‘Having Agility, Trust, and a Positive Attitude’: Leader’s Toolkit

In this edition of the ‘CEOInsights’ as part of the Great Manager Awards, we have Mr. Pankaj Poddar, CEO at Cosmo Films. In his conversation with Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares his leadership style and values as a leader.

 

Rahul: How would you define your leadership style? What would your colleagues say about some dos and don’ts around working with you?

 

I believe in empowering people by delegating authority & decision making to people, & allowing them to work independently, in collaboration with their colleagues, and at the same time, having appropriate tools to measure the success & progress of business. I do an organization-wide check-in with my Functional & Business Leaders once in a month & a few basis the organizational priorities, & those requiring alignment with the larger organizational goal.  I keep a sense and view of the overall organizational progress, & don’t like to micromanage. I like to limit the number of meetings & follow an open door policy where employees can feel free to interact.

 

“Have faith in your people. Nurture them and allow them to grow.”

 

Rahul: What has been your playbook in terms of leading through the crisis?

We are at a stage of expansion and implementing strategies for diversification. Today, it is no more just a films manufacturing company, but beyond that. Apart from expansion in the films business, we have launched new businesses, like Speciality Chemicals & Pets Business, & I hope most of you would have seen an extensive coverage around our first B2C product, Fabritizer, Kapdon ka Sanitizer, which not only disinfects your clothes by killing 99.9% of the germs but also keeps your clothes protected for 7 days after wash.

 

A lot of these plans were made pre-COVID, but we have continued to pursue our goal, & not paused due to crisis We have been able to navigate effectively & continued to effectively execute and plan the business with an optimistic outlook. On one hand, we are launching more products and on the other side, we are increasing capacity, which can be up and running by next year.

 

Rahul: What has been your approach in terms of cascading down this vision to the junior most person in your firm or enabling them to live this vision as much as you do?

 

We emphasize a lot on communication and having a proper cycle to ensure that employees understand, imbibe and live the organizational vision. Before the beginning of every year, we plan and set out our priorities for the next year, latest by March.

 

Functional & Business Leaders & myself agree on the priorities & communicate this to the whole organization. And then, based on the priorities, do a goal-setting exercise for the employees, and the progress of each initiative is shared with the organization on a regular basis.

 

We also have an organization wide Open House, where the Functional & Business leaders share the updates & the plan, & take up any questions our employees have. In addition to this, we have many other communication forums as well, where we directly reach out to our last mile which helps us to be in touch with the organizational pulse & take inputs on how we can improve & better ourselves. In fact, even during COVID time, while the opportunity for a physical gathering was not possible, we continued to have the open house, town hall, skip levels, etc. I recently did one and was very happy to see that a good number of people joined and asked about 25-30 questions. It is always very encouraging when we as leaders get questions from our people, because it reflects on the engagement & alignment and the transparency in the organizations culture.

 

As a part of this exercise, we keep repeating and reminding the employees organization’s key priorities and goals for that year. We also send regular updates for any new developments, & at least a quarterly update in terms of where & what we planned & what we have accomplished. It’s going very well for us as an organization and we have been able to ensure that each team member lives the organization’s vision.

 

 

Rahul: What are the typical ‘X-factors’ that you want your leaders to be displaying much more, given your plans for expansion?

We have defined competencies basis what works for us, based on which we evaluate our leaders. Apart from our competencies, we coach our leaders to be agile & improve the speed of decision making, which is crucial these days. Second, having trust in people and empowering various levels. Third one is creativity, in terms of how they one can motivate their teams & think out of the box, and then fourth is analytical thinking, which is the ability to extract meaningful insights out of data.

 

“Success today requires the agility and drive to constantly rethink, reinvigorate, react, and reinvent.” – Bill Gates

 

We also do hire based on these competencies, like in the last year or so we have hired more than 100 people across various roles & businesses. mostly for management roles. And as we are expanding, we plan to hire about 500 people.

 

 

Rahul: If you were to find a successor for your role, what are some of the qualities that you would look at, in that successor?

I would look for someone who demonstrates a mix of qualities that I talked about. So, someone who is agile & can think on her/his feet, thinks out of the box, and believes in empowering people, & passionate to drive the brand Cosmo to the next level.

 

Secondly, the person should have strong communication & influencing skills, so that s/he can communicate the vision & the plan effectively. So, one is strategy part and another is communication part. Third is having & building trust in her/ his team members, which is extremely and equally crucial.

 

Given the fact that we are now moving from operating one business to six businesses in the next couple of years, we are also getting a lot of leaders as a part of this process.

 

Rahul: If you had limited time in an interview, and you could ask only one question and decide on that basis whether to hire the candidate for a leadership position or not, what would that question be? And what is it that you would typically like to gauge from it?

 

I would ask “What has been your biggest failure? And what did you learn from it?”

 

This would help me know the honesty & the value systems of the person, because most people end up saying “No, I never had any major failures”, or they talk about some of their small failures. Second, I would like to know if they have really learnt anything out of their failures, and if they have made any incorporated any learnings to their lives after facing one of their biggest failure, which might have crushed their dreams. So, I would see their honesty part and what they learnt from their mistakes.

 

Rahul: What is the most common piece of advice that you find yourself giving to the generation Z that’s coming into the workforce?

 

First, they need to be curious, especially in the initial part of their careers because if they do not have curiosity, they won’t know much. They need to keep learning new things to expand their knowledge base all the time.

 

Second, they should be prepared to do both hard work and smart work. A lot of Gen Z people feel that anything and everything will happen and success will come on its own, because they have seen a few success stories and they generalize, but they must realize the fact that success means sheer hard work.

 

Third, they should need to be a rebel talent & break the rules at work & in life in order to be a trendsetter in life, but at the same time be humble & have a positive attitude.

 

If they have these virtues that I mentioned, then they can certainly go ahead and faster than others.

 

Rahul: What do you think is the most critical competency of a Great Manager?

 

I think the most important competency continues to be the attitude. They should look at things in a positive way, and they should be ready to take on new challenges. Along with it, I feel that agility and trust are other two critical ones required to be a Great Manager.

 

Also, I believe that the middle-managers should hold the fort, by delegating and ensuring high performance till the last mile in their teams, while the senior level managers should be spending more time on thinking, developing new strategies, making the execution better, and improving the analytical skills of people in the organization.

Rahul: If you could go back in time, what would be your advice to ‘younger Pankaj’, to say, in terms of the lessons you have learnt in your professional and personal lives?

 

I think one thing which is very important is that one needs to have the right person for the right job. Let’s say, if you are at a very senior level, and if you have to drive a bus or a plane, you need to make sure that you have the right set of people to do that for you. If one wants to really grow the business fast, then this is extremely important. So, one is to get the best of people and then another is to keep developing them such that one day they can take your seat.

 

“Human beings are the most important asset for any organization.”

 

I believe in imparting more knowledge, giving people more responsibility and delegating more. And, one of my lessons has been to never stop hiring, as I remember one of the management philosophers said –

 

“Keep hiring and they will keep adding value to the organization.”

When you’re intensely invested in the work you do, it’s a luxury!

In this edition of the ‘CEOInsights’ as part of the Great Manager Awards, we have Mr. Egbert, Schram, the Group Chief Executive Officer at Hofstede Insights. In his conversation with Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares his leadership style and best practices as a leader.

Rahul: How would you define your leadership style? And what would be some of the dos and don’ts when it comes to working with you?

EgbertIf I were to summarize my leadership style in one phrase, I would say “It’s work-and goal oriented, direct. Not necessarily too detailed, but more providing general direction.”

I believe that the client always comes first, so I encourage my team to aim at maximizing clients’ service. If I reflect on my leadership style and assessments and look at those six crucial dimensions of the multi-focus model of organizational culture applied to myself, the first dimension is very goal-oriented and the second one is very customer-oriented and in both I would score high.

“Followers think and talk about the problems. Leaders think and talk about the solutions.”

Rahul: What has been your playbook in terms of leading your organization through crisis, especially during events of last year? 

