4% owner can stir it up hard!

ciel blog - 4% woner - SIKKA-MURTHY - infosys debacle

Last week was momentous for many, particularly for professional CEOs and their Boards. Infosys, the iconic IT services company of India was in the news. The differences of opinion between the Board and its charismatic founder were out in the public. The shareholders as a whole became poorer by nearly 3 Billion USD on one day of trading. The company had to announce a buy-back of shares worth 2 Billion USD. One wonders if this whole episode was so unavoidable. Could the CEO have managed the stakeholders better? Could the Board have done better in their public relations as well as following the governance norms? All these questions become interesting especially when the complainant is a mere 4% owner in the company.

It takes two to tango:

A large part of the media and the Board have showed the founder in poor light and objected to his expressing the criticisms publicly. They felt, the founder having retired from the company has to let go and cede control to the successor so that the new leaders can run the company the way they deem fit. Some of them also felt that the actions taken and norms followed in the yesteryear by the Founder are not valid in the current times. The benchmarks of governance have moved and hence, applying the old methods and norms are nothing but nostalgia. Moreover, the founder being an iconic figure himself when is found criticizing the new team publicly, it hampers the abilities of the new team to perform.

And at the same time, the new team has taken several radical steps which do not seem to make sense to a typical observer and moreover, haven’t shown appreciable results in the near term. Future plans seem to be a distant dream to many. Values of the organization such as sincerity and ethical standards seem to be getting compromised of late. While there is a buzz of new things, they seem to appear hollow to many. However, the CEO and the Board remain deeply convinced of their strategies. These are situations where the team has to be working overtime to instill confidence in the stakeholders and calm their nerves rather than operate from the high altar.

The criticisms abound on both sides : the founder overstepping his remit and the CEO ignoring the basics of stakeholder management. It takes two to tango!

Touchy about criticism?

When you are the poster boy, many people look at you, talk about you and follow you. There is bound to be a lot of love and the same amount of hate too!

When the CEO and the Board meet, they must have reviewed the sentiments and opinions expressed in the marketplace towards the company. They know, this messaging would influence functioning of the company. They also know, the criticisms of the founder would be heard in the market and would impact the company even if the founder owned a mere 4% in the company. So, one wonders why the CEO got into an outburst on one fine day eroding a significant part of shareholder wealth and creating a sense of panic not only within the company but also in the industry. One doesn’t expect the boss of a 10 B USD company to react hurriedly to a spate of scathing attacks, especially when he believed them to be untrue and baseless.

Did the task ahead look too daunting and hence, the criticisms were too much of a bother? The lesson for me here is to keep the ears close to the ground and act early to influence opinions.

Take the most along:

One of the most important facets of leadership is to champion the change program and lead it from the front. Along the journey, the leader has to build a momentum and ensure that most people are on board. If he signals too soon for the bogie to move on, most of his co-travellers will be left behind. The bogie will move on and catch great speed, but it would have very few on board. The journey then becomes dull and meaningless. The desired impact of the journey is not achieved.

Organizations in their quest to transform themselves get someone with new perspectives as their leader, however the leader needs to understand the culture, the values and beliefs which define the organization. Keeping in mind the future goals, the pace and style of the transformation program has to be designed.

Like one must train well before one runs the first marathon, the leader needs to join the mainstream before he changes the course. Else, the stream keeps flowing its course and at best, the leader is able to create a couple of small distributaries  from the stream. Possibly, for Infosys, a large part was not aligned fully and the new leaders were not able to take the most along with them! Hence, the lesson for me is to take everyone along!

Reverse Mentoring is hyped

Our world has seen vigorous development in technology in the last couple of decades. New methods of doing work have evolved; Gen Y and Z have been ahead of the senior managers in any organisation in terms of their understanding and application of these new practices. At home, the youth have taken charge of putting in place new devices and on-boarding the seniors onto the new devices such as computers, laptops, Smart TV, emails, facebook, whatsapp, video files, snapchat, instagram, alarms, camera, smart phones, gaming, reminders, calendars, and so on. Families have started e-shopping, booking hotels, taxis and tickets, paying bills online, e-gaming, sharing updates via the phone and so on. Why do organizations face challenges in getting the youth to similar things there? Why don't senior folks learn from the freshers or the younger colleagues?

Progressive organisations came up with an idea called Reverse Mentoring to promote learning among seniors from the junior colleagues. One wonders why the organisation has to create a specific program to make this happen when it's commonplace at home.

