Kanan Jaswal's Blog on Leadership

Monday, March 31, 2008

Leadership demands transparent honesty

True leaders have to be transparently honest in whatever they say and in whatever they do. And just imagine if the leaders are like that, for them the task of leadership will be as simple and enjoyable as a walk in the park on a spring morning (in the west – on a summer morning). Since their credibility will be very high, if not perfect, no team member will question the leaders’ motives, and, as a result, everyone will be more committed to carry out the team’s objective.

Some people may interject here that in today’s world it is impossible to be transparently honest. I would not agree with this since I hold that even today it is as easy to be totally honest as it has been in any previous age. You just have to declare it to yourself that come what may you shall not stray from the straight path of truth and honesty and then put this resolution into practice day in and day out. After continuing successfully over some time you may tell your friends about your resolve. That will further ensure that you stuck to it to safeguard your reputation among them. You can be sure that on the way there will be temptations galore to go astray, but give it your all to resist and overcome the first of the temptations. And having overcome the first temptation you will be in a better and far easier position to overcome the second and subsequent ones.

Transparently honest leaders can defend their decisions easily and successfully, they, in fact, welcome impartial enquiry into their conduct. Because in the process of the enquiry they get a chance to convince their doubters of their uprightness.

Don’t ask me then why more and more of these so-called leaders take to dishonest methods which not only bring them ignominy but are also far more difficult to follow than the straight and easy path of transparent honesty; ask them.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Kanan Jaswal's 'Thought for March 30, 2008'

Your language may be ungrammatical, diction wrong, but your communication could yet be great if you really mean what you say.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Kanan Jaswal's 'Thought for March 29, 2008'

Stretch yourself to the full, the world is big enough.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Does a new CEO have to bring his* own coterie?

(* My use of ‘his’, ‘he’ and ‘him’ is gender neutral)

It is not unusual for a new chief executive officer, if an outsider to the organisation, to come with his old team of trusted senior lieutenants that was with him in his previous assignment and in the previous company. Obviously, like that the new c.e.o. feels more secure and comfortable and starts delivering from an early date. Perhaps better performance could be reflected in the quarterly results from the second or third quarter itself. The share holders and the board of directors would be happy for the change.

But what more does it say of the new c.e.o. – that he has started his new innings with the presumption that he can not get the existing set of senior functionaries to cooperate with him, that he is not trusting them, that he lacks confidence in his own ability to adjust to new circumstances without the soothing sight of familiar faces around him?

And the effect of this mass scale induction of new management team on the employees’ morale can not be anything less than damaging. By a single stroke of the board of directors’ pen, the employees have lost many of the top executives they had been working with and working for. Adjusting to the leadership, management and work styles of a new c.e.o. is bad enough, here they have to do this for more than one c.x.o. Some senior people have to leave, some others are moved sideways, some find their chances of promotion and other advancement blocked. Much worse than this all is that for the employees the new management team becomes an outsider. It is a very large number of ‘us’ versus a very small number of ‘them’, and this emotional segregation is not going to help the company. It is an ugly reality of short-termism and is designed to do damage to the larger and real interests of the organisation.
Any new c.e.o. worth his salt should able to inspire the existing management team and employees to offer their best for the betterment of the company and for achieving the various performance objectives

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Leadership of the self

Before we aspire to lead others, we have to judge whether we can lead ourselves. The other side of this is – before we impose our leadership on others, are we willing to be led by someone like ourselves? Is our leadership good enough for us or shall we prefer to choose someone else as our leader?

For leading ourselves, first we must be aware of where we are at this moment and then have to be absolutely clear about where we want to go, when we want to reach there, and should know how we would go there. Pursuing the destination or objective single-mindedly with courage and a dogged determination and discipline, we have to be flexible in our approach to it. Throughout this exercise, however, we must maintain our integrity and uphold our values. Keeping the foregoing in mind we, as a leadership aspirant, should prepare ourselves by taking up some project to improve ourselves in some significant way or to give up a bad habit, which had been militating against our success in the past. If we can do it successfully our self-confidence will get a boost. And then based on our positive experience with ourselves we will be in a better shape and in a better frame of mind to take up a leadership role involving others as our team members.

As for the question if we want to be led by someone like ourselves – we know the qualities of heart and mind we would like to see in our leader. Hence it is not asking for too much that we inculcate the same qualities in ourselves and then rightfully deserve to be our own leader. Leading others then will not be difficult for we will do that with confidence born out of real conviction.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Leaders make their followers feel a foot taller

Some two decades back I, a young man myself, met a young bank manager, whose chairman had become a legend. Only due to his great stewardship that bank had started giving regular jitters to my bank, the State Bank of India, the hitherto unchallenged master of the Indian banking scenario. After the preliminary niceties we found ourselves talking about the ‘big man’ and I remember asking the bank manager if he had ever met him. He said he had met him, not one-on-one but as a member of a group of young managers. I then asked him to describe his chairman in one sentence. The reply was that it was difficult to describe ‘that man’ in one sentence. On my persisting with the request, he said, and I quote, “In his presence we all felt a foot taller.” I have read somewhere that there are about four hundred fifty definitions of leadership, and recently I had the presumptuousness to add one of my own to the number, but I feel that this thoughtful observation describes a leader most aptly.

Some people are born great, on some others greatness is imposed, but rubbing that greatness onto others you come in contact with is the sign of true leadership. Only a person absolutely confident of his own great worth can afford to arouse greatness around themselves. Compare this to the sorry spectacle of leaders surrounding themselves with pygmies to profit from comparison and if a pygmy is found to add even half an inch to their height, they are promptly banished to a permanent oblivion.