Egbert Honestly, it’s been the same as it has been for the last decade while being a CEO. Being in this position normally means that you lead companies from one crisis through another crisis, because that’s what you should be doing as a CEO, building structures so that daily business focus can be delegated as much as possible, leaving you time to focus on the unforeseen. What this truly means is being available and making time for the team.

“I do not believe in “leaders” saying that there is no time, because the fact is that there is always time, if you choose to make it available”

What I think I’ve learned to do better, specifically in the last one and a half years of remote work, is to pay more attention to the fact that for some people, emotional attention is more important than for others. This is a pitfall for me because work for me doesn’t necessarily feel like work and that means I have not always been able to distinguish between those needing more attention and those needing less.

One important thing for me has been that my mental workday is not necessarily restricted by eight hours, which means that it’s easier for me to make time available. The point of being always available is that I lead by building a trusting environment, which means that my employees should never feel restricted in contacting me, which helps to balance out those moments where I have not found the focus to actively reach out myself at all times to those who might have needed that. This way I have tried to build a two-way street of communication.

“Effective leadership is putting first things first. Effective management is carrying it out with discipline.”

 

Rahul: What is your long-term strategic vision and how do you cascade it down to your leaders?

Egbert: If we start with a vision, it is basically in terms of the impact that we want to make. We want to increase the engagement scope that we have, and want our organization to go beyond awareness and take cultural thinking along in redesigning the ways in which organizations work globally.

For internal leaders this means that a growth mindset is very important, whether we talk about a small or a large firm, all of our work across and within borders with people come with different mindsets. So if we want to help our clients to foster an inclusive growth mindset, we need to help our clients understand what are the different mindsets within their context, where do they come from and how can they use them. All of this starts with us applying our practices in-house as well. This means internally that leaders need to display a personal growth mindset.

Secondly, leaders should be able to spot the bottlenecks in business processes, and address the need for automation, or delegation. It is not necessary for them to fix these problems themselves, although that does tend to happen in an entrepreneurial environment wherein the leadership spirit says that ‘if you see a problem, you fix the problem.’ Naturally there are many times where other people are better equipped at fixing the problem, and in that case, the best solution is that leaders should simply step aside for a moment and let the better people fix the problem.

If you want to grow a company rapidly, then as a leader you need to be ‘vacuuming’, which means ensuring that people can do their jobs and help people understand their priorities. This requires you to step up your own game, and that always starts with being approachable and creating a trusted environment. Even if your team members know that you’re busy, still they should be able to reach out to you.

These are the things that I find important for my leaders to understand; to recognize the bottlenecks, and the need to be approachable and available when their team needs them.

“If you have no vision of yourself in the future, then you have nothing to live for.”

Rahul: What are the challenges that you usually face in terms of people management, and especially in this virtual environment?

Egbert:  The first thing I would mention is “time management.” You might always hear managers saying “they’re busy”, but it simply goes back to having time available on your calendar, i.e. ‘blocked for doing nothing’. If you talk about consulting, we’re not like traditional consulting firms; we don’t track billable hours, because I don’t believe in that concept. In consulting firms or any global firm, there’s always enough work, so finding that balance between engaging people with what they’re passionate about and helping them to understand that they don’t need to be pushing 10-12 hours every single day is very important.

“One has to practice what they preach.”

To make an impact in own as well as people’s lives, any leader or even manager should make a consistent work-life balance and ensure that in the 21st century, people don’t bore out or burn out themselves.

For me this has been a big challenge personally though. I will never push people to work extra hours or work during their holidays, yet because I will do it myself, I am setting a wrong example for them (which is to keep pushing ahead, even when you feel overwhelmed- in the long run this is not sustainable). I don’t necessarily take too many holidays, yet  I want my people to take theirs.

When you want to lead by example it is also worth it to reflect on how your own behavior sets the tone. In my case that has meant becoming more mindful about actually taking time off (although still not at the Nordic “four week holidays at a time” level). I have found it improves my thinking ability and am glad to see that finally this has also meant others in the organization have been better able to take theirs.

“Life is about accepting the challenges along the way, choosing to keep moving forward, and savoring the leadership journey as you manage people.”

Rahul: What are the qualities that you would look for, if you were to find a successor for your role?

Egbert:  The thing which is very important for me, is that person´s ability to grow and show ownership in their roles. One should always be able deal with the cards they get dealt. They should own their own context (e.g. emotions and actions) and not pass or avoid responsibility. I admire people who just deal with the things that they need to deal with and make the best of impossible situations. This is a really important leadership characteristic for me, in addition to a proactive attitude.

“When you’re intensely invested in the work you do, it’s a luxury.”

I do feel that one of the most important lessons I’ve learned is that I’m allergic to leaders who are not invested in their jobs, which is why I don’t work with them if I recognize that fact. There is a catch there, the paradox being that when a leader is too invested in their job, have a great drive & energy level, they might make other´s feel guilty / obliged to work at a similar level, which is not sustainable for many, e.g. to different personal situations. Balancing this personal interest with understanding that for some work is just work, is another characteristic any potential successor has to be able to manage. To separate oneself as an individual, as a professional and as a leader.

“If you have achieved any level of success, then pour it into someone else. Success is not success without a successor.”

 

Rahul: If you had a limited time and you were to ask one question to a candidate and decide basis whether he/she is the right fit. What would that question be?

Egbert: The question will be, ‘Give me the description of a situation where you had to make a very difficult choice.‘  Through this, I gauge their priorities and ability to visualize difficult scenarios. First of all, I would like to know the person’s definition of a ‘difficult scenario’, depending on the example they come up with and then, understand their reasoning in terms of why they made that particular decision.

Although there are hardly any black and white situations whereby a decision is completely right or wrong, what I’m interested to know is the thinking that went into making their decisions and why did they make the choices they did. Basically, did they “own” their decision.

Many leaders ask the question, “What is more important “attitude or competency?” The  challenge with this particular question is that people will answer to the extent of getting a particular position. That’s why I hardly ever asked for this kind of black and white example. Rather I’m much more interested in knowing about situations that people have faced and what were the reasons for the choices they made. This shows their reflective thinking skills and what they will choose – ‘action’ or ‘analysis’. For different job roles, you need different types of people; sometimes you need people who don’t think too much and simply execute, and sometimes you do need people that actively think because they need to balance people like me who don’t necessarily overthink situations too much.

“You are only one decision away from a totally different life.”

 

Rahul: Who have been some of the key influencers in your life?

Egbert: So, there are four types of examples that I had in a personal setting, which made me learn a few important lessons.

First, I’ve had people who very actively showed me what not to do, basically creating a toxic and unsafe work environment centered around personal loyalty and celebrating their “cult-like” status. Only they had all the answers and they were never in the wrong. When an organization is built around an individual´s guru status, my advice is to run like crazy– it can only go wrong. Organizations build around individual guru status are like a house of cards. Unbalanced, tricky and more centered around keeping itself in tact than focusing on employees and clients.

Secondly, I´ve worked with so-called “leaders” who are quick to take the credit, yet avoid all responsibility when things go wrong, basically political players who never take any real ownership. True leaders, in my book, are those who own their decisions, whether those decisions are right or wrong. They are not afraid to apologize and learn from their own mistakes. Power comes with responsibility. Those who do not want to take responsibility should not be handed power, whether that be formal or informal power.

Thirdly, if I were to name a few people who lead by example for me, I would name the founder of the company, which I now lead. To quote an instance, on the second day of my employment, he sent me to Stockholm and told me to sell something there. I had no idea what it was that I’m selling, but just the level of trust he had in me made me feel more able to pull something off.

Another positive example lies in three of our oldest business partners, based in Italy and Sweden (75+ years and still active). They have shown me to always keep learning, to keep an open mind, never claim they have all the answers yet offer perspective and not judgement. For me their behavior is something to strive for.

“A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.”

 

Rahul: What’s your piece of advice to the younger generation, who have just started in corporate?

