opportunities to those willing to get some credible experience of a position they aspire for.
Posted by: Ajay K Bandopadhyay - Monday 16th, February 2009
4: Respected sir,
you told about the rotational Policy, but what I got from your words that the one person is in operations and the other is in Hr, and rotation policy is HR to Opeartions n Vice versa ,whether its correct what i understood and if its write my question is why the person in one dept should handle other as his expertise is in one n for handling others he needs some traning and its needs time..

and the last point mentioned is very true because being a leader ive experienced the impact of that..
Posted by: Sameer P Mutalikdesai - Thursday 25th, September 2008
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