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Alexius's Acceleration
Harish Revanna
Tuesday, August 1, 2006
From his sixth floor office room in Philips Innovation Campus (PIC) you get a bird’s-eye view of one of Bangalore’s most ancient middle class area, Ulsoor. The bustling traffic, charred asbestos-shingled houses, its day wage workers and polluted atmosphere symbolize exactly what India craves in the near future — healthcare. And the new-CEO, Alexius Collette, too is wondering how Philips can make an impact here. Thirty years in Philips, and into his fourth-month in India, he seems to have alloyed into the crux of the Indian market. But, “I still need to understand the market dynamics,” he says.

Collette is currently bootstrapping to understand his organization well, which, for now, he’s gotten a certain grip on.

A Baton that was passed
I was passed a growing baton called the PIC. Both the Indian IT industry and PIC have grown tremendously in the last decade. It feels like I was airlifted to this huge mountain called PIC from where everything’s so picturesque. Now all I see is the bottom from where the PIC has come and the next peak we have to attain. I’m here to help my employees navigate through this terrain, and ensure that their journey is an adventurous one. It is natural that after you have reached a peak you sit back and relax. But remember there is competition every second; you have to get on your feet and start ascending. Every time you start climbing newer heights it is always nice to have a new leader. For, the new leader sets new priorities, work ethos, and binds the team in a new way. He acts as the alarm that cautions you lest your competitor catches you napping. If my leadership trip has to be more adrenaline-filled, then it is important for me to analyze my team’s strength and break the ice with them initially.

Icebreaking Party
Every new leader should try hard to bond with his employees. It is a leader’s prerogative to mingle rather than to expect others initiate the process. It is also important to understand that people are your power. But the art of doing it starts with understanding and respecting their culture. You should know which culture you just stepped into and react accordingly while trying to reach out to them. While I adjust to act, I’m equally curious to know how my team reacts. And once you get a hang of it then it means you just plugged in your keys. Now all it requires is a little pressure to kick-start your work engine.

Bonding with the management team doesn’t mean you have achieved it. It simply means you have the team rooting for you. Then you share your priorities with them and wait to see how they respond. That throws light into the core priorities of every member of your team.

Courting employees
Knowing employees means knowing your organization. To have an idea about organization you need to communicate with employees. I walk about in the workplaces to meet the employees and join them for lunch. It tells me what they feel and think about the organization. It is great to have employee perspective in whatever I do, as I would be steering the company top-down. Often, I set directions depending on all the feedback I get. And that, for a systematic person like me, is the way one should go about setting priorities for each individual, team, business divisions and then the company. You should know the detail to understand the whole. I call it the sampling of PIC. I pick up a few employees; ask them varied questions and then synthesize my thoughts. This gives me a picture and, you wouldn’t believe how close to the truth it often is.

I as a Leader. I as a manager
I manage details for the future, but not as a micromanager looking at their present. I set the directions and give employees freedom. Each one should have their room to maneuver, for this helps in competency building, while all I do is empower them. Priority setting is a crucial aspect for any success — individually and organizationally. If you can’t get the resources right then it is a signal that there is something wrong in priority setting. If priorities are laid out properly then your team performs, if not they fail.

The process of structuring the team while challenging and making them face the unexpected is the best motivation one can have. I often ask my team to put all their weaknesses on the table and match their strengths. It builds a very powerful bond, but it comes only with some leadership exercises like taking the entire management team out on a rock-climbing spree. To add more lessons to our learning, we ventured out of our comfort zone and started with climbing straightaway! Some were early to hike and some late, but each team did have their share of learning. They opened up for each other’s good and bad experience. And this training has worked across cultures.

A leader’s challenge
Professionally, my toughest challenge came during restructuring in one of my previous assignments. It is always hard to convince people that there is no alternative. I would like my people to be prepared for changes and then we can work it out gradually. However, I prefer doing it in installments. Any change done rapidly is a calamity. Often, leaders are challenged in maintaining the trust of the employees while changing them. When I introduced Top 60 it was a change I initiated to include 50 more leaders into the executive forum. I was determined to talk to at least 60 in an organization of 1,700, and not just nine in my second-line of management. I expect them all to percolate the vision downward, which I believe will now increase.

Personally, I often challenge myself by playing squash. It is a game that challenges the player physically and mentally.

Thoughts of a leader
I believe leadership is about creating passion in whatever you do. It is about stretching employees just enough to help them attain the unattainable. It is often done through setting high standards and encouraging and empowering them. It is coalescing of great individuals to make a great team. I call it the ikebana of flowers, which are individually great to look at as well. If attaining this were the art of a leader, then the science would be the priority settings.

After I have set it we go ahead to accomplish it. There is no backing out but just bending one’s back to get there. People who embark on that exciting journey with me are welcomed and doubters are left behind. All the while keeping ears and eyes open for suggestions and support from my team.
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