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Notes from my heart on leadership!
Arun Subramony
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Leaders ‘by design’ are visionaries and almost always inspire their teams or followers. Beyond vision and inspiration, successful leaders also do something very powerful – align!

It is extremely important for a leader to align his or her interests and styles of functioning with those of others around them so perfectly as to achieve a well-harmonized togetherness in whatever they are engaged in. In my 18 years of work life in IT industry, I have found the following four abilities indispensable to achieve recognition and success for any leader working in a team environment:

Ability to work together: This is the most fundamental and non negotiable phase of alignment required in a team consisting of members with all diverse attributes (gender, geography, culture and others) - irrespective of the positions they hold in the organization, or the roles they play in the execution of a particular task or in handling a particular situation. This also helps the organization to be agile and engaged.

Ability to play together: I always look for the camaraderie and fun quotient in my teams, to assess my organization’s health index. Team members who engage and connect on a social plane beyond work create a fun filled environment. Cross functional team members getting together to explore hobbies; to unleash talent and celebrate occasions or achievements beyond work is a good metric to determine the ‘fun’ quotient. A leader’s ability to relate to his or her team as a friend is probably very critical to the success of any organization in the knowledge economy.

Ability to learn together: Once we achieve the first two phases of alignment, we have almost cracked the code and probably crossed the tipping point. Recall our elementary school days – boys and girls learning together in an egoless environment. Creating that egoless mindset helps the team to have the ability to learn from each other. I often share my learning experiences with my team, from people that I interact with – my cab driver, my travel agent, or my friend’s three year old daughter. This attitude helps team members to listen to new ideas, or an alternative method of solving a problem, irrespective of where they come from.

Ability to dream together: The fourth and the final stage of alignment pertains to the ability of a team to dream together. In an organization where tens of thousands of people work, each one is assigned a different role and responsibility. But, the ultimate goal is to work towards realization of the vision of the organization. If all of us have a common objective and work in unison towards achieving the same, the power generated by this collective effort will be boundless. It can even move mountains. Alignment brings out the real potential in every team member beyond the role he or she is assigned. There is a big difference between performing to a role and performing to one’s potential. “Dream big, dream excellence” is a powerful DNA that I injected to myself during my job interview with Sajan Pillai (UST Global’s President & COO) about four years back. He asked me “Do you believe in your dream?” That sent my heart racing faster than ever before.

In sum, ‘alignment’ works! Trust me and “Just do it. You will see the difference!”

Lead with your heart (rather than with the head)
A research report says that over 75 percent of the world’s most successful leaders and CEO’s attributed success to their ability to take decisions based on intuition and not rationale. I have been an advocate of taking decisions from one’s gut and of leading teams and organizations with one’s heart for the past many years because your gut is always right.

I was sharing this thought with a psychologist during a management workshop. She was quick to point out in a lighter vein, “If you lead with your heart, you must be an optimist; and a leader that leads with his or her head must be a pessimist!” I remember a joke that cracked her up completely: “Both optimists and pessimists contribute to society. The optimist invented the air plane while the pessimist invented the parachute.”

Leadership in the twenty first century
While interviewing candidates for senior management roles, I am often bombarded with reams of data and anecdotes of how each of these candidates performed in the past, over their 20 plus or 30 plus years of work experience in different roles. While it is interesting to hear them out, many of those events and situations are not relevant in the twenty first century. And I can share the reasons; The Internet and 9/11 changed the world completely and the twenty first century leadership attributes go far beyond twentieth century heroics.

Leadership in a flat world: The golden age of the big and strong over the small and weak is gone. The level playing field and the rules of the game have completely changed as described in the book ‘The World is Flat’. Technically, a designer diamond jeweler enabled by a commercial web site, living in India or South Africa can now compete with the De Beers of the world. So we have to evaluate leadership traits from a flat world perspective.

Leadership in a virtual world: Our delivery management teams at UST Global have members working in over 12 countries and several time zones. It is nearly impossible to have the same touch and feel one used to have in the erstwhile factory setting with all members working out of the same facility. In some cases, the leader would never have a chance to see some of their team members face to face. The good news is, it is still possible to connect with them at a personal level and engage them at work as an effective team through the online web tools like messengers, chat rooms, blogs, video conferencing and others.

Leadership vying with non-market forces: In recent times, the non-market forces have begun playing an increasingly more effective role in shaping the destiny of businesses worldwide. The role of the media as a non-market force can build or destroy your business today. For instance, McDonald’s became the poster child for having allegedly promoted obesity in the U.S. The leadership traits of twenty first century need to anticipate and manage non-market forces as well.

Leadership through social capital: The good part of the industrial revolution was leveraged by organizations having access to financial capital. Ford is a great example of the competitive advantage achieved through financial capital. Microsoft, IBM, and Apple leveraged on intellectual capital in the late twentieth century. Both these ingredients do not guarantee success today. Twenty first century will be remembered for how leaders and organizations contributed to the society and communities they operate in. Prof. Ram Charan, world’s most admired management guru, believes that social capital will be a unique differentiating factor that will lead to sustainable competitive advantage for any organization or leader in this century.

Before I conclude, I would like to break the myth that leaders are selfless. Almost every leader I know has had a great self interest. Take Mahatma Gandhi for example, his self interest and dream were ’Freedom’. And he went about inspiring over 300 Million people to achieve that dream by unleashing the world’s deadliest weapon – non-violence!

The author is Vice President - Global Delivery, UST Global. He can be reached at Arun.Subramony@ust-global.com
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