“Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.” – Stephen R. Covey
Caring leadership gets the most out of people and should become part of the culture of any organisation. For me this has been a journey and yet there is so much to achieve. My position of influence & empowerment has always provided me with opportunities to groom teams of young enterprising professionals and make a difference.
Here is how I define leadership, its ability of a manager to lead a team, motivate & empower them to make tough calls and face outcomes fearlessly. A true leader ought to celebrate the successful professions and focus on those with development needs, groom them to success. Rejecting non or slow performers without investing effort to prepare them to success is not an option.
There came a stage in my career where I was asked to build a greenfield operational organisation and setup a projects department hiring new project managers. I built the organisation with over 60 professionals and some years later I was asked to slice the team by 50% as part of cost actions. While I was struggling to somehow accommodate the impacted employees there were voices which urged me to cut the stress and leave the impacted employees to their destiny. I can sleep peacefully today because I did not allow a single professional to be adversely impacted or be jobless. Needless to say, that this needed a lot of effort and a personal commitment.
Later I migrated to a European multinational organisation as its head of sales and inherited a team with diverse global origins and backgrounds. I was given an option by my CEO to either get rid of the team and hire fresh talent, some of the team members were perceived not the best of performers and needed to be brought up to speed to say the least. Coming from a background of grooming & developing leaders I took upon the challenge of turning them around amidst resistance from my leaders and groomed them, held their hand and ensured they could proudly stand to receive appreciation from the same leaders who felt they could be disposed of.
TENDER LOVE & CARE (TLC)
TLC can sound mushy and soft, but I have derived fantastic results by being human in my professional career. The ownership and accountability triggered by respect for the leader and ensuring he or the TEAM does not loose is the best motivation and tried & tested recipe for success. This needs a lot of investment time, effort and personal commitment to make the team successful!
I can explain how my experiments led to exceptional results in India. I had a team of 56 engineers in the field working on some 11 sites spread over India and Bangladesh stationed at remote locations. These sites required that the engineers work for extended periods of time away from their families and for sure there were family related challenges which sometimes took serious turns, like divorces and health issues. There came a time when I was struggling with multiple challenges and it became overbearing. The pressures of work kept mounting. We had a mature professional supporting secretarial activities and we approached her for support with a TLC initiative. She took up the challenge with great passion, she would stay connected not only with the field engineering professionals for their IT challenges etc. but also ensured that their families received gifts on birthdays and anniversaries on behalf of their husbands. Gradually the popularity of the initiative grew and led to better focus on work, reduction in leave of absence and other positive outcomes. Most of the issues faced by the engineers were quickly resolved without delays ensuring a focus back on work. This TLC initiative was awarded as the best initiative in the region and yielded amazing productivity results, the voice of the customer improved, and the field engineers had an energy which was not seen in the past. I would like to add a caveat that the success of this initiative was culturally adaptable to India, and it may not be a success globally.
How is outcome defined? It’s an expectation professionally by the system and personally by people who matter in life.
I read somewhere a story by Paul Henderson. Three entrepreneurs approach a hungry man. The first asks the man what he wants. The man replies, “a sandwich,” so the first entrepreneur opens a sandwich shop. The second entrepreneur asks the man what his problem is, to which the man replies that he is hungry. So, the second entrepreneur opens a grocery store. The third entrepreneur asks the man what his goal is, and the man says he wants to feel full and nourished. So, the third entrepreneur invents a nutritious pill that makes people feel full. The third entrepreneur is the one who succeeds. Paul Henderson explains why success hinges on “outcome-driven thinking” that gives customers the results they want. The key is in a mission-based approach, it is customer focused and customer centric. When you partner with the customer to satisfy his requirements, somewhere your own need to meet the quarter or operating profit or cash targets gets accomplished.
MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS
How does one deal with fallouts of M&A activity with minimal damage to your team?
I had the opportunity to undergo the pain of integration of two multinational giants leading to tremendous shake up impacting teams, their morale and anxiety from fear of the unknown. This was the time the team looked upon me for guidance and encouragement, seeking assurance that all will be well. I had two options to choose, either let go and look after consolidating my own position or take the tough road to ensure minimum job losses. I chose the road less travelled and once again managed to ensure all 39 had a job in the reorganized environment. I was negatively impacted in terms of position and authority, but I managed to survive. Some leaders told me it was a mistake & I should have grabbed the opportunity to position myself better rather than focus on others! My reward was a sense of contentment and a firm belief that with little stretch you can be ‘human’ even in adverse situations.
Fear of failure is a deterrent for success, in my view, it does not lead to success always!
This may sound absurd, but failure limits our ability to achieve the right balance of success. Sometimes its fine to fail or get rejected, only time determines who wins ultimately in the long run. We pat the back of success and punish failure, times have changed, this strategy no longer works. They say fear of failure can never be a motivation for success. It’s all relative. It’s the journey that counts for sure, it’s the lessons of failure that count rather than failure itself. We in India failed at our attempt to land on the moon but the lessons learnt were precious and the whole effort and journey was valuable, like falling in love. We will for sure brush up and start running again for another attempt armed with lessons of failure to succeed, just as a true lover never gives up. There is a thought provoking article in The Failure-Tolerant Leader – Harvard Business Review which I recommend everyone read. To be successful one should taste failure is my experience, although not always but at least once. This goes for professionals who have failed in their objectives occasionally, they don’t deserve to be outcasted but their efforts to achieve should be celebrated as much as their successes. A true leader will make it his/her mission to ensure that the professional does not fail again by coaching and plugging his gaps rather than rejecting him.
COACHING & MENTORING
Drawing the best in people is a skillful art which needs to be mastered. Making leaders out of ordinary people is the greatest contribution of a leader to the society!
In the journey of my career I have learnt, thankfully, building a talent pipeline is the greatest satisfaction a true leader will ever experience. Be a talent Champion, make leaders, groom them to hold senior positions in organisations so that they deliver the best! Anyone who is successful, I believe, it’s his or her duty to pay back to the society in a manner that leaves a legacy. I am fortunate to have my brand ambassadors spread across who make me special, not because that was the intent, because that was the outcome! Investing time in people to pull them up is worth the effort. I choose a talent who has faced rejection and challenge myself to make them successful in life! Trust me there is no better feeling in life than to bring back the smile on the faces of those who have lost it! It needs to be backed by passion, persistence and perseverance to make a difference against all odds! Try it at least once in your professional life, you will never regret it. I was taught to hire people who were better than me so that ultimately with my empowering and guiding them I become redundant in the system which then gives me & the organisation a reason to give me a larger role! I practiced this and was awarded with multiple positions every time more senior and empowering than before. I achieved my personal goals by making leaders out of ordinary people!
I end it by daring you to care!
“Research indicates that workers have three prime needs: Interesting work, recognition for doing a good job, and being let in on things that are going on in the company.” – Zig Ziglar