Egbert: The advice I have been giving to younger people is that go for the jobs that give you knowledge. They might not necessarily pay as much, but do expose you to senior levels of thinking and a variety of projects all the time. In that sense, consulting is a very good profession. Especially in the beginning, it doesn’t pay that much and the hours are long, but there are a lot of insights and experiences that you can gain because of the varied type of clients and assignments. It may be different from one country to another, but here in Europe, we say that until you’re 40, don’t go for the money, go for the knowledge, and after you’re 40, cash in on the knowledge that you gained. It is easier said than done because when people need to enter into new life stages, the balance becomes a bit more difficult. Yet until you’re 40, I would say go for knowledge.

“Prefer knowledge to wealth, for the one is transitory, the other perpetual.”

 

Rahul: If you could go back in time, what would be your advice to the ‘younger Egbert’, to say?

Egbert: The advice that I would give myself at that young stage, when I was 22 and had just started working in a consulting firm with a very sales-oriented role, would be to develop a hobby that would have taught me more patience, like meditation. Patience helps with a lot of things when you want to grow in a more senior role, and it often pays off to think before you act. So going back 20 or 18 years that would have been the advice.

“One moment of patience may ward off great disaster. One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.”

 

In terms of sacrifices made; I don’t feel that I’ve missed things in my private life, despite very frequent travel. I have clear priorities at this stage, which are family and work. This has come at the potential expense of a wide social life, yet I’m quite happy with the choices that I’ve made. In general, I don’t dwell too much on the past, because what’s done is done and you live with the choices you make. Perhaps this is seen as a very simplistic approach, but it keeps the brain fairly healthy.

“If it’s out of my control, then it’s out of my head.”

About Rahul Mahajan:

Rahul is the country lead of great manager awards and has played a pivotal role in strengthening the great manager awards program in partnership with the economic times over the last 6 years in India. Rahul closely works with business & HR leaders to help them identify and develop successors for their organization.

About Great Manager Awards:

Great manager awards program is an initiative by ‘people business’ to identify, recognize and reward “companies with great managers” in India.

This program enables the participant organizations to compare and benchmark themselves and their managers across the industry. It helps organizations create real competitive advantage through its managers.

‘Great Willpower and High Confidence: Leading at All Times’

In this edition of ‘CEOInsights,’ as part of the Great Manager Awards, we have Mr. Ashish Pipaliya, Chief Business Officer at Bharat Financial Inclusion Limited. In his conversation with Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares his approach and vision he looks forward to as a leader.

 

Rahul: Who have been some of the people who have helped you to succeed and get to the position where you are at today?

Ashish: It’s not just one person but many people who have been behind my success.  My immediate bosses did help shape my career. I have been fortunate to work with some of the best minds.

I have spent almost 12 years in the current organization, which has been the longest stint in my career. I’ve taken up several projects and started some new business lines completely from scratch for the company, which have taken off very well and continues to grow. However, as an individual, I am just one part of the success story, in reality it’s a collective effort.

“It depends on the individual; how much you’re able to influence people with you, below you, and even those around you.”

One should learn from his/her peers as well as subordinates and be able to help them gain knowledge and provide a growth path for them.

If you have capabilities and if you have meaningful relationships with people around you, then that is what makes you a great leader.

“One should think how s/he can contribute to the success of the company as an individual, as well as with the team.”

As a leader, people will look at you when the chips are down. In 2010-11, there was a big crisis in microfinance industry, and we had to take a huge write-off because one of the state governments almost banned the microfinance industry in that State. It is about how you handle the crisis as a leader and stick around when times are bad and work to move forward and overcome challenges.

“A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.”

 

Rahul: What has been your playbook in terms of leading your firm out of the crisis that the company faced?

Ashish:  There have been tough times, for instance between 2010-2012. It was the time when we were listed. I used to raise funds and capital for the company to ensure business continuity. We had a lot of investors back then and being an official spokesperson, I was in touch with all these investors. So, one thing, which has been in my playbook to say, is the confidence I have in myself, my team and the company,

“It is the confidence that you have in your business model, which will positively reinforce everyone’s to succeed together.”

I had the confidence that even though things were bad, this company will turn around and come back stronger. In fact, such confidence used to get reflected in my voice, when I used to convince our shareholders and so, we eventually succeeded in getting what we call a ‘survival capital’. It is true that without that capital at the right time, it would been very difficult to survive.

 “Crisis is like a ‘stress test’, and the only time when you get to know and identify the high performing and underperforming individuals in your team.”

A lot of people even left that time, so I would say that, it is not everybody’s cup of tea to take risks. So, the differentiating factors in a team, will be about the team members with more will power, a higher risk appetite, higher belief and a higher faith in the team and in the company.

“It’s only the faith and belief, of being able to make it happen, which opens you to some of the biggest learnings in a crisis.”

As a leader, one of my biggest learnings is having the will power to keep trying, than giving up or backing out, and I think that is what makes a true leader. Essentially, every leader or rather every individual must go through a crisis and embed those learnings and lessons that they gain from such challenging times.

“If one looks at a 5–10-year window, one will always see a big picture where growth happens regardless of any crisis that takes place.”

If you’re, haven’t or if you are not willing to foresee crisis or any stress, then it becomes very difficult to harness the abundant opportunities for growth, and especially, in an economy like India, where there’s a high GDP growth rate in the long-term is ensured.

Rahul: How would your colleagues describe your leadership style? And, according to you, what would they typically say about some dos and don’ts that they follow when working around you?

Ashish: Well, I always like to learn. I believe one should be always like a student and have the hunger to learn throughout his/her life. I always like to learn and believe that growth stops if one stops learning

“One’s aim should be to do something great and another, to keep learning every day.”

When I moved to a business role about two and a half years back, I started a business vertical of MSME lending from scratch, which I’m leading today. We started this business, after a lot of experimentation, doing small pilot in about three to four cities. Today, we have expanded to 200 cities, 2 lakh customers and 2,000 field staff.

“If you want to lead, you should have the hunger to create and lead something from scratch.”

I take pride in being part of the core team for listing the company on stock exchange in 2010 and raising multiple rounds of capital for the company subsequently. During the enduring crisis period I was also part of crisis management team and raised survival capital in 2012 and growth capital subsequently. I was also a part of the core team which was leading the merger with IndusInd Bank. I always believe working in a collaborative manner with the team and ensure I contribute more than what is required.

Today, people believe in me for doing something innovative as they believe in my ability to execute and commitment to outcomes. I think that’s the impression that people have about me today, as I have actually contributed in the last 12 years, to both the survival and success of the company. So, I would say that I learned to lead every role from scratch, without having to replace someone or having someone to inherit that role from.

“Be a pillar for the company, then just being a part of it.”

 

Rahul: If you were to find a successor for your role, what would be the qualities you would look for in him?

Ashish: As I said that my role has been changing, so perhaps I’ll be doing something very different in the next few years. But as of now, my team and I, have established a model, which has been growing to a next level and very steadily, as from 100 cities, we have reached 330 cities within a few months’ time. I would prefer someone who has the expertise and skills to scale this business using all the techniques, because now that all the hard work, pilot studies and rules are laid down, it is more like a ‘McDonald’s cookie cutter model’, which one can simply follow, than deviate from the process. Seeing ahead, I also plan to start affordable housing and MSME business, the higher ticket size businesses, for which we have been setting up a team already.

If I were to look for a successor for my role, then I would look at a certain qualities and unique abilities that I also consider myself to have. First one is having an ‘appetite to learn’ and thereby, create something. Second is a ‘not giving up attitude’, since one will face all challenges, as they start a new business vertical, because creation of something new essentially needs support from every single function and department in the organization, whether it is HR, IT, Admin, Internal audit, Process or Finance. So, it is about getting everybody on the board.

There has been this one style of mine, and so far, it has been successful, which is that I work with the ‘team B’ or ‘C team’ first, and not with ‘team A’. As I explain this, I would like to quote an example. Suppose I’m creating a new business vertical, and need support from all the functions, then I will not involve the ‘A team’ first, but the ‘B team’ or ‘C team’.

The ‘B team’ and I get packed in a room to sit together for many hours at a stretch, to plan how to reach the goals as a team and to come up with certain conclusions.

