Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

What kind of boss are you?

One of may favourite stories of a good boss is of when I started in my career.

A brand manager at a large MNC sent a 13 page hand written complaint to my super boss. He was a Vice President, in the days when the title meant you were number 2 in the organisation to The CEO. I was an Account Executive.

I know what some of the people I have since worked with would’ve done.

But this boss brought the sheaf to my table and said ‘I don’t believe any of this to be true. Can you please help me respond to this?’ and walked away.

Theory Y management in practise.

I have been blessed that through large parts of my career I’ve had such bosses. The fact that they were all at Ogilvy, probably also says a lot about its culture.

I have since then tried to practise this style as much as possible. No one comes to work with the intention of screwing up. But they do err.

Whether you decide to stuff them for it or offer a helping hand shapes not just your relationship with the person, but also what kind of leader they become.

The choice really is between Image and Image

Oft times this is supported by what people have read as behaviour of other ‘successful’ leaders.

Steve Jobs was, by all accounts, no easy person to work with. And he worked 7 days a week. He was rude. He was obnoxious. He was a genius.

I have worked with creative people in my previous jobs who were tough, arrogant, threw tantrums but were brilliant.

Poor managers, or leaders, selectively cherry pick the bad behaviour components, conveniently leaving out the genius elements.

Thus we are seeing the growing ‘bully’ bosses who play the player, and not the game. After all if it was good for Steve, it is good for them.

A junior team member is like a child in your family. She/ he learns from what they see as acceptable practise from their seniors and will take that with them everywhere they go.

So the next time you are faced with a challenging situation caused by your team members, pause and ask yourself : Will I use this opportunity to teach or will I teach him a lesson that will scare him for the rest of his life.

That will define whether you will be remembered as a boss they look up to and write about, or just another irritant in their professional journey. After all it’s an old adage, “people don’t leave companies, they leave bosses’.


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Inside Man. Outside Man. Successful Transitions.

Last few days has seen the return of two former leaders.

AG Lafley returned to take over from Bob McDonald as head of P&G.Image

NR Narayanamurthy returned to lead Infosys. Image

As I read the backstories I was reminded of a book I read a long long time ago by Harvey Mackay, called Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive. Image

Among many things he suggests that successful companies must have 2 leaders with clearly defined roles.

One is the outside man. He is the face of the company, he, or she, paints the vision, Is the Pied Piper.

The other is the inside man. He is the oil that keeps the machine ticking. He makes things happen. Converts vision to reality.

I don’t know that there is need for two people, but I do know that these are two distinct roles and sometimes you do need two different people. Sometimes people are blessed to be able to do both. But for starters it is important that these two roles are recognised.

Let’s look at the most successful company of recent times. Apple. Jobs was the outside man. Cook was the inside man.

At P&G too from what I understand Lafley was the outside man, McDonald was the inside man.

At Infosys too Narayanamurthy was the outside man, while Nilekani was the inside man.

Simple so far?

The challenge is when the Outside Man moves on and the Inside Man becomes the outside man.(Usually Outside Men tend to be chairmen, CEOs etc while Inside Men tend to be COOs, Directors, VPs etc.)

Sometimes Inside Men become good Outside Men. Nandan Nilekani is a great example.

Larry Page seems to be doing well, taking over from Schmidt.

Companies that transition at the top could struggle for one of three reasons.

  1. The Inside Man is not a good Outside Man. Cook at Apple is struggling big time. He is not an Outside Man sort of guy. That affects the brand and share price in the short term, and the company’s future itself in the long term.
  2. There is no new Inside Man. When the Inside Man becomes the Outside Man, he needs to ensure he has a good Inside Man making him look good. I believe Brin is doing that job at Google.
  3. The Inside Man continues to behave like an Inside Man and meddles with the company operations and loses sight of the bigger picture and takes his hand off the wheel. I have worked with such people!!

Now looking at the companies that I started with : P&G and Infosys, I wonder if McDonald had a new wingman who was his Inside Man making his vision come true. Or if McDonald was just a poor Outside Man.

In the case of Infosys when Narayanamurthy was around he had some very good Inside Men, led my Nandan Nilekani. When Nilekani became the Outside Man, he still had Pai, Kris and Shibulal. But as that lot left, Shibulal was left to his own devices. He is not an Outside Man sort of guy. I don’t believe he had a good Inside Man either.

So as Lafley and Narayanamurthy come back they would do well to remember that they need to ensure that they transition to not just a great Outside Man, but also make sure that that person has a great Inside Man. That is the secret of a successful transition.

As I end this I am reminded of a great political Inside/Outside pair. Blair and Gordon.


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Managing employees : Guest blog

I have had the great fortune of being managed by many great bosses. One such person is R Sridhar.

He has a sparkling track record and has continued to be bold and innovating in everything he’s done over his great career.

Currently he runs ideasrs where he helps clients and CEOs use innovation to break down challenging problems.

Having successfully created the illusion that I knew about social media, and managing employees he asked me to write a blog for his site. Please click here and read the article.

Social media or not, I think finally it comes down to the individual himself/herself. Long before social media we’ve had extremely successful team leaders. Social media only amplifies an existing strength.


