As someone following the world of leadership, human capital and organization development discussions, I could not resist sharing some observations and food for thinking for corporate and business leaders in India.  The following themes appeared to me across conversations and experiences during my time in India.  There are of course many exceptions but one would need to openly challenge some notions, if more Indian companies and leaders aspire to be relevant in today’s connected world and tap into the high promise potential of our younger generations.

1. The Big Picture

The popular expression, ‘Seeing the trees and not the forest’ seems to be a major area for many leaders to reflect on.

There seems to be a general tendency to focus heavily on the details and costs, without sufficient emphasis on critical strategic leadership elements like value creation, organizational alignment and stakeholder engagement.  While the technical aspects and analytical skills seem to be an area of strength, it is important to remember that as leaders of organizations, your mandate is much bigger. It may be comfortable to focus on tasks and activities that are more tangible in nature (‘comfort zone’) than those like discovering new business directions, making strategic choices or understanding the emotional quotient in your organisation. Organisations should indeed be efficient bodies with improving process and cost management – yet the need for finding new directions, being agile, adapting in a constantly shifting world in a sustainable manner, and the ability to ‘connect the dots’ is critical.  An important example of a real time topic is the recent discussion around the future of India’s IT sector and how companies need to evolve and flourish in a shifting environment. Communication, language skills and influencing across stakeholders can be challenging, yet critical. Cross cultural awareness and openness especially for companies and leaders expanding across the world is fundamental for success.

In his latest book ‘Focus’, Daniel Goleman notes that for leaders to get results, they need three kinds of focus – Inner focus (our intuitions, guiding values), Other focus (connections to the people in our lives) and Outer focus (larger world).

2. Understanding and Realising the Power of Human Capital.

How many leaders see high value in investing in a product or physical assets vs. investing in talented people? Are investments on talent management, human capital or leadership development seen with similar importance and bottom line impact (starting with the self)?  Who creates great products, services, strategies or innovations in organisations, and what leads to those creations?  What is the amount of discretionary effort that an individual has and can stretch in any effort? Seeing the golden link between business results and highly effective employee practices are fundamental to sustainable success.

A lack of concerted development effort results in a vicious cycle for an organization – eg. lack of investment in leadership development results in lack of quality thinking, reflection and improvement of leadership effectiveness at an individual and organizational level.  I’ve heard from few leaders that they’re so busy running that they don’t have time to stop and think. As a result, the focus tends to become narrow across the board (often unconscious).  The organization can help consciously provide that space.

For the non-believer, it might be worthwhile to think about the disruptions in many areas (especially technology) and generational shifts we have seen in recent times. One also could think about the Indians who have flourished in global environments like the U.S. and what the difference is.  Core factors like Certainty, Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose, Relatedness, Fairness (ref. David Rock/NeuroLeadership Group, Dan Pink) are relevant everywhere and should be actively adopted by leaders.

3. Challenging the status quo and changing traditional management approaches.

This is a major area for change and the need to change traditional management approaches to reflect today’s world is extremely high.  We still cling on to many approaches from previous century to manage organizations and workforces in 2014.  Even factors like restrictive hierarchies and mindsets haven’t shifted sufficiently to realize the potential of evolved knowledge work and potential.  As technologies turn the talent pyramid upside down for potential disruptions, a leader has to find a way to understand and truly tap into reframing one’s own mind map.  This does not mean that old ideas and philosophies become totally irrelevant.  Even institutions like Harvard are actively adopting and applying the age old wisdom of mindfulness and meditation to the business environment.

There seems to be a reluctance to empower and trust across the organization.  Some of this may stem from the historical, cultural and environmental /social aspects of heavy competition and conflict. As a leader, one needs to think how he or she can build true collaboration and change such a culture or value system to enable significant output.  Role modeling is fundamental and well-designed HR systems can be strong enablers.

4. Wellbeing, Effectiveness of self and others

Last but not least, many findings today relate to individual wellbeing, effectiveness and personal sustainability.  It is not uncommon to find young professionals in India who spend lots of overtime at work, ignore exercise and a healthy lifestyle.  Many leaders also today seem to be heavily distracted, over worked, juggling too many things while ignoring the options to engage/empower team members, and apply the same principles and role modeling to their direct reports. Multiple research studies show the negative impacts of continuous high stress on mental and physical health. Combined with these working habits, the lack of exercise and constant overtime at work leads to a tired brain in a constant ‘threat’ state and poor decisions.  Neuroscience studies indicate that a tired brain does not support innovation or fresh thinking.

As a leader, how would you rate yourself on curiosity, interest in learning and applying some of the recent studies/findings to your ways of working?  The leading consulting firm Korn Ferry found that ‘learning agility’ is a fundamental trait among successful leaders.

There is not much doubt that having high quality leaders and talent are fundamental success drivers for any organization or even a country.  The sooner a leader realizes it, the better for the system and the people in it. Leadership starts at the individual level (with self-awareness, management) and needs to be developed consciously at the systems level for truly high impact.

Leadership in government functions is probably a different discussion, with higher priority due to the scale and scope of impact on general public and seeming lack of current attention to the topic.

Institutions (especially Universities) and organizations also play a key role in leading the drive for influencing and changing practices at a systemic level, even beyond their own countries. There is probably a higher need to communicate that information and interact actively with individuals (eg. leading universities in the U.S. using social media to disseminate latest studies and discussions).

If you aspire to be a respected, world-class leader, I leave you with three final questions:

  1.  What Leadership Brand (ref. RBL Group) would you like to build for yourself?
  2.  What would you want your Leadership Legacy to be when you are not around?
  3.  If you’ve found one useful takeaway from this reading, what will you do about it next?

Curious and interested to hear your thoughts about this topic…

I wish you the very best on your journey.