Leadership An Art, Not Rocket Science!

Date:   Wednesday , March 02, 2011

Leadership, to my mind, is a very personal construct. Different leaders do different things both in terms of behavioral conduct and also in perspectives and ideas. Having said this, I do believe that certain character traits mark you out as a good leader / potential leader. And, while these may be God-given abilities that come naturally to some, in truth they are developed and honed over time. So, these qualities may actually be learnt.

Finally, in keeping with this belief, what I will share is an extremely personal, roll up your sleeves, kind of perspective. High level preaching like having a vision is true but done to death in virtually every theory on leadership. What I hope to share is the reality, in terms of qualities in my day to day operational work, of what I try to inculcate in my being as I seek to take CA Technologies as a company to numero uno position in each of its addressable markets in India.

I think, ‘objective listening’ is an absolutely key ingredient to making of a quality leader. In every organisation, multiple voices, each with their own sense of logic and reasoning exist. To an individual, the leader, these can often merge into an incongruent cacophony. The ability to listen to the merits of each perspective in a fashion without focusing on the ‘who’ is saying it, is critical to translating good ideas to action.

Every single day I think of the importance of self control and its connected characteristics of self discipline, maintenance of equanimity across multiple situations, to be fair to all so that one is trusted with knowledge of what my team members are ‘really thinking’ and, most importantly, to achieve all this with a heartfelt sincerity of purpose. Rabindranath Tagore, spoke of the necessity for an environment ‘where the mind is without fear and the head is held high’. For me, if my heart features these attributes that I have just mentioned, then Gurudev’s beautiful poetic line becomes reality.

This enables the harnessing of the ‘power of we’ as different from an ‘I, leader’ construct. This ‘power of we’ is the strongest weapon in any company. When the team marches together towards a single purpose, failure is rare. Besides, it enables the realization of an important side product in the leadership matrix — the team begins to get excited and have fun as through this single-minded purpose of harnessing the ‘we’, the leader demonstrates an ability to relate to all. When the team sees this happening for real, several individuals begin to move as one, thus creating intrinsic strength that permeates organization-wide.

Importantly, the leader has now created a situation where teams are empowered and a second line of strength develops. This second line is what pushes the main group of leaders to do even better and as the teams challenge one another you have success.

For the creation of such a work culture, the leader needs to be accessible to all. He needs to, as Azim Premji says, “walk the talk” and lead from the front, both, figuratively speaking, from in the stadium and on the stands. By doing so, the leader successfully creates a charm or benchmark for others to emulate by personal example.

None of this comes easy. Srihari Srinagesh speaks of the importance of never giving up. No matter how difficult the situation, if you are doing the right thing you must never go wishy-washy on the implementation. Try again and again and show commitment to the cause. Finally, I would like to stress on the twin importance of inculcating an ability to take risks and learn from failures. Not just that, the leader must have a sense of sincere personal accountability. Successes are to be shared with the team and whilst the leader should stand up and hold himself accountable on failures, have the strength to recoup and move on. This involves a basic understanding of human beings and our psychology.

The leader who stands up to be counted when things go wrong, learns from it and is able to galvanize the team is the one who will be seen as having that something extra which is most attractive and breeds collective success in the final analysis.

To conclude, for me, leadership is an Art and not a Science. There is no one absolutely correct quadratic equation that says, ‘This is the one right style to lead’. Each leader brings a very personal style that stamps itself organisation wide. These enumerations I have shared, are just some of a vast combination of attributes that I personally try and live by as I seek to take my company to its rightful place – the numero uno position in India.

The author is Managing Director – India, Computer Associates