Build the right environment

People enter the workplace each day with a mindset very different from what they normally wear at home. If at all the top leaders can build a home-like environment at work, ego of seniors won't come on the way of seeking knowledge, inputs, guidance and help from the juniors; and similarly, ego of the junior folks won't spring up on the way of staying humble and grounded while coaching and helping the seniors. The first key to success of such program is to build the right environment within an organisation.

Organisations at times struggle to make this work because the seniors do not see the reason of learning from the juniors. They fear, their authority will be compromised and their directions on issues of organisation effectiveness will be treated casually by their direct reports. Similarly the juniors might suddenly start misinterpreting the situation of coaching seniors to be that of incapable managers. Such misgivings can be eliminated only when the basic premises of learning are clear in the organisation.

It's not a one-way street

Reverse Mentoring is a two-way process. The coach and the coachee both have to learn in this unique process. The juniors coaching the seniors need to learn about the business, the external environment, perspectives about the business, best practices and historical events. They could rethink about these to imagine possible alternatives of dealing with the challenges and opportunities if they were to reappear.

And similarly the seniors need to not only learn new technologies but also imagine how these learnings can be applied to solve business challenges. They could join hands with these young turks to run special projects to innovate new solutions or products.

This two-way street needs to be built and again it's a cultural element to be built by the Top Leadership.

Choose the right combination

Choosing the right pair or triad is critical keeping in mind the objective of the program, learning opportunities that can be created by forming the combination and compatibility of the personalities. Since adult Learning is a matter of individual's interest and commitment, it can't be effective by forcing the individuals to a Mentoring program. Hence it's important that the participants make their own decisions while theHR department could restrict its role to that of a facilitator and an observer.

Periodic reports from the HR team could help the managers track how well the program is getting executed. As a program gets executed, there are needs of course-corrections such as rebranding, communication, choice of the partners in the coaching process, redefining the objectives, clarifying the expectations of the participants and recognition of the efforts by the participants.

Reverse Mentoring is hyped. This is like any other learning process which calls for setting the right environment, setting the right expectations and forming the right teams.

Do you build consensus?

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Democracy is the largest form of governance in the world now… close to 60% of the world’s population live in democratic nations. Our societies value freedom of speech, majority view and the power of making choices. Organizations are microcosms of our societies and hence, we behave the same way at work. We expect our leader to be consulting us, acting upon our views, figuring out the majority view and updating us about the state of affairs from time to time.

Long and Arduous

Leaders often are worried about the time it takes to arrive at a decision if they open out the process to their team. Given the diaspora of our society, it is natural that the manager gets wide-ranging opinions and perspectives. Firstly, it takes time and effort to explain the issue to the team; secondly, it takes time to listen to the opinions of people. And most importantly, given the diverse suggestions one receives, it is not easy to decide. In the leader’s mind, there might be something very compelling but the team might not be seeing it with equal fervour. So, the leader takes time to re-position the issue and repeat the process. This is undoubtedly a long and arduous process.

Apply it in the right context

It is not possible that a manager builds consensus for each and every decision. As long as the guiding principles and values are clear, governance becomes easy and non-controversial. So, first of all, organizations need to create appropriate methods and platforms to co-create the guiding principles which determine the way of life. Secondly, a manager must recognize when the issue is complex either because of the inter-dependencies or it has a conflict with one or more principles. Those are the situations which need a larger involvement of people at different levels of the organization.

This is easier said than done. When one opens up the issue to the larger audience, various possibilities come at play. Some people see various lacunae in the capability of the boss; some people come up with utopian ideas due to their lack of knowledge or experience; some people in their quest of coming under the spotlight raise various issues. So, a manager ends up spending a lot of energy in cancelling the noise.

One needs to know which level of the organization needs to be involved and to what extent in the process. At times, discussions with colleagues help simplifying the issue and evolving new possibilities. Hence, participative style of leadership has to be applied in the right context!

Sustainable method

It is unlikely that the manager or the leader knows all. And at the same time, one must have the humility to learn new perspectives and develop solutions in collaboration with others. While making a decision, one has to be clear if the decision has a long term impact on the organization. For example, evolving the 3-year strategy, introducing a new product, launching a new advertisement, entering into a new wage agreement with the union, modifying the rewards scheme and so on have far-reaching consequences on the organization.

An organization can ill-afford to let all such decisions rest squarely on the shoulders of one person or a handful. While building a consensus takes time and calls for efforts to dialogue, it is critical to invest these efforts for the long term health of the organization. Participative style on all strategic issues for the organization assures sustainability.

The leader has to know when to apply democratic style and involve whom in the process.