The ‘B team’ or ‘C team’ will listen, give their views, and solve problems until we reach a bottom-line conclusion. In fact, there was one instance when we were packed in a room for 48 hours at a stretch.

It is the B team which actually needs to work and get its hands dirty, as they are more willing to experiment and expose themselves to various situations and responsibilities. I believe that if one is logical about things which they are asking for, then nothing can stop them.

Then of course, once the project reaches the next level or acquires a certain scale, I involve the ‘A team’.

Finally, I would say that, ‘one-time effort’ of sending a mail to your team, to get things done, no longer works because today a leader should spend time with team, engage them, especially team B and C, and moreover, give respect and treat all team members as equals whether they are from team A, B, or C.

(Note: In the above example, Team A, B, C are depicted as ranking from top in the hierarchy to below).

Rahul: If you had the chance to go back in time, perhaps 15 years back, what would be your advice to the ‘younger Ashish’?

Ashish: My journey has been quite inconsistent in terms of the roles I stepped into. Early in my career, I was in a marketing role, then was involved in corporate strategy and planning; and thereafter, I was in finance wherein I used to raise capital, for the company. And then finally, I took the plunge to switch to a business role. So, in the last four years, I had been exploring various fields, but had been doing equally well in all. In fact, I would say, switching from one role to another, pays off in the long run.

Today, from the lessons I learned, I would advise “Whether you know the subject matter or not, you should always drill, have confidence and not only explore but also enjoy what you do.”

I would say, that the initial four or five years after one’s education are the most critical years and the best time when one should slog to make a difference and make a right impression about yourself.

“Be of value for someone, and learn something new every day.”

At the end of the day, you can make success in business by not only knowing customers’ needs but also understand their pain points.

And finally, as I grew into a professional, I learned to keep in touch with the ground reality, no matter what the case be.

Rahul- What are some critical competencies, you think, a middle-level manager should have or develop?

Ashish: I think “Middle management level is actually a crisis period.”

The reason why I say this is because, I have observed that at a middle management or middle-manager level, 90% of the managers generally get stuck in their positions and just continue doing the same activity that they have been doing for years.

It is only 5-10% of people who actually take new initiatives, within the company or function or outside it, in terms of changing the function. Great manager or even a great leader is someone who has the courage to knock a door of a CEO and ask him “Please give me an opportunity, I’m willing to take the bet.”

“The ability as well as willingness in a manager to make a difference is what really makes the difference.”

To quote an example, HR person at a middle management level should know the business folks whom s/he is supporting, and not only take interest in understanding their problems, but also try to understand the various issues in business. These HR folks should also be staying in touch with the people at the lowest level, like the field executives in the general parlance. If such things happen, then it would really make some difference.

I think these are the things which can take people at middle-management to move up to a senior management level. Otherwise, one ends up spending their 5-10 years merely in one function, and they often stagnate within the same function.

In my opinion, it is at the middle management level, where mangers are usually between 35-40 years of age, and when they can get an opportunity. So, I strongly feel that middle-management is the right time, when folks should experiment and get themselves exposed to different roles in the company and strive to rise to the ultimate positions in the organizations, C-level roles, in the next 5-10 years.

“Try to do things differently than others, experiment with your career and take opportunities, as much as you can.”

Looking at things differently doesn’t mean that you have to be different but have an opinion and attempt to make a meaningful difference to how things are currently done in the company.

“It is easy make a point, but making it material enough for somebody to recognize, it is what makes a difference.”

 

Rahul: What is the most common piece of advice that you find yourself giving to the younger generation as they are stepping into the workforce?

Ashish: The first thing which is most important is hard work. Slog as much as possible in the formative years, ideally the initial four to five years when you step into the corporate.

“Work hard, work smart but make a difference.”

Despite the competition that is always there at every single level, you should be different than others, by being creative, thinking differently and by bringing some change in the organization with your ideas, in the bottom line and however small it might be.

“If people around you get at advantage from you, then you are at an advantage.”

You should not only be good with your bosses but with your colleagues as well, which means you should try to gain as well as provide value and knowledge to anyone who comes across and talks to you, whether it is your peers or subordinates. These are some of my best practices and it makes a lot of difference.

 “Working hard becomes your habit.”

If you don’t work hard in the early period of your career, then you wouldn’t do it ever and it becomes very difficult to change. For instance, people get stuck at the same level/role for many years, before they move to next level, because of not having a habit to work hard.

The ABCDE of Leadership

In this edition of the ‘CEOInsights,’ as part of the Great Manager Awards, we have Mr. Dalip Sehgal, CEO at Nexus Malls, India. In his conversation with Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares his thoughts on leadership and crucial competencies for managers.

Rahul: Who do you look up to for inspiration?

Dalip: In this whole journey of 60 plus years, the inspirations and mentorships have changed over a while. So let me start, as usual, the best place to start with, is right at the beginning, growing up as a kid, my first inspiration and biggest influence was my maternal grandmother. She had six kids, and she became a widow very early in life. I think my inspiration was her determination because she single-headedly looked after their upbringing.

A large part of my childhood was influenced by what I saw with her. And that, in a sense, helped me over the years. Especially when there is something that puts me on the back foot and when skies are blue, I think about this wonderful person who managed everything and overcame all the challenges beautifully.

“The one who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

Second inspiration usually comes when one is in school or college, which is the time when teachers become great influencers for an individual. For me, I grew up in different places, and so I had to move from one school to another every once in three to four years. When I was in class eight, I went to a school called St. John’s and this was when I spent a lot of time with my father, who was very dedicated for me to get good education.

One day, he came to me with a bundle of something that I didn’t know what it was. After sometime, I figured that these were blankets he got to distribute to poor people on the streets. This was one of the most wonderful things I ever witnessed and participated in, and so I like to recollect it again and again to understand the value of humility and power of humanity.

So, my father was one of my inspirations and also my first official mentor, in a sense. He left a lasting impression on everyone’s mind, not just because of what he did. But because of the fact that he was a person who dedicated his entire life to empower and nurture kids. He invested a lot of time in me, especially to build up my confidence in public speaking, and even introduced me to the service of various responsibilities.

Mentorship is all about learning how you are built, as the mentor tries to build you stronger as a person as well as a professional.

Someone who has influenced my career over the years when I was in Unilever was Harish, who I’ve worked with over 35 years. His greatness was to connect with almost anybody and everybody, so he can speak to both the salesmen as well as the Unilever Chairman, while having an equally good rapport. He showed a lot of empathy with whomever he met, and a huge amount of genuine integrity- not just financially, but also intellectually. He was always honest and transparent, as he spoke about things in just the way it had happened. That was a very important lesson for me, in my early life to understand that you don’t necessarily need to say what people want to hear, but the just say it, the way it is. And then finally, his ability to simplify issues in a very simple equation, was another huge learning experience for me, to stay. He looked at the issue, unscrambled it, locate the bits and pieces which makes sense, and then join the dots together to come up with a brilliant solution.

So these have been the three people who in a sense have influenced my leadership style, and shaped me as a better person throughout my life.

 

Rahul: What’s your leadership style?

Dalip: My working style, as a leader, I think, involves five things that are extremely critical for any leader and even for those people who have succeeded in life

And that is the ABCDE of leadership, ‘A’ is about one’s agility over the years as things become passive in business, so one’s ability to change and look at the last year and compare the progress is critical for successful leadership. And if you’re not nimble as a leader, your business will have serious consequences. Second most important ability is to accept rejection and I’ve seen this in almost every successful businessman. Third, it is the ability to think ahead as well and accordingly make a three-year plan.

“B”, is about being bold. I think early in life, people will say what other people want to hear. But I think being brave and bold is extremely important. If one says something that s/he believes in, then it must be said, else one suffers and has to face its consequences at times.

“C” is having confidence. That’s the secret, having confidence in yourself. But more than that, one should have confidence in the team, which is extremely critical in terms of being able to effectively lead a set of people in instances where things don’t turn out the way they should.

