fresh thinking

Leadership is on the Cusp of Reinvention - How About you?

Anusha Singh, 2nd October 2017

Recently, I was delighted to discover that my belief in the pressing need to redefine the traditional understanding of leadership was affirmed at the ISB Leadership Summit 2017. A host of dynamic corporate heads and fearless entrepreneurs candidly shared their expectations from a leader of tomorrow, whether in business, academics, policy, entertainment, or sports.

As I brainstormed their views and first-hand experiences, here's a wrap up of my aha moments.

Become multi-disciplinary. To survive in the future, multi-disciplinary skills are a must. Singular depth will not suffice because the business of tomorrow demands the ability to understand live issues from numerous angles. The ability to tinker i.e. play enough with a problem is the key.

Gone are the days when formal training and education in a particular field decided your future. Focus on skills and not necessarily pure domain knowledge.

Don't shy away from technology. While IQ and EQ are important, TQ i.e. technology quotient is as essential. A leader has to embrace technology because conventional ways of doing business will soon dissipate. In fact, it is an opportunity to imagine things differently.

This demands an ability of 'learning how to learn'. With online resources available for almost every skill under the sun, the desire, passion and stamina to figure out 'how to learn' something, will decide the winner.

Imagine being a gardener. Authoritarian leadership is passe. Even mentoring will not suffice for long. The millennial workforce demands a leader akin to a gardener.

How does a gardener work? He has a variety of plants in his garden. He knows that each plant is different from the other. So, he first identifies their characteristics, and then nurtures each plant with unique manure, soil and water needs. He also goes the extra mile to emotionally connect with the plants. He knows it is time-consuming. He knows he needs to put in a lot of hard work. Yet, in the process, not once does he expect onions from a cauliflower plant. However, the moment he spots weeds, he does not leave them there for another day. He removes the weeds fast enough.

Be a gardener leader. Create an environment of growth, identify capabilities, build on strengths, and nurture every unique resource comprising the organizational ecosystem. Be both - a dreamer and a builder.

Don't wait for your idea to become 'perfect'. Whenever anyone proposes an idea, the easiest thing to do is to kill it. That's unfortunate. Don't start with 'but'. Start with 'and'. And then build on it.

How do you build on the idea? Move fast and put your idea out in the market when its dirty. Don't wait for it to first become perfect. Lesser the time, money and energy you spend on your idea, lesser you will be wedded to it. Rapid prototyping is the key.

Bootstrapping can be a blessing. Sometimes, it is good to be bootstrapped. Sans the luxury to throw cash at a problem, you will be forced to be creative! You will be surprised by your ability come up with solutions and ways that are most non-obvious.

If you wish to grow your enterprise when tight on funds, get the best people first. Then make the best products. And only once you start enjoying profits, start scaling.

Be like the bumble bee. A leader of tomorrow needs to innovate for millennials. And S/he cannot fear failure. You cannot do something right all the time. Numerous aero-technical tests have proved that the bumble bee cannot fly because its total wing span is smaller than the size and weight of its body. But here's the interesting part. The bumble bee doesn't know this. So what does it do? It goes ahead and flies anyway! Be like the bumble bee.

Be hungry. Be curious. Be committed. And don't make the mistake of sitting in a safe spot for long. Find a gap, and fill it with meaning. Do what others don't do.

What's your legacy? Always ask yourself the short thought-provoking question - 'what's my legacy?' Prepare yourself for your objective ten years from now, and then work backwards.

Motivated? Provoked? Agree? Disagree? I look forward to a constructive discussion.

This piece is inspired by leaders who have taken bold stands, embraced innovation, and unleashed India's potential across sectors.

These include, in no particular order, Vani Kola, managing director, Kalaari Capital; Rahul Singh, founder and CEO, The Beer Café; Sriram Jagannathan, vice president payments, Amazon India; Leslie D'Monte, national technology editor, Mint; Pankaj Gupta, director of engineering, Google Next Billion Users; Captain Raghu Raman, president, risk and new ventures, Reliance Industries; Dr K Radhakrishnan, ISRO's man of steel who led India's journey to the moon, Padma Bhushan; Bhavin Turakhia, CEO and co-founder, Directi; Parameswaran Venkataraman, lead, Studio 5B, Dr. Reddy's Labs; Mihir Modi, chief business officer, Zee Entertainment Enterprises; Piyush Shah, chief product officer, InMobi; Ankur Warikoo, CEO, Nearbuy; Pramod Bhasin, founder, Genpact, former head, GE Capital; Vivek Prabhakar, founder, Chumbak; Kulmeet Bawa, managing director, Adobe Systems South Asia; Ankit Sobti, chief technology officer, Postman; Dr. Jai Ganesh, head, Mphasis NEXT Labs; Sujayath Ali, co-founder and CEO, Voonik; Samir Sood, founder, Venture Highway, Dr Ajay Bakshi, managing director and CEO, Manipal Health Enterprises.

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