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Bobby’s-3-Cs
Harish Revanna
Friday, September 1, 2006
For Dr Biswadip (Bobby) Mitra, Managing Director of Texas Instruments India,
leadership is not a clinical subject, not a tab on the number of people reporting to him. It is about creating a new breed of leaders who can transmit his passion across their people and organization. “When you infuse energy and passion, you get the heart, mind and soul of people,” he says.

As a leader, he ensures his passionate energy doesn’t get diffused but “channelized.” He does so by focusing on his self-discovered tenets of leadership: Communication, Consistency and Courage. And he explains to The SmartTechie about that.

Primal power
I spend ample time in communicating to my employees the war zone philosophy: a battlefield where Texas Instruments (collectively with all its centers) is on one side and its competitors on the other. It is the customer who blows the whistle of victory. Often in businesses, the winners are the ones who have found the grail of customer-centricity. And the people are your warriors who win the war.

Nowadays, some people declare victory too early in the game. Sometimes engineers hoist the final flag of success when they reach the intermediate milestones. However, real victory is when the customer releases the purchase order. Time to market is not success anymore, time to revenue (in production volume) is.

I believe motivation amongst employees strengthens when communication is effective. At TI, our emphasis is on letting developers know where and how their products are being used. This perks up the motivation manifold. In the end, people want to create and believe that they are making a difference to mankind, to life and to the world. Building products that generate revenue is one part. Making difference to human life with such products is the other. Often leaders fail to communicate the latter, which is a very important aspect.

The key is consistency
If leaders change their agenda every other day, employees get confused. I cannot narrate a new story everyday. When communication is consistent, the power is immense. But, it isn’t as easy as it appears. As TI India evolved, customer expectations changed constantly. We had to move to a new scale and offer a new class of design innovation. This means increasing the ‘performance bar’ of our employees. While the performance bar is ever-rising and expectations are getting higher, the key is to be consistent in communication. And it is this consistency, I believe, that has helped drive the innovation-culture across 1400 engineers at our India center. To achieve results, it is critical that everyone is directionally aligned. Inconsistency in communication would only mean shooting arrows in different directions.

Gutsy Guys
We often come across situations where the customer says he needs the solution by June. The comfortable time frame may be only by October. Yet often, some leaders find it is easy to go with the team. It is an uphill task to engage the team in discussions such as what it takes to make it happen in June. It is imperative in such instances that a leader gets his act right and convinces his team to make speedier delivery happen, while simultaneously understanding the flexibility options with the customer. In such challenging situations, I don’t want to know the 20 reasons why it cannot be done. I want to know the three out-of-the-box ways by which it can be done.

It is also important to get the innovative spirit going in any organization. This can be both part of the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of developing a solution. The creativity that engineers get to demonstrate while conceiving the ‘what’ is unparalleled. However, there are also significant opportunities to unleash the creativity in coming up with the ‘how’. During problem solving, there is far more that is unspecified than specified. It is this path to get more clarity in the unspecified domains that makes leadership transformational.

In chip design, there is enormous opportunity to demonstrate both these classes of creativity to deliver innovative solutions. This calls for courageous leadership.

Human rubber band
To create positive stress and ensure that it doesn’t switch to negativity is another challenge I take very seriously. One lesson that I remember the most from my management classes taken about 15 years back is about two types of stresses: positive and negative. Positive stress is good and one can stretch anything as long as it is creates positive energy.

Alongside positive stress, my focus is on employee value creation. Value is very different for different people. Everyone knows his goal and is focused on it. It is very hard to change their orientation. However, it is the responsibility of the leaders to ensure that the employees go up the value curve. Leaders should probe their employees in different ways: How many specs have you written? How many customer visits have you made? How have you been progressing along the technology curve? Are you coming up with key process technology recipes that make up the 45nm process? How many specifications have you developed?

Birth of a leader
As a new graduate out of IIT Kharagpur, I would lose heart when a project I was working on got shelved. My reactions were based on emotions. As my responsibilities grew, I developed a better understanding of the business dynamics. Now, whenever a project gets cancelled, I don’t react emotionally but base my reaction on business economics. I collect as much information as I can as to why the project was shelved and then confidently communicate the reality and the reasons to the team.

Along the process, leaders should make sure they don’t mould people into their own styles. Successful people do not all have the same characteristics. If you look at the TI leadership team, you see people who have very different styles. It is the coalescing of people who are outwardly passionate and extrovert with people who are inwardly determined and quiet. At the same time they are all bold. I wouldn’t compromise on being bold. There can be no compromise for courage.

Over the years, my management beliefs have also evolved. Today I believe that leadership is all about getting to a state of resonance—the resonance that gets created when people’s aspirations, product requirements and the business demands intersect.

When such an alliance occurs, the performance of the employee attains its zenith—inevitably leading to satisfied customers and business success.
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