|HSS leadership workshop: Leadership takes
Nayyar, 29, was bored. After joining as a management trainee, he
had climbed into the higher echelons of HCL Technologies within
six years. What next? He approached Shiv Nadar, CEO, HCL Technologies,
with his problem. Nadar suggested he work as his executive assistant.
He did that for three-to-four months, but grew restless again. So
he started devising business plans for ridiculous things like an
instant-omelette powder. Nadar suggested a holiday, and it was here
that Nayyar got his big-bulb idea: a company to manage networks
and connectivity-a relatively new area back in 1990. HCL approved,
and Nayyar is now the CEO of HCL Comnet, a subsidiary.
Companies across India are empowering people
to think independently, initiate change, set objectives, energise
a team, direct projects, execute plans and take on risk-in short,
At every level, too. And that's the difference,
for it's a rare greenhorn who has the guts to make categorical 'yes'
or 'no' decisions that could either bring success or cost him his
Rare or not, guts are in demand. And leadership
is no longer a career-capping reward for decades-long loyalty. "There
is definitely a trend in this direction," affirms Elizabeth
Nanda, Director, Northern region, Mercer HR Consulting. "Organisations
are getting leaner and meaner and need to have such people on board."
Corporate patriarchy is ill-suited to modern market dynamics. The
result? Traditional command-and-control, with a single Big Boss
using the entire hierarchy as an elaborate execution machine, is
fast acquiring a 'Jurassic Park' tag.
| DO YOU...
(checklist for leadership aspirants)
outside your work sphere?
» Set and
decisive yes/no calls?
the guts to risk your neck?
Pit, And Upwards
More and more companies are looking for leadership
to GE, where if two managers think alike, one is deemed redundant.
Managers have no option but to take charge and get cracking. Luckily,
an experience at GE's training centre at Crotonville (with the famous
'pit') gives people just the shot of adrenalin they need. Says K.
Murali, Director (Human Resources), GE India, "We've placed
big bets on our leaders."
Take the case of Rohini Seth, who joined GE's
HR Leadership Program in 1998, took charge of the training scene
in India and went on to help Crotonville get its global training
program together. Or take Gajinder Bains, who joined the same year,
and has since set up (and now leads) the Washer Motors unit for
GE Motors at Delhi, which supplies washers at amazingly low cost
to GE units globally. Then there's Dhananjay Gupte, also a 1998
sign-up, who heads the lighting business in Indonesia.
What did they do right?
Apart from displaying energy, performance and
the 'edge' to make razor-sharp decisions, they proved to be 'boundaryless'
leaders, with a passion for learning from every and anywhere (within
and without the firm) and leveraging the company's unique diversity
of businesses, opportunities and cultures-to set and meet new goals.
They were helped along, of course, by GE's famous training infrastructure
and processes. "It is this learning, sharing and action-driven
culture, applied across all our diverse businesses, that gives GE
its true competitive advantage," elaborates Murali, adding
that the company invests some $1 billion a year in creating leaders.
Companies that want to create a swarm (an 'army'
would be the wrong word) of leaders need to be intellectually if
not operationally flat, to the extent possible, at least by way
of idea-exchange. The reasoning: everyone has unique value to deliver.
Best, then, to use it.
"To win in the market place," says
K.L. Muralidhara, Vice President & Country Manager, American
Express Travel Related Services, India and Area Countries, "it
is becoming essential to build a culture in which all employees
are fully engaged in their jobs, realise their potential, and have
the opportunity to grow and develop with the company."
At AmEx, people are expected to take leadership
by getting work done, providing direction, delivering feedback,
generating ideas, thinking innovatively, being competitive and raising
issues. None of this is the prerogative of bigwigs.
|''GE is structured as a meritocracy''
| It's been over two decades for Susan
Peters, Vice President (Executive Development) at GE,
and her passion for the company remains undiminished. Leadership
development is her core responsibility. With 310,000 employees
spread across eleven businesses, that is quite a task.
|Susan Peters: Thriving on it
Q. How do you maintain a leadership system
that works in such a behemoth?