Quoting an example from the 1983 Cricket World Cup which we won under Kapil Dev. In an interview, Balwinder Singh Sandhu, who was a slow pace bowler and who played well during the World Cup, said that he was there because someone was injured, and he bowled because his leader, Kapil Dev, told him to do. But after the win, everyone remembered and cheered the names of Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar, and Ravi Shastri, but no one remembered Balwinder Singh Sandhu in that sense. Essentially, it was the confidence Kapil had in him and his teammates, and in his decision that made India win the world cup.

“It is critical to have confidence not only in best performers’ abilities but also in that of the underperforming team members, for any leadership growth.”

“D”, stands for the ability to delegate tasks, as it’s important to understand that we can’t do everything ourselves. While all management books tell about leadership delegation support, yet a lot of leaders find it very difficult to delegate because there is a lack of control if you delegate, and somebody might do a good job of it, but somebody might not.

“A leader should not delegate things that he would not do himself or which are not necessary, but delegate tasks which are critical for the success of the business.”

As a leadership style, I think I started by being a person who liked to be completely in control and had been doing everything myself. But over the years, gradually, I switched to a more delegatibve style as I learned to let go, and rather enable, engage and empower somebody else do it.

“E”, denotes the importance of energizing people around you. One of the qualities that people notice about great leaders, is their ability to energize anybody or everybody in a positive way, be it in a room of 20 people or even 100 people. That’s something that they built over the years, that is ‘how to engage’ and that’s something that I’m still learning,

“Energizing people when they are happy is not the big picture, putting them on the positive path when everything is loosening down is the right way.”

So that’s very critical, the ABCDE of leadership.

“Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations”

Rahul: What would you say is the most critical capability/competency of a Great Manager?

Dalip: It would vary depending on the industry. But if I put it in some kind of a framework then I think a leader has to figure over the years about what is important, not just for middle managers, but I think for a lot of managers in the organization. And this is what I call the ‘ICE effect’.

The “I” stands for innovation. So I think at any level, whether you are at a middle-level or junior level, one needs to look for innovation in what you’re doing. And, innovation doesn’t have to be a blockbuster big-time thing that shakes the whole organization. It is simply innovation at your level. An example that I would like to quote here is of sanitizers, we didn’t want everyone in the mall to sanitize from a bottle, which will still indirectly involve touching the same place as everyone to sanitize, and may spread the disease even more. So, people came back with a prototype which costs 700 rupees and which presented a paddle push-up, designed with a ‘no touch’ concept.

So, these were very simple things that people innovated with.

“I believe that innovation is at the heart of what you can do to succeed as a manager, irrespective of the level innovation is about.”

“C” is consumer centricity, I strongly believe that consumers have to be at the center of what you do, especially if you’re in a B2B business. Managers must recognize this fact wherever they are in the organization, and also trust the team to incorporate the idea of consumer centricity.

There is another aspect of “C” which is about caring. A Great Manager cultivates genuine caring for people in the team. Just to give you an example, we did a lot of service as part of Nexus because we believe that the community is as important as the customer. We emphasized in creating diversity and inclusion and so we also gave work opportunities to differently-abled people. I think that has been one of our best decisions, because as a matter of fact, a large number of differently-abled people are very hardworking but the sad thing is that they don’t get good or even enough opportunities. We made a point not only to include them in the team but also deal them with care and ensure equal respect by team members for them.

We arranged sessions where managers and others in the office would essentially learn the sign-language and we ensured that they communicate to the employees who have hearing impairment through the sign-language. In this way, we could also ensure the comfort and concerns of these specially-abled people.

“It is not just about caring for the organization, but also about caring within the community.”

And the last one is “E” which is excellence. To strive for excellence is very critical for any manager at any level. One needs to give their best. So, it is not just about meeting your objectives. In fact, organizations of the future should focus on how one can do and contribute more.

Rahul: What are the qualities you would look at for a successor to your role?

Dalip: I think there are three very important things one should look at. The first one is the ability of the successor to be able to do things that are different from what you did. One needs to have a fresh thought, and so I would look for someone who would bring a different perspective. So I, for example, came to the mall business, from a consumer FMCG background, having spent all my life in marketing and running consumer businesses at Godrej, Unilever, and so on. So my perspectives and ideas are always different from someone who is within the industry. This is why I would be looking for someone with differences in these terms, rather than similarities.

Although the person must have similarities in terms of integrity, ability to bond with the team and fit into culture of the organization. I would look for an individual who has the ability to connect with the team and with people, which is extremely important. I’ve seen that you get leaders either from within or outside, but once they get into that role, their ability to connect somehow gets impaired. Many at times they don’t fit into the mould because these new leaders are not able to connect well with the team or the culture. So, culture-fitment is critical too.

“It is critical for managers to not only be able to connect with team members. but also sustain that connection.”

Thirdly, people in the team should have huge amounts of integrity and I believe that in the future, this will become even more critical. Far from everything else, a potential successor should be bright, innovative and strive for excellence, and I think at the bottom of everything else is that the individual must have a huge amount of intellectual integrity.

“Great leadership is about human experiences, not processes. Leadership is not a formula or a program, it is a human activity that comes from the heart and considers the hearts of others. It is an attitude, not a routine.”

About Rahul Mahajan:

Rahul is the country lead of great manager awards and has played a pivotal role in strengthening the great manager awards program in partnership with the economic times over the last 6 years in India. Rahul closely works with business & HR leaders to help them identify and develop successors for their organization.

About great manager awards:

Great manager awards program is an initiative by ‘people business’ to identify, recognize and reward “companies with great managers” in India. This program enables the participant organizations to compare and benchmark themselves and their managers across the industry. It helps organizations create real competitive advantage through its managers.

Character, Hard Work, and Capability: What makes a Great Manager

In this ‘CEO Insights’ edition, as part of the Great Manager Awards, we have Mr. Vishak Kumar, who is the Chief Executive Officer at Madura Fashion & Lifestyle. In his conversation with Mr. Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares with us his values and principles as a CEO.

 

Rahul: Tell us a bit about your leadership style, what’s it like to work with you?

Vishak: My leadership style is built around a few things. First, to provide support to people to do their best. Second, there is a business mandate or set of results to be delivered, and third is the ingrained culture within which we do these things. These to me are intertwined and not mutually exclusive.

I have a 5-year objective for the business, which is broken down to an annual objective and which is further divided into monthly work plans. Usually, in the last week of every month, I crystalize my work plan for the next month along with a self-assessment routine for the month gone by; about 95% of the time I’m able to stick to my list. It also gives me clarity on what I want to achieve.

I’m not a big fan of servant leadership with my team. I believe that once I brief them about their task, it’s up to them to figure out how to deliver the best, though I will provide them the necessary support and resources that they require to achieve it. I have one more dimension to this, i.e. when I’m inside your business be it inside your store or reviewing your store or factory site, I’m your worst critic. I will try to push you into everything possible. But when I’m outside your business, I will do whatever it takes to make it successful.

My cultural guardrails are focused around 20 postulates of Maduraism. For example, one of the postulates states that ‘our people are good, and they people come every day to do a good job’. This statement means that we trust people by default and assume that people are coming to do a good job. Another one says, ‘There should be a hierarchy for decision making and democracy for information’. I can cut through 5 layers of hierarchy and talk to the front end staff and get a sense of what’s happening there; but if a store manager asks me for capital to renovate the store, then he will have to follow a certain hierarchy.

We prefer to hire people from outside only at entry levels as Management Trainees and then develop them internally. We try and avoid lateral hires, especially in senior roles.

 

Rahul: If you were to find a successor for your role, what would be the two or three qualities that you would be looking at?

Vishak: there are many ways to succeed in business. At one level, we are a people business; at another level our business is all about understanding fashion from the eyes of the consumers. Third, we are all about strengthening the business of brands, which is about understanding consumer insights, behaviours, creating products with the highest of quality standards, staying updated. Anyone who enjoys the process of watching people dressing up well has a better chance of success in this business.

 

Rahul: What are some of your learnings over the last year?

Vishak: There are hard learnings as well as soft ones. Our understandings around digital platforms, new consumer opportunities, work-from-home apparel. At another level, we learnt how to make high quality masks!

