A Leadership Trait: Looking for People Smarter than One!
Date: Sunday , July 13, 2008
B V Jagadeesh is the CEO and President of 3Leaf Systems, CA, U.S.A. Before joining 3Leaf Systems, Jagadeesh served as Group Vice President and General Manager of Citrix Systems’ Application Networking Group. Prior to the acquisition of NetScaler by Citrix Systems, he served as President and CEO of NetScaler. During his tenure here, he grew NetScaler to become the market leader in Application Delivery Systems until its acquisition by Citrix for $325 million in 2005. Prior to NetScaler, Jagadeesh co-founded Exodus Communications. During his tenure at Exodus, he successfully helped the company grow from a startup to a leader in the Web co-location market and was instrumental in leading its highly successful initial public offering (IPO). He has also held various management and engineering positions at Novell and 3Com. Jagadeesh holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Bangalore University and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Bombay.
Jagadeesh appears calm – clad in cool cotton and floaters; you can’t miss the fact that he is on holiday. He comes across as a genial host, quickly engaging in a freewheeling conversation and starts with a topic very close to his heart – the school he has adopted in his native village. He provides scholarships to the students who secure a first class in the tenth grade. “It is not enough to adopt a school by donating money, you have to stay connected to it”, he says. One cannot but agree when we look at the multifold growth the school has achieved in terms of pass percentage in the last three years. The discussion then moves on to a new plane in which Jagadeesh is known to demonstrate with authority – leadership.
“My style of leadership is about bringing in the best talent and building a team where I empower the team, rather than micromanaging them,” says Jagadeesh. He personally believes that having complete control doesn’t help breed the next level of leaders. “I try to look for people who are smarter than I am. That way, they can challenge me and I can actually depend on them. This is my first philosophy and approach. It helps when you build a team of people who are smart, intellectual, honest, and self motivated. I would like to see all these guys becoming CEOs in the future. This, I believe, is my signature technique,” he explains. He remembers the team he built at Exodus Communications as absolutely extraordinary, and the team he nurtured at NetScalar as exceptionally talented. But it’s easier said than done - to actually find smart, self-motivated people. Jagadeesh goes on to describe how he invests a lot of time in recruiting the right people. “For example, at 3Leaf I invested 3 to 4 months in recruiting the person whom we just brought on board as VP - Engineering. I feel it is important for the person to understand, and to have a complete picture of, what is going on in the company. I don’t want a person who is coming on board to come with a bubble, thinking that everything is rosy here.” He emphasizes that he does not want somebody joining the company to have surprises, which is so often the case with many companies that try to sell the job profile to attract talent. In such cases, Jagadeesh observes, the employee would be very disappointed and frustrated, and eventually the company loses him.
There’s always a question of how much of importance does one give to attitude against aptitude. “You don’t completely discard the attitude because that’s important. If there is a wrong attitude in a person that needs to be corrected, and if that is unmanageable, you need to part ways with that person. Attitude breeds both good and bad things in a company. If you have an attitude of not being able to succeed, then typically what happens is that you don’t allow your subordinates also to succeed. Then you get into this problem where you start hiring mediocre people. The organization starts to suffer, that’s when the collapse of the company begins. You have to come up with a proper balance between the attitude and aptitude to get the results achieved,” observes Jagadeesh.
Motivation plays an important role in a leadership profile. Jagadeesh feels that a leader must know the ambitions of his people and must help them achieve their goals. “The key thing here is – you need to identify the skill sets that are missing in your people. You have to be very candid, open, and honest and when you build trust you can advise them on the gaps and provide them with all the support they need to acquire those skills to fill the gap. When you do this, it will be remarkable to see the confidence and consequent growth in your people,” says Jagadeesh. He elaborates that such an approach would significantly help in building trust, which he believes is very important for motivation and for truly uplifting one’s career.
Jagadeesh brings in a very different dimension to the emotional aspect of leadership when he says, “A true leader is not 100 percent driven only by results. Of course, results are one of the key metrics to determine the capability. Most of the time, it is very hard for everybody to uplift himself or herself to the next level due to personal limitations.” He believes that every human being has got a personal limitation. “Like me, for instance, if you ask me to run a $500 million company, I don’t think I will be able to do it. I am setting myself up for failure. I know what skill sets are required at that level and at the present I don’t think I am capable. I will fail on the whole. I know where my strengths are, I know where I can bring in tremendous value to a company,” admits Jagadeesh. He justifies with examples from companies like Cisco, Novell and Microsoft where the CEOs have made way for better leaders to take over when the companies scaled beyond the leaders’ personal limitations.
But how does one become aware of his personal limitations? Jagadeesh believes that the answer lies in identifying the gaps within oneself. “You need to keep your ego aside and do it in the best interest of the company. Not everybody will have that kind of self awareness, or can be brave enough to say that they are incapable of doing a thing.” He exemplifies, “That’s when one sees the possible application of spiritual wisdom. It may be natural to many of us because of our spiritual background.” He goes on to provide a peek into his spiritual dimension, and quotes Krishna from Bhagavad Geeta, “karmanye vadhika raste Ma phaleshu kadachana; ma karma phala he tur bhuh, ma te sangostva karmani.” This broadly means, “Fulfilling your responsibility, come what may.” He has been practicing yoga for the last 25 years, and believes that it is responsible for keeping him calm and cool even under the most stressed situations. He adds that being calm is the key to avoid as well as to manage conflicts.
Jagadeesh is known for his acute sense of business acumen. He believes that most of it comes from his personal interest. He remembers how it was always his dream to start his own company. He believes that for some people, it comes naturally; they only need to build on it. In the same breath, he is hopeful of many Indians developing the business acumen necessary to produce a great software product, now that there is $2-3 billion riding on ventures in India. However, he believes that building these skills will take time since it demands a change in the mindset. “In India, it’s time to prepare oneself to build companies,” says Jagadeesh before he signs off in his signature entrepreneurial style.