We want to be seen as a
place that attracts and keeps real talent. Our focus is to
ensure we get the best people in, and then developing them
in a variety of methods. Frankly, one of the most accurate
methods is to give them stretch targets. I don't mean stretch
in terms of numbers, but tasks that are seen to be larger
than the individual's experience would normally enable them
to do. How do you do that? You have to be a growth company
that gives opportunities to individuals, plus you have to
identify talent and know who your best players are and focus
on them. You have to have processes and mechanisms that give
your people and the organisation feedback.
We are pretty open about the fact that GE is structured as
a meritocracy-our best people are rewarded. We are a place
that will give you more to do than you thought you could do.
People love it because they are challenged, and it means they
work with incredible colleagues. It may not work for everybody,
but those passionate about GE thrive in it.
HCL Comnet, relatively 'entrepreneurial' in
its drive, has a simple philosophy-if you come up with an idea,
it's your baby. If you achieve it, it's yours to lead. You're given
all the support that is required but senior management only becomes
actively involved when it comes to making an investment or providing
the resources. "A technology company needs to constantly innovate
to stay alive," reasons Dilip Kumar Srivastava, Vice President
(HR), HCL Comnet.
Consider the success story of Anita Manwani,
40, who was working with Agilent in the US, and decided to formulate
a strategy to leverage India's low-cost talent. This, in the face
of the 'South Asian' risks on account of the post-9-11 instability.
Today, she heads the it-enabled services operation in India. "As
a leader, she was expected to take the risk and take a decision
which would result in leveraging the talent pool and cost effectiveness
of India," says Jayantika D. Burman, Director (HR), India Operations,
Agilent Technologies, adding, "Manwani is responsible for delivering
as per plan."
Leadership isn't all self-propulsion. It takes
nurturing too. Which is why Wipro Technologies has a program to
take leaders up a leadership 'lifecycle'. "Leadership is a
development process", says Ranjan Acharya, Vice President (HR),
Wipro, "which is why we have a program for each stage in the
The Infosys Leadership Institute (ILI) in Mysore
also has a program to hone the skills of would-be leaders. It trains
some 300 high-potentials, from every level, every year. And these
folk are expected to set their own objectives and gain from the
guidance provided towards achieving them. "It is a development
process more than training," emphasises Dr. Jayaram, Senior
Vice President and Director, ILI.
Fire In The Belly
Spontaneous leadership can occur, too. And
feeding people with such inspirational stories can work wonders.
A crisis, for example, can urge someone to abandon 'group paralysis'
and make a gutsy move to resolve the problem. V.P. Nayyar, Vice
President (HR), Transworks, a call centre, recalls a 9-11 incident
at an earlier organisation, when hundreds of calls came in from
New Yorkers asking what they should do with their rented cars. Roads
were jammed, and they couldn't get anywhere. The duty manager couldn't
get through to his client in the US. On the spur of the moment,
someone decided what to say, without the client's approval. It worked.
And a leader was born. "The ability to handle stress,"
says Tarun Bali, CEO, ABC Consultants, is a real test of leadership.
Eventually, there's nothing to beat self-motivation
as a key to leadership. Almost by definition, a leader must always
be doing something that somebody thinks is unwarranted, reckless
or worse-but which the leader expects will pay off. Aadesh Goyal,
Vice President and Head (HR), Hughes Software Systems, narrates
the story of two 24-year-olds who decided to sit in for their senior
managers (who couldn't make it because of an unfortunate riot) at
a campus recruitment drive. That too, without any of the presentation
or test material. The two smart alecks made an impromptu pitch,
and devised an on-the-spot screening process-rather than lose the
opportunity. "They went on a mission and they achieved it,"
says a proud Goyal.
That sort of heck-let's-do-it chutzpah is not
always concentrated at the top. In 1978, the local leaders of a
Chinese village called Xiaogang hatched a quiet little plan to quit
collective farming and privatise their operations-and it was the
success of this little experiment (to align the 'system' with the
ground reality of common folk instincts), that sparked off the world's
most talked-about economic reforms. But someone had to dare the
status quo first. That's leadership in its rawest form.
It's simple, really. Some duck challenges.
Others thrive on them. As Colin Powell, US Secretary of State, says
in his leadership primer, "You don't know what you can get
away with until you try... often, it is easier to get forgiveness
than permission." So to all those future CEOs out there-hope
that fire in you is burning bright.