During the first lockdown, with everything closed, within the first 14 days, we built our first mask – a product which we had never made before. People talk about N-95 masks now, our masks one year ago were of that quality.

We’re proud that we didn’t lay off anyone. It was not easy, there was tremendous cost pressure. We all took salary cuts – with the most senior people taking the highest cuts.

 

Rahul: In an interview, if you had the opportunity to ask only one question and basis that decide whether to hire or not, what could that question be?

Vishak: I don’t have a one-liner for this because usually, my interview methodology is different. I start with a normal conversation. Within half an hour I will get a gut feeling which says “hire him versus don’t hire him”. The remaining 1 ½ hours is to challenge that gut feeling. I always try to look into their past achievements, to find how real those are or whether they’re trying to put up some credit for somebody else’s work. While there is no simple checklist, I do make it a point to probe deep into the person’s value systems

 

Rahul: What are some of the challenges that you face when it comes to people management?

Vishak: I don’t think you need to have an explicit job or role for ‘People Management’, But, I mentor people as I have conversations with them about their career. This is because it is our responsibility to advise people on how to become better and improve their performance.

Sometimes a mentor’s job is to just show a mirror”

People will have a different self-image than what we’re trying to show them. There are times when we don’t have a solution for people because they’re completely personal. This is a new challenge that we all are facing, where the personal and professional has become intertwined.

“To make people see their blind spots can be challenging for a leader.”

 

Rahul: What is the most common piece of advice that you find yourself giving the younger generation?

Vishak: When I was in my 20s, I was in a generation where we only started learning to be confident about things. But this generation is far more self-aware and much more confident for the things that they want. One area which I feel this generation should work on is their attention spans. For example, being away from their phones for more than 10-15 minutes would be a good start.

 

Rahul: What do you think are your leadership team’s learnings from last year, and what are the things that you would like to focus on in the next six months?

Vishak: I think that everyone has learned to adapt to different ways of working like video calls, tighter inventories, being more nimble, optimistic, and agile in decision making. We’ve all faced a very different year, which has changed our priorities, ambitions, and ways of working, but there will come a day when we will have to switch gears dramatically and that is something my teams are preparing for.

“Learn to change gears fast at the  right time.”

 

Rahul: According to you, what is the most crucial competency required to be a Great Manager?

Vishak: I use three words that would define a Great Manager – “Neeyat, Mehnat and Kabiliyat”– ‘character’, ‘hard work’, and ‘capability’.

A good filter to know if you are in the right job – ask yourself if you are Learning, Enjoying and Contributing – if the answer is a No to any of these three questions, it’s time for some reflections!

About Rahul Mahajan:

Rahul is the Country Lead of Great Manager Awards and has played a pivotal role in strengthening the Great Manager Awards program in partnership with The Economic Times over the last 6 years in India. Rahul closely works with Business & HR leaders to help them identify and develop successors for their organization.

About Great Manager Awards:

Great Manager Awards Program is an initiative by ‘People Business’ to identify, recognize and reward “Companies with Great Managers” in India.

This program enables the participant organizations to compare and benchmark themselves and their managers across the industry. It helps organizations create real competitive advantage through its managers.

Effective Communication, Emotional Maturity and Agile Decision Making: Keys to Managerial Success

In this edition of the ‘CEO Insights,’ we have Mr Ravi Valecha, the Chief Executive Officer of India Factoring and Finance Solutions Private Limited. In his conversation with Mr Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares his leadership thoughts with us.

 

Rahul: Who have been some of the significant mentors in your life?

Ravi: I look up to my erstwhile managers, starting right from my first job with ICICI Bank, N Sivaramakrishnan, a veteran banker. As a fresher, I did not have a great sense of understanding of the banking sector until I started seeing it from a banker’s point of view than that of a consumer. My previous managers had been quite helpful from all perspectives as I spent a few years under their guidance to build a strong understanding of the banking sector.

In my days with HSBC, I learned about leadership skills from Mr Bhriguraj Singh. He was the head of the department and brought global leadership to the forefront of the organization.

I also learned immensely about people management from my predecessor in the current organization, Sandeep Mathkar.

“It is essential to be humble as a leader while bringing people together on board and accommodate their views to help them move forward.”

Rahul: How would you describe your leadership style? Furthermore, what would be some of the do’s and don’ts when working with you?

Ravi: I prefer empowerment. When a task is given, I expect the people to deliver it in time, abide by the commitment and work independently, but I also encourage them to ask for help when in doubt. So, I believe in building a strong culture that supports empowerment. I trust that in a team, individuals should be empowered enough to make their own decisions.

I would not like to label my leadership style as it depends on the situation which urges me to act and lead the team in a certain way, but I like tomake a feasible balance between autocratic and democratic styles of leadership.

Rahul: What would be some of the critical qualities you would look for if you were to find a successor for your role?

Ravi: To assess correctly, I would split qualities into two types- functional and non-functional qualities. The functional part should include qualities related to the expertise of the individual which aid the system while the non-functional part serves as constraints or restrictions on the design of the system.

I would say that the most important quality I would consider is adaptability. I would also assess the decision-making capabilities and see how quickly the individual is able to make decisions in this VUCA environment. However, a fast decision-making process should not lead to rash decisions but a balanced and weighted decision-making process.

“Discretion is the most important aspect because the information overload is so much that you can easily get lost in a labyrinth of information that you have.”

Also, I would seek a people-centric person who understands human values and is goal-oriented.

Rahul: What is the most common piece of advice you find yourself giving to the Gen Z entering the corporate world?

Ravi: What I see is that the younger generation is loaded with a lot of information from many backgrounds. Therefore, rational decision-making is critical for them to learn and they should get used to it in their daily routines.

“To know about something is a small part of knowledge, while how you apply it in real life proves your knowledge and ability to move forward.’

So, I would suggest that they see the bigger picture when making any decision, learn and respond rationally by weighing the pros and cons.

Rahul: What are some of the leadership lessons that have helped you over the past year of COVID?

Ravi: We always talk about the “vision or mission” statement and other such things, but how much we execute these is what matters the most. This is something I realized now in hindsight.

“I suggest that if you have a goal in your mind, pen it down on paper. Work towards your goal, reaffirm it every day, every moment, be accountable for itand share your progress with your stakeholders and then celebrate if you achieve it”.

The key to leadership is execution of goals than merely defining those. You will realize that when you have decided your personal goals and achievements, you will make better progress in your life. As I learned this, my team has also realized the same and we are doing wonders together.

Rahul: What is your approach to defining the vision and cascading it down to your employees, making sure they are aligned to it?

Ravi: Effective communication helps the team to contribute to the organization while having a collective vision.It is futile to have a vision in mind without an execution plan as it will not lead to the desired results; you have to walk the talk.

When you create a vision, it comes with specific terms and conditions, and it relies on the amount of energy the team members bring to the table. The energy and level of confidence one brings to the discussions helps decide better upon what is achievable and what is not. I observed that such energy and enthusiasm are also transferrable to other team members and drive passion within teams.

“You have to walk the talk because when the team sees you as a leader, it imitates you as their role model.”

The team always get inspired from a methodical and detail-oriented approach of a leader to make decisions. So as a leader, you are being looked up to in all aspects. And that is something that drives me, and that is what I would push across to my teams.

Rahul: What, according to you, is the most critical quality or competency for a manager?

Ravi: One trait I would consider in a Great Manager is emotional maturity, which calls for the ability to stand firm and handle challenging situations with a calm mind and humble heart.

“Beyond a certain point, just delivering on your objectives will not lead you to the highest leadership level; it is the emotional maturity you bring to the table that proves your leadership.”

Emotional maturity again requires rationality and balanced decision-making because, as a leader, you have to look at possibly all the aspects, that is, a 360-degree view. So, you have to incorporate a holistic way of problem-solving.

“Maturity does not come with age; it comes from exposure and experience which acts as a fuel to the aspiration and energy of a Great Manager to drive an organization towards success.”

 

About Rahul Mahajan:

Rahul is the Country Lead of the Great Manager Awards. He has played a pivotal role in strengthening the Great Manager Awards program in partnership with The Economic Times over the last six years in India. Rahul consults organizations in identifying & developing successors.