Real leaders empower the members of their team, they discover their own greatness in the greatness of their colleagues. And the others, to whom this personal trait does not come naturally, can learn to make it their own. Let me assure them that it would be entirely worth the effort.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Are you a leader in the mould of Alexander?

The story goes like this – Alexander and his army were passing though a desert, they had completely run out of drinking water and fresh supply was no where in sight. A full day’s march in the killing sun had taken its toll, a few soldiers collapsed of dehydration and the condition of those still on their feet was only slightly better. Alexander ordered a halt and sent out some soldiers into the desert looking for water. The soldiers returned after a couple of hours with a small jar, blessedly full of water, and offered it to the king, “There was not another drop, Sire.” Alexander, however, was not amused. He asked, “So, you expect your king to quench his thirst when his army has not had a drop of water to drink for more than a day?” And with this he poured the jar’s contents on the blazing sand. What would you have done in Alexander’s position?

Going by the general run of today’s leaders, you would have snatched the jar from the soldiers’ hands and greedily poured the water, to the last drop, down your throat, and perhaps asked for more. This un-Alexander-like behaviour has become so common that it does not even merit a raised eyebrow any more. We have chief executive officers drawing total emoluments five hundred times more than the daily wage earner in the same company. We have golden parachutes for non-performing CEOs to bail out with after destroying the organisations they had headed. Then we have opulently appointed corporate head quarters controlling, as if, poverty-stricken branch offices - all profit centres in their own right.

I don’t call such so-called leaders selfish, I call them foolish. Had they been selfish they would have pursued their real self-interest, which, for leaders, is not separable from the welfare of their troops.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Leaders follow the rules they make

Framers of the rules should be the first to come under those very rules.

As branch manager of one of my bank's important branches, I found myself flooded with the staff's requests for contingency purchase of stationery and other necessary office articles. Since it was leaving me with little time for my main job, after consultation with my colleagues, I set up a purchase committee of three members – my deputy, the loans officer, and the chief of the staff union – to meet at least once in each calendar month to consider the requests for local purchases. If they all agreed, a recommendation was to be made to the branch manager (i.e. me) for his approval for the purchase. The branch manager had the power to veto purchase of any recommended item but could not, on his own, add an item to the list. Once I required a wall clock, costing less than US$ 10, for my cabin and requested the purchase committee to consider its purchase. For some reasons, the committee did not meet for more than a month after my request and the clock could be purchased only later. Everyone at the branch could see that the branch manager held the purchase committee, in a way his own creation, supreme. It was not my intention to make a leadership statement but obviously I did not mind the great boost the incident gave to my credibility in the eyes of my colleagues at the branch.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

No one can be a leader for life...

No one can be a leader for life, true leaders have to prove themselves again and again.

Leadership is not a once-for-all exercise, one has to be at it repeatedly, rather continuously. Simply because problems that require the leader's intervention to resolve them keep popping up in any venture of some import. And since no two problems are likely to be of the same nature, in order to be able to resolve them the leaders have to keep updating and improving their leadership skills. Past successes would definitely build their confidence further, but each new challenge would still have to be met. There is no rest or running away for a leader.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Seeing it clearly...

If you can see it clearly , you can hope to achieve it one day.

Explaining my definition of Leadership

In my very first posting on this blog, I had defined leadership as “getting others to want to do and, therefore, do what you want done”.

The prospective leader should be clear in their mind about what they want done, that actually is the leader’s vision. This is leadership’s first pre-requisite and answers the question “leadership for what?”. Then the leader has to communicate the vision to their would-be followers or team members in such a way that not only it is well-understood by them all but they are also moved by it to make it their own vision, they “want to do” or achieve it. And since they themselves want to achieve it, they now own the vision and take all necessary action to achieve it. The leader in the meantime is not sitting on their haunches, they are with the followers or the team, keeping them together and focused on the vision. The leader also ensures continuous movement and makes course corrections as and when necessary. The leader and the followers, together, thus reach the ‘visioned’ position. Leadership is for a purpose, and leadership makes possible the journey from where you are to where you would like to be.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Kanan Jaswal's 'Thought for March 20, 2008'

Have an eye that does not merely look but also sees.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Kanan Jaswal's 'Thought for March 19, 2008'

Debating whether leaders are born or they can be developed is a useless academic exercise. The world needs both categories of leaders to fill the huge leadership vacuum.

Who needs another blog on leadership?

Oh no! Not another blog on leadership!

No doubt, so much has been written on leadership – there are thousands of books, n-number of websites and the newest, but hardly any weaker in numbers for that, addition has been the blogs. It has been debated at length whether leaders are born or people can be developed as leaders. Leadership skills – conceptual, technical and people – have been minutely studied, all possible leadership styles analysed. Having great respect and regard for this impressive body of knowledge, I still feel that leadership is generally presented as an esoteric, even mysterious and elusive at times, art. My approach to leadership will be one of common sense, and as I am not over-awed by it, my effort will be to de-mystify leadership in order to bring it within the realm of understanding of the common man or woman.

From among these common men and women more and more leaders, and true leaders at that, have to emerge if the frightening leadership vacuum is to be filled. The world needs millions of leaders in all walks of life, at roughly one per thousand. So, hundreds and thousands are needed to make leadership understood not only by the prospective leaders but also by those to be led. It is here that blogs like this one would have a role to play. And you, my readers, can contribute by way of your comments to make this blog an effective player. Be, therefore, generous with your comments (you would have noticed, I did not say “generous in your comments”).

Bye for now!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Kanan Jaswal's 'Thought for the day'

Leadership is getting others to want to do and, therefore, do what you want done.