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March - 2006 - issue > Leadership
Inside-a-Leaders-Cabin,-called-mind
Harish Revanna
Wednesday, March 1, 2006
He talks about the need for transformational leadership. Tells you why leadership is influence without control. Takes you on a lonely-ride of leaders. Shows you the blue-sky and marks the virgin territory. Welcome to the world of Sharad Sharma.

There is an aura surrounding Sharad Sharma. The general manager of Symantec India Corp is managing the newlywed oddest-couple of technology: Veritas is a storage software firm, while Symantec is into security software. While he has spent the last 18 years managing different companies, his career is peppered with stints of transformational leadership. In Sharma's parlance, transformational leadership is the process of reinventing from strategic cost arbitrage model to the competitive cost arbitrage-which is how the Symantec India development center has evolved. (See the table)

Recently, his talks at the Nasscom Leadership Summit at Mumbai, India gave audience a dual feeling of leaders in a startup versus leaders in multinational. And the entrepreneurial crowd had loads to cheer. “Leaders of both have influence without control,” he said.“ In a startup your influence is outside the company, as you are still a new entrant and the market doesn’t know you. So you are often busy influencing your clients and partners, without controlling anyone. But in a big company there is a gravity existing within the company and one needs to exert influence in areas where you don’t have control.” According to Sharma, that kind of influence comes partly because of the person who you are and largely for the force of your ideas.

Summits, town hall meetings, forums, community activities and discussions are places where Sharma sees himself through outsiders’ eyes. “Those places provides an external perspective of myself and my company,” he says. Perspectives are notable aphorisms in Sharma’s theory of leadership. “A role of a creative leader is to create an environment where everybody has an outsider perspective and a thorough understanding of what is happening inside. By helping people see the gap between their current assumptions and new reality, one creates a process of adaptive change,” he tells.

This change is built around a cause and passion and is sustainable because it’s pull based. It also allows people to find their own pathways to the final goal. “This adaptability is critical to success in our dynamic world today. You can’t chart a straight line path to your destination in iceberg infested waters,” he says.

For him, leadership is about looking around the corner. It’s about adapting in a context, and taking charge and responsibilities.

Responsible leaders are most often far sighted. A contingency plan is always in the faculty of their mind. Sharma too plans eventuality in advance. For example, his second line of leadership is already in place, while the third line is supplanting the second. “Process of filling the voids should be immediate for any company,” he says. But stops to note the importance of great teamwork and illustrate how successful teams can rise above the potential of the individual team members. He talks about the world’s successful relay or tennis doubles teams that most of the time don’t have the world’s top players but beat those that do. He subtly brings in the motivation factor in a team. “A leader never forgets to acknowledge the little successes of his employees,” he says. “Every time I acknowledge the small attempts of my little eight-year-old daughter, she gets an incentive to achieve the next. So do my employees, they all need to be treated like young achievers.”

Sharma in turn is a promoter of technology product innovation. Customer intimacy, innovation and new opportunity-creation are a few words peculiar to Sharma, often used as his motivational catalysts. Of late he’s busy marking out virgin territories within the blue-sky (see the table) opportunity that’s identified for his company. He explains, “Veritas is a company focused on enterprise market: Symantec on the consumer side. The blue-sky is ideally between the two. And within blue sky are some niche areas, which have never been looked at and those are the Virgin Territories.”

Sharma’s articulacy in explaining things and vivacity in minting phrases has a magical effect. It takes you on a leadership-ride, shows you around and gives a different perspective. Now Sharma, as if in a surreal world, will make you look down and learn for yourself how things look from top. It’s a damn fast world where you think for the future, live for the present and sit on your past. He says, “Then, if you aren’t lonely at times, you are perhaps not a good leader.”
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