Inquisitiveness& Integrity: Qualities of a Great Leader

In this edition of the ‘CEO Insights’, as part of the Great Manager Awards, we have Mr.Vikram Handa, who is the Managing Director at Epsilon Carbon. In his conversation with Mr. Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares with us his leadership styles and practices.

Rahul: What’s your style of leadership?

Vikram:‘As an entrepreneur, you always mature in your business journey’

When I started my journey as an entrepreneur and founder of Epsilon, there were too many responsibilities I was shouldering. But over the time as we have grown, so has my team whom I can rely on. I believe that we now have the right set of people who can take this organization to where we are envisioning it in near future. Therefore, my style of leadership has changed too from micromanager to now be a better delegator. This way I can use my time more efficiently.

Another aspect of my work ethic is an open-door policy. In my experience sometimes brightest of the ideas can come from least expected people. This also helps me to connect with even last mile people and understand if we are facing any problems. You would never see me differentiate between talking to the guy driving the forklift to the guy serving food at the cafeteria or to the CFO.

 

Rahul: According to you, what are some of the qualities that are required in a leader?

As an efficient leader one needs to don many hats which requires lot of qualities. At Epsilon, we always intend to identify and hire people who can lead their respective team/ department as a leader. Therefore, the most important qualities that I look in for are Inquisitiveness and Integrity. This always helps an individual with a better future outlook and strong work ethics.

 

Rahul: What is your long-term vision and how do you cascade it down to your organization’s leaders and employees?

Vikram: When I started this company, we were mainly a coal tar installation company. Two years ago, we decided to diversify into two different product lines – carbon black and advanced carbon or lithium batteries, and that’s when the whole prospect of the business opened up the potential of what more we can do. So that’s when I realised that we have to set something that is globally competitive so that when people from Japan or Europe come in, they say, ‘Wow, we want to be like this company.’ Three years ago, I got the opportunity to visit almost all the coal tar installations in the world. Seeing what people have done, it gave me a lot of good ideas.

During the pandemic, I decided that every Monday I will talk on a particular topic. I had certain case studies and ran the organisation through these case studies. Anybody could join the call. I used to give them the case study and for half an hour I used to speak. We discussed everything from Disney to Microsoft to manufacturing to things that people aren’t exposed to on the shopfloor. And a lot of great ideas, especially for digitalization and automation,have come out of these conversations. For the last 6 months, my focus was really on developing human talent in the organization. We have made a clear 3-year plan, and if we want to grow all our three businesses, we have to set up a new Greenfield project in Orissa. Funding and technology are not a barrier for us. The only factor that will make it difficult for us to achieve this is the human factor i.e., human talent and I have been trying to build on that. In the last two years we have also built various platforms, but the human talent is the one that is not easily scalable, and our focus has been to develop that.

Rahul: If you had the opportunity to ask only one question and, based on that, decide whether to hire the candidate or not, what could that question be?

I always ask, “What has been your biggest failures in your career so far?”

If someone says that he has not failed, that means they do not have the right experience. I can list down so many things where I have failed in past. I believe failure is our biggest teacher and guide us in the right direction.

Another aspect which I also ask is, “What is your biggest accomplishment”. This helps me to assess how sincere and honest the candidates are in both the spectrum.

 

Rahul: What has been your playbook over the last year in terms of innovating your company?

After Pandemic, our work style has changed drastically. Like any other organisation, we have embraced technology completely. In fact, it has been a catalyst which has helped us to break communication barriers between different departments and has brought them together on one platform. A year later, we continue having virtual meetings with presence of all departments. For this, I would like give credit to my team who despiteof facing lot of issues initially were able to pull this through in short span of time. Thisalso gave opportunity to couple of our employees to excel and become star performers.

 

Rahul: If you can go back in time, say 10 years, what would be that one piece of advice that you would give to a younger Vikram?

Vikram: One advice that I would give my younger self would be to more meticulous. Like mentioned earlier, in initial part of my entrepreneurial journey I have made lot of mistakes. And they have taught me to be detail oriented while taking any decisions. As an organisation, this approach has helped us to reach where we are today.

 

Rahul: What is the most critical competency of a manager?

Vikram: As a manager, I believe most important aspect should be a good listener. To be an effective team player, one should be willing to listen to ideas from various set of people one work with. A manager alone cannot achieve any milestone, it is always a team effort. Additionally, one should have clarity on one’s role and team’s responsibility.

 

About Rahul Mahajan:

Rahul is the Country Lead of Great Manager Awards and has played a pivotal role in strengthening the Great Manager Awards program in partnership with The Economic Times over the last 6 years in India. Rahul closely works with Business & HR leaders to help them identify and develop successors for their organization.

About Great Manager Awards:

Great Manager Awards Program is an initiative by ‘People Business’ to identify, recognize and reward “Companies with Great Managers” in India.

This program enables the participant organizations to compare and benchmark themselves and their managers across the industry. It helps organizations create real competitive advantage through its managers.

 

Right Attitude&LearningMindset: Going the distance as aGreat Manager

In this edition of the ‘CEO Insights” we have Mr. Manish Kapoor, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Pepe Jeans London. In his conversation with Mr. Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares with us his views as a leader.

Rahul: Who are your mentors?

Manish: I was fortunate enough to have started my career with companies like MaduraGarments and with certain people like my first boss Sanjeev Mohanty, Ashish Dixit, my last boss Kavindra Mishra, and growing up in that atmosphere was amazing withthe very best management talent. Even though I joined as a management trainee, the organization gave me the freedom to interact with these people on a daily basis. So, when I look at it in terms of people who influenced me, I would say, Sanjeev for his understanding of consumer and trends , Kavindra for his poise and Ashish, for his humility, that he has even today.

 

Also, if I look at my elder daughter sometimes, it inspires me in terms of the way she manages difficult situations by remaining calm, being able to deal with those situations. I also get inspired by guys like my driver who’s working hard like  18 hours a day but never complaining . So, I think inspiration is not something which is limited to great managers and if you look around,ordinary looking people can also inspire you.

One business leader who really inspires me is Steve Jobs because of his vision for the future and passion for innovation.

 

Rahul: What would you say are some of the leadership lessons that you have learned in the last six to nine months?

Manish: I would stress on a few important things. Firstly, I think I’ve learned the power of Empathy. That’s something that we kept talking about previously but I think the way it has panned out in the last nine months, how you actually practice it and the differenceit makes is a very important learning.

Secondly, I think is the power of communication. In times of crisis, it gives a lot of confidence to people in terms of actually being able to relate to the organization, the leadership, and also being able to have that feeling that they’re being thought about and cared for.

Thirdly, I would say as leaders and managers, we’ve learned about being able to steer your ship in ambiguity. But I think the crisis has taught us a lot in terms of being able to take decisions in ambiguitybecause this was a situation that you never faced before; you’re never prepared for it. So,in every single decision you are taking there is some data to back it up, but at the same time, you don’t know how it’s going to pan out. So, you are ready to take your decision and mould or change them basis the situation.

Rahul: If you had the chance to go back 10 yearsin your life and tell your younger self the things that you could have done differently. What would they be?

Manish: I think one thing is that I would have told myself to be more patient. I always used to be in a hurry, wanting results very fast. But, over a period of time what I’ve learned is that patience is very, very important, be it patience with people, circumstances, or situations. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

The other would be the difference between a P&L statement and a balance sheet. A lot of times what happens is that you are only driven by profits, betas and just the P&L part of the business, but what you don’t realize is that your balance sheet is actually the one which actually reflects the strength of your business.

Rahul: As a CEO, how do you typically go about understanding your company’s cultureand working towards defining the culture that you want the firm to have?

Manish: For me, everything starts from the consumer.Every single action that you take as a business has to be thought about in terms of how does it help the consumer or what difference does it make to the consumer and then it works back to the organization.