Are you the leader who seeks complete control?

ciel blog - autocratic leadership

We associate autocracy, dictatorship, authoritarian styles to tyrant leaders like Hitler, Stalin and Fidel Castro. But, there is a bright side of this unique style. Think of Henry Ford who created a great impact in the auto industry. He is known to have followed the autocratic style of leadership with his belief in economies of scale and assembly line manufacturing. Ford Motors created thousands of jobs and a solid history. Leaders who consider themselves as experts and have a huge conviction in a cause, do not consider it essential to seek opinions of others, build alignment of thoughts and so on. They are action-oriented; expect their flock to carry out the instructions perfectly with the same conviction without questioning the purpose behind the efforts.

It works well in some situations!

Across the world, this style works well in the military because they do not have the time to build consensus and alignments with the troops. The leader is expected to make the right decisions given the support system that is working elsewhere. The members of the troop are expected to stay battle-ready and wait to receive the instructions from their leader. The trust is implicit and a foundational principle here.

Similarly, in a factory or in a construction site, the work processes are so complex that the workers have neither the knowledge nor the wherewithal to decide if the tasks carried out by them are worthwhile for the business or not. They just carry out the assigned tasks in the manner they are told to do. In return, they expect a secure job and fair wages. The leader assumes great responsibility in such cases and is obliged to do the best to ensure that the team reaches the goal.

Autocratic leaders are hyper-criticized!

The common belief is that autocratic leaders are control-freaks, keep a close watch on the tasks being performed, do not trust the people in their team, do not recognize the efforts being put by the individuals, reap hugely lucrative rewards vis-a-vis the earnings of their teams and are short-term focused. However, this is a bit of over-generalization and hence, unfair to paint the canvass with a single stroke.

Like we say, horses for courses, leadership style demonstrated by the leader must match the need of the hour and the context in which the team has to perform. To lead highly skilled scientists in an R&D laboratory is a task very different from leading highly skilled commandos in a counter-insurgency strike. Similarly, leading a team of factory workers in an assembly line is very different from leading a team of engineers ensuring consistent performance of a data-centre.

One size doesn’t fit all. So, a leader has to bring the right mix of leadership behaviours to the team. She or he has to communicate, delegate, build trust, receive feedback, inspire the team to pursue lofty goals, show the bigger picture and deal with reactions of the team-mates. While an autocratic style is closely identified with instructing the team, monitoring progress and pushing them to achieve bigger targets, a successful leader shows the other facets of leadership behaviors at the right time.

Do not lose control over your intentions!

In the military organizations, the leader makes his intentions clear to the troop and the soldiers become clear about the goal. While the broad strategy is known to the troop, it is impossible that the leader can tell them what to do at each step of combating the enemy. They apply the principles that they have learnt and do their best to realize the goals defined by the leader. This works all over the world. However, we see business enterprises struggle to achieve this level of maturity.

At times, a leader invests a lot of energy in alignment and consensus-building. In the process of give and take, often the intentions agreed jointly become an octopus, hard to manage and often invisible! We can well-imagine, the organization fails in these situations in spite of the best efforts of the leader to co-create the intentions and goals.

There are situations when a leader tries to have a close oversight. The team perceives that the leader doesn’t trust anyone; doesn’t value the ability of anybody in his team. The energy drops, momentum declines and commitment falls. Naturally, the organization fails to deliver.

Ideally the leader has to keep a good control on the intentions and evolve the principles for the play. He must communicate with his team in such a way that the players in his side are clear about these and have the freedom to apply the principles in their respective tasks. Leadership, I think, is about a good balance in multiple dimensions. One must draw upon these dimensions of energy in the right proportion to make the ideal mixture that paves a strong path to success.

Do you combine Strategy in your Leadership Role?

ciel blog - strategic-leadership-spl-reference-with-harvard-business-review-8-638

Leaders evolve strategy in an offsite of a day or two and keep executing them until the next offsite unless there is an unprecedented disruption that faces them in-between. So, it is execution all the way interlaced with relatively a very small time to develop the strategy. Why is there so much of hullabaloo about this topic of strategic leadership?

Strategy is over-rated?

Top leaders have to be skilled in developing strategy for an organization, translating those into action plans, measuring the progress made against the action plans and making course-corrections. Strategy is about making choices and hence, the most crucial part for the long-term future for a firm. One understands its importance vis-a-vis an operational decision. But, the question is about the percentage of time a leader spends in evolving the strategy. Is it more than 50% of his or her time?