3 on leadership

Micromanagement : Good post on dealing with micro managers. In my career I have been blessed with a mix of good delegators and abdicators! I think I had one micromanaging boss. And in that instance I was able to have an open chat with him about how he could get the best out of me. And that would involve him backing off. Shortly after that he quit. So I will never know if my chat would have helped!!

Leadership at BP : Recently I was thinking about the drama around Obama and his alleged ‘lack of leadership’ over the Gulf of Mexico oil spill then this post came along. Some of the comments he’s made like ‘kick some one’s ass’, ‘would have fired him’ etc sound unleaderlike, and definitely non Obama. While I get that his audience is the vote bank, I think these words sound like a person who is not in control of the situation. From everything one has seen of him, I was expecting a more mature reaction along the lines of : First let’s jointly fix the problem. Second you need to ensure you cover our losses. Someone who just stands and shouts ie goes straight to the second step, reminds me of tales from a book on ‘How not to lead a team’. We all have seen examples of such people in organisations, and know that besides humiliating the person they are shouting that, they are not getting commitment to an improved performance!

Keeping talent : And this article mentions 6 ways to retain top talent.

They being

  • Keep them engaged
  • Assess them for future potential
  • Manage them at the corporate level
  • Place them in roles that put them in the firing line
  • Make them feel special
  • Share future strategies with them

3 articles on 3 different aspects of leadership. All good on their own!

Hope you enjoy it.

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Obama v/s Narsimha

The other day I was chatting with an American friend of mine and inevitably the conversation turned to politics and I shared my perception that the President Obama seemed to be achieving precious little. He gives great speeches, seems to have tons of ideas, is in the thick of much but seemingly getting little done. The huge weight of expectations which he carries on his shoulders is certainly not helping. My friend who claimed to be very politically aware seemed to agree.

Later I was thinking of our chat and my mind wandered to an India Prime Minister of the 1990s, PV Narasimha Rao. He came with absolutely no expectations of even lasting a year of his term. He turned out to be one of India’s longest lasting PMs. He had extraordinarily poor communication skills and no one would call him a great looker. He got the job that no one wanted. India was in the throes of its worst financial crisis with the threat of defaulting just days away. Against this backdrop he pulled off India’s most stunning financial recovery and unleashed India’s growth.

Two very dissimilar men, with kind of seemingly similar challenges.

Of course it’s not even a year to Obama’s term so I am by no means suggesting that he has not succeeded.

Some learnings come to mind

1. Expectations : When the world has very high expectations of you, there is usually one possible outcome. Disappointment. Be it sport or politics it is the same. Irrespective of where you end, even if it is better than anyone else, people tend to remember that expectations were not met. So as a leader it is very important to manage expectations. Sometimes as leaders there is little you can do about the expectations people have. The challenge becomes one of managing expectations. After Federer lost the US Open he made light of it by saying he still had a great year because he won 2 Grand Slams and was in the finals of the other 2. That was a tone of a loser. Before the tournament, he talked about going for the win!

2. Clarity: Say what you are going to do and do it. Looking at the debate on health care there seems to be a lot of cross talk and what the reform is, is not very clear. Again I am an outsider and have no stakes so probably have not spent much time to read the fine print. I am reminded of a client who talked about his boss who once addressed a meeting of the sales staff with a cent in his hand and said ‘at the end of the year we need to add a cent in value to every share of this company’. Simple. Powerful. Clear. I am sure healthcare is extremely complex, but the common man needs it to be simplified so he/she can rally behind it.

3. Ownership:Chicago lost the Olympics bid. Who took the flack? Obama. The healthcare reform is in a mess. Who gets the flack? Obama. Palestine-Israel meeting in NY didn’t go too well. Who is responsible? Obama. Afghanistan war took a turn for the worse. Who needs to answer? Obama. Is it me or does it seem like we have a One man squad. Going back to Narasimha Rao. He picked Manmohan Singh. Told him to fix the economy. Got out of the way, and used his political skills to negotiate with the parties. Even Bush, while he got the laughs, seemingly had a strong team of people who were primarily responsible for parts of governing. Paulson for economy. Rice for State. Gates for defence. etc. Maybe Bush gave them, or didn’t directions, but when things didn’t work out or indeed when they did the parties responsible were clear.

3 things all great leaders need

1. Manage expectations well

2. Define clear outcomes

3. Get a team to own and execute


What makes a leader

This here is a great article about what makes for great leadership. This time from football coach Lou Holtz.

He talks about what separates great leaders from the rest.

His four points of Leadership Separation…

  • Leadership separation occurs when you embrace your dream
  • Leadership separation occurs when you excel with passion
  • Leadership separation occurs when you empower your team
  • Leadership separation occurs when you enjoy the journey

Do read the whole article, it is exceedingly well written.

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New age leadership

Essay in the Huffington post talks about leadership in today’s times.

Uses Obama and Hillary as examples of leaders who don’t need to be in the spotlight on a continual basis or in the same way. They take opportunities that come their way.

Mike Bonifer, the author, goes on to say  “The new leadership opportunities are for those who support, nurture, inspire and enable fellow players to discover their own avenues to stardom.”

I agree strongly. The age of ‘look how smart I am’ leadership is drawing to a close. We are firmly in the space of ‘check my team out’!!

Those who can assemble and get such a team to deliver are the real leaders.

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