My driving theory is that a happy organization or a happy internal customer delivers happiness to the consumer. So, your employees need to be happy to be able to deliver that happiness or value to the consumer. Your remuneration plays an important role but that is not the most important thing today. If I look at the younger generation today, the environment that you are able to provide to them in terms of the physical amenities and more importantly, the culture that you are able to deliver within the office.  For me culture is people being free enough to talk to, to walk into a cabin and express what they feel. Are you giving them enough opportunities to learn? Are yougiving them enough opportunities to develop themselves as individuals? I think that is culture.

 

I think culture is all about simple things in terms of actually understanding what excites your employees, and then basically, delivering on those few parameters, it doesn’t need to be theories, it has to be very simple things.

Rahul: What are the qualities that you would want to developin managers to get to your strategic intent?

Manish:I don’t want my one downs (n-1s) to run the company. I want my n-2s to run the company on a day-to-day basis. I think that’s something that we have achieved in the last 12 months. The more amount of time the top managementis devoting to operational items, not talking about the future, it’s very clear that the organization will not progress or grow. For me, it is very clear that an n-2 has to run the company on a day-to-day basis and its operations. The n-1 has to keep thinking in terms of what’s next and what better they can do in terms of their areas of expertise or functions.

When I look at it in terms of quality or areas to develop, skill is not important, and that’s something that I maintain across levels.It’s more in terms of your attitude. Secondly, I look at it in terms of learnability in terms of ‘Are they ready to learn new things?’

Rahul: If you need to find a successor and you have three candidates in front of you, what would you look for in them?

Manish: I will probably look at three things. Understanding of the consumer, understanding of technology, and the way they are able to manage people. I think those are the only three things that matter to me. I think you can get experts around you to help you out with the rest but if you have those three fundamental things, you should be able to lead any organization.

Rahul: If you have limited time in an interview and you could ask only one question to a candidate and basis that question decide whether the candidate is the right fit. What could that question be?

Manish: I think attitude is more important than skills. I would probably ask him a situational question. For instance, if theywere in a difficult situation, how would they manage it?

Let’s say somebody was coming for an HR interview. I would ask them if they know anything about Digital Marketing.If not, what would they do? For me, attitude and learnability are the two parameters that I look at whenever I’m hiring people. If there are some people who are coming to you for a particular position, I would say that at least 80% of them would be very similar, in terms of their technical skills. What would differ is in terms of their attitude, and that would be the difference in terms of how successful they have been. Attitude and learnability are the only two things and I would probably ask a situational question to get an understanding on those two aspects.

Rahul: What are the usual challenges that you face in terms of people management?

Manish: I think that the generation we are managing todayneed to learn a lot about patience, most of them want to grow very fast.The challenge is making them understand that there is a process to things and patience is important. The other important thing is that whenever you are conducting business, you can’t always take shortcuts which might give you short term results. Because if you really want to succeed,you need to create long term value for all stake holders which means to always do the right things even if it  might give you short term pain.

The second challenge is more in terms of making people sync with your consumer, making them realize, irrespective of industry, you need to adapt, learn, and change. So, it’s more in terms of going back to learnability and being able to grow.

Rahul: What is the most common piece of advice that you find yourself giving to theGen Z population?

Manish: I think it’s effectively two-way traffic across the board.So, whether it’s my daughters or colleagues, gone are the days where as leaders, we thought that we will be preaching, that we know the best, and we will always be able to tell people if something is right or wrong or even the right way to do things. I think we need to realize that we have had certain learnings in life, people around us might have more experience or lesser experience than us, but they have also had certain experiences in life. We need to learn from each other. Also, living in a constantly changing world, there is no right or wrong, what worked yesterday probably might not work today. So, you always need to be ready as there might be a better way to look at it or doing it today.

When you’re looking at managing people, you need to understand what drives or motivates people. You need to always be ready to learn in the competitive world that we are living in. So,the pandemic was an eye opener for a lot of us in terms of understanding of consumer and the whole manner of doing things digitally. We have realized that we can work very efficiently from home, we could have done it three years back also, but we never felt the need, or we never thought of it. But I think those are important things in terms of being up to date. One of my biggest things is one shouldn’t always resist change. I feel I am a proponent in terms of saying that technology is something which is very important in our lives. If you want the latest model of the iPhone, why don’t you think the same way when you’re thinking of doing your work?

 

 

About Rahul Mahajan:

Rahul is the Country Lead of Great Manager Awards and has played a pivotal role in strengthening the Great Manager Awards program in partnership with The Economic Times over the last 6 years in India. Rahul consults organisations in identifying & developing successors

Willingness to Learn & Adapt: Succeeding as a Great Manager

In this edition of the ‘CEO Insights,’ we have Mr. Kapil Agrawal, Chief Executive Officer at Aditya Birla Yarn. In his conversation with Mr. Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares with us his views as a leader.

 

Rahul: What is your leadership style?

Kapil: I think I’m a number-driven person. For me, numbers are very critical, analytics are very important for decision making. It is one of my biggest strengths in terms of being able to dig into any kind of data or any kind of numbers.

I am very open and transparent in my interaction and also expect my team to be so. If they think I’m doing something wrong, they can directly tell me that I am not right, and that’s the kind of atmosphere I enjoy working in.

I believe in being disciplined to deliver the commitments on time. Deadlines are ahead of anything. I can work with my team and go to any detail, but to me, any compromise or failure on that part is unacceptable. But at the same time, I get involved with my team and help them to whatever extent, to deliver the results. I always want to involve my team and be very transparent in terms of sharing information and what I do.

I’m also very passionate in terms of whatever I do. In the last couple of years, I’ve been able to drive change. One of the theories I go by is that I don’t want to be in an organization and just follow what it has built over the years; I want to add more value to it in terms of bringing some positive changes.

Rahul: What are some of the leadership lessons you have learned over the last year in times of crisis?

Kapil: One lesson is decision-making with limited information and what we can call “ Decision making in Grey Areas”. One of the challenges which I had earlier was that I needed all the information to make a decision, and in that process,  decisions get delayed.

‘I think last year was one where information was not available, the way you would have expected, and made you make a decision with very limited information.’

The second lesson which I learned is that we should be more agile in terms of responding to a situation. Textile as a business is very traditional and an old business, people have their style of working, and I think the past year allowed us to look at how we could be more agile.

The third lesson was digitalization. I was never a guy who was very keen on online scenarios. Being a traditionally old industry, we were slow to get out of the tracks and adopt digitalization. In the last year, we made progress and we were one of the first to launch a digital swatch book for Yarns. We also revamped our website completely and started digitizing our offerings to our customers.

I think the fourth and most important thing for me is empathy. Being a taskmaster, people always used to tell me that I am less empathetic. But I think being more empathetic towards people is the other big thing that I learned during the last 12 to 14 months.

Rahul: How do you go about defining the strategy and the vision of the organization? And what is your approach in terms of the trickle-down effect on your employees?

Kapil: As a group, we normally have a three to five-year rolling plan and have to submit that every year. In the last couple of years, I was fortunate to travel a lot and understand this industry more. That gave me ideas to reflect and evaluate the direction in which the industry is moving. This helped me in setting the direction of our business. As a team, we defined our vision in terms of the size of the business, which segment we want to play in, which geographies we should be present in, and then we worked out our numbers accordingly.

Once this proposal was approved, we created a team, which was led by one of the senior EXCOM members, and he then drove the things. That’s the way we started sharing the larger picture with our teams. This larger picture gets divided into numerous immediate actions, which all of us have to follow.

The way we trickle it down is the budget process. During this, we form small teams across various elements; to name a few of the modules, cost reduction, or outsourcing. And that’s the way we start trickling it down to the general level in terms of where we want the business to be.

We conduct town halls where I interact with the teams, share the vision, progress on various initiatives, challenges, and achievements.

Rahul: What are the qualities that you would look for in your successor?

Kapil: I look at somebody who is a growth-oriented person. I feel if somebody does not have a vision of growth, any business over some time will start shrinking. It will move into a trajectory that would make  survival  difficult.

‘I look at a person who is growth-oriented and has a vision in terms of taking this business to the next level.’

Secondly,  I would look for somebody who can interact and connect with the teams. They need to be fair