One needs to be alert of what happens in the market and other industry sectors. One has to make sense of these and decide for oneself if these signals are strong or weak. At times, a strong wind of change might get ignored while a loud noise could be treated as a major signal. Resources and investments of firms go awry due to wrong choices made by the top leaders.

Observing the developments and interpreting them are not an activity of a day or two. It is a continuous process and the first two steps in developing a strategy. Hence, it is not a mere 20% or 50% of the day-job, rather more than 100% of the day-job. Naturally, strategic leadership is the most critical for an organization and the best talent needs to get deployed on this esoteric task.

Do you engage your 6th sense and the 3rd eye?

Undoubtedly the top leaders have to deploy all their faculties in mind and heart to excel. However, is it really so esoteric and occult? How can we make it learnable?

A lot has been written on the topic. As a practitioner, I see it as a 3-step process and a skill that has to be acquired over a period of time. Luck favours the brave. So, with experience and quest for excellence, one can expect a bit of luck and make less mistakes.

The 3-step process starts with observation and reflection. The leader listens deeply, sees intently, reads widely and reflects to connect the dots. This is an ongoing process that runs in the background all the time. The second step is consultation and choice-making. And the last one is to develop an action plan and align the resources for it.

Action Plans are piloted by Operations Leaders?

Many a times, the top bosses are the visionary leaders; they delegate the execution of the action plans to the operations leaders. Is that the best thing to do?

Often great ideas do not yield good results and the first-movers do not succeed. One of the reasons behind such failures is because the visionary leader does not involve in day-to-day operations. Organizations celebrate when the new strategy is commissioned and a wow-effect pervades the atmosphere. The energy and enthusiasm decays soon after as the top leaders are not seen on the deck. Operations leaders take over but they fail to sustain the impact, keep an eye on the right metrics and make the necessary course-corrections at the right time.

People say, Steve Jobs was a visionary leader in his first stint in Apple Computers and did not have the operations strength; hence, the ideas that time did not get executed well. However, in his second stint, the ideas of ipod, iphone and ipad were great successes because of the right choices made in terms of strategy and the rigorous execution that followed each time.

Strategic leadership combine the powers of observing, thinking, deciding, planning and execution. Enterprises grow and deliver value when the managers on the top are able to deploy strategic leadership.

Are you the charismatic leader?

ciel blog - charismatic leadershipAll of us revere charismatic leaders. We relate to the charisma of leaders like Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Jack Welch and so on. We get mesmerized with their words and inspired with their actions. We idolize them and do not need to examine their words with a lens of rationality. They do not need any special intervention to align the thoughts of their team members. Once signed up, the members stay committed to the cause and the conviction levels do not change. How often do we see such leaders? Is charisma a born quality or it can be acquired? When do we know that we have a charismatic leader amidst us? Is it practical to expect all the leaders in an organization are charismatic?

Is Charisma something that you either have or don’t?

People ask if leaders are born or made. Loads of research have taken place and most of them seem to be believe that one-third of leadership traits are in-born and the majority of the traits are learnt. Similarly, is Charisma a born quality?

If charisma is a born quality, all the leaders that we consider charismatic would have shone brightly right from their first experience of working with a group. We know of tales of these great leaders who were shy and private personalities; were not the natural public speakers. All of them were not gregarious; they were not magnets attracting people towards them. They were inspired by a cause and built a franchise of support base that connected with the same cause; they developed their ability to connect with the audience through their words – spoken and written; though their actions on the ground in support of the same cause. They knew how to establish that unique connection and kept at it. So, charisma is something that grows over a period of time like skills develop, maturity grows and strength evolves. It isn’t binary like YES and NO. It is a process of acquiring it one’s own way.

Good for an Organization?

Many predicted that Apple Computers will be in trouble after its charismatic leader Steve Jobs was away. Similarly, people weren’t sure if GE would continue staying at the top after Jack Welch is gone. However, all these fears have been put to rest.

It is true that a charismatic leader has a huge fan-following. So, organizations function very well without worrying much about the internal processes for governance and decision making. Various stakeholders respect the aura of the leader; they tend to see the bright side of the actions and gloss over the dark sides. The charisma of the leader is so strong in the minds of the followers that the leader’s intentions are never questioned.

For a sustainable organization, it is important to have democratic processes, objectives and rational approach interlaced with commitment of its employees towards the overall goal. Since a charismatic leader inspires the teams very well and the leader’s appeal is strong in their hearts, the organization stays cohesive. It is not necessary to put in place many internal processes and run them rigorously.

Missionaries of Charity ran in more than 100 countries in the world because all the teams in the world were deeply influenced by Mother Teresa, their leader. They did not need a machine-like organization to deliver the results. However, for the organization to sustain for many more decades, strong processes are required. A charismatic leader will be a huge plus, of course! A start-up, a new idea flourishes very well under the leadership of a visionary, a charismatic persona; for it to blossom into a greater and bigger institution, one cannot rely on charisma alone.

Grow your charisma!

We look upto someone who speaks his mind and appeals to our hearts. As much courage is needed to speak up, that much is required to listen! Do we listen to understand someone and examine our beliefs or counter the other person’s view point? Can we step into someone’s shoes and feel what the person is going through? Do we genuinely care for the people we work with? Do we show our care and compassion bound by the role of being the boss or we do it because we seriously care of their well-being? Do we talk the talk or walk the talk? Talking the talk wins someone the face-time but not the heart-time. Do we wear the mask of being confident, knowledgeable, unassailable, invincible and enigmatic all the time or stay human? Do we stay humble? Do we improve continuously and accept our follies?

Being authentic and human, passionate about a cause and connecting with the larger audience are the best solutions for someone aspiring to be a charismatic leader.

Do you really believe in diversity, as a leader?

ciel blog - cross cultural leadershipAs businesses are operating in an increasingly interconnected world, they find their stakeholders coming from different backgrounds of religious practices, cultural norms, language nativities, social do’s and don’ts. For a leader, it is not easy to deal with such a large diversity. Given an opportunity, most people tend to build an ecosystem that draws upon similarities rather than thriving on novelties. Some people welcome and in fact, look forward to understanding diverse practices; however, they do not have to deal with a wide range of emotions, multitude of ambitions and a sea of perspectives each day of their lives. Getting such a group of people from diverse backgrounds to converge on a few ideas is quite a challenge.

Why do organizations value diversity so much?

Undoubtedly, the first step is to recruit a mix of talent in terms of gender, academics, culture, ethnicity and physical abilities. The second and the most crucial step is to include all of them and engage all their hearts on the same set of goals and drive a common sense of purpose. All of us know that leading a diverse team is not an easy task, yet most forward-looking organizations call upon their employees in managerial roles to see the bright side of the coin.

We grow up with a set of social beliefs, norms and practices. We operate with a set of do’s and don’ts by the time we join the labour pool. We behave in certain ways without knowing why we do as such. In an organization, an employee deals with stakeholders who is not necessarily having the same perspective as the employee has. If the organization lacks diversity, the mismatch between viewpoint of the employee with that of the external stakeholder starts manifesting as customer complaints, employee grievances, lack of motivation to achieve the goals and so on. The stress starts showing up in the results of the firm.

To solve this undesired situation, organizations assemble a team which brings to the table a variety of experiences, views and beliefs. This team starts viewing a challenge from multiple angles and develops a solution which is more holistic than that can be delivered by a homogeneous team.

Inclusion is much beyond the diversity index.

Organizations want diversity and the index must look good. Hence, they want to hire women leaders, ex-servicemen, people from cities other than the home city, people with different abilities, young mothers returning back to work, older folks and so on. What do they get other than a healthy number meeting the target of diversity index?

One must not lose the sight of the wood for the trees. Organizations want diversity because they believe that they would be able to respond to external and internal situations holistically. The leader has to be build the environment where all the viewpoints are generated, heard and worked upon. Diversity plays its role only when the power of this characteristic is leveraged.

Organizations have to build platforms to bring together all groups of people to analyze a situation and come up with alternates. Every view must reach the ears and minds of people who are supposed to act on them.

Do not compromise the pace!

A leader in the armed forces has to direct the troops rather than engage in a dialogue and debate. This is because of the fact that a battlefield does not allow the luxury of time for a discussion, debate and consensus. Organizations who want to leverage on the power of diversity might get caught in the trap of slow pace. In today’s world, businesses need to be extremely agile. How can one be agile, yet at the same time engage all its rank and file in conversations?

In fact, organizations who value the talent of their employees, provide them with adequate freedom and independence to act. This empowerment creates a sense of responsibility and ownership in the minds of the employees, in turn creating a greater organizational momentum. A homogeneous workforce, on the other hand, might just fall into a zone of comfort, take things for granted and not challenge each other enough. It is not necessary that a lack of variety makes decision making easy and quickens the pace of execution. And at the same time, diversity does not slows things down.

The leader has to truly believe in the fact that a cross-cultural team can potentially deliver holistic and complete solutions. He has to build the right platforms in the organization to facilitate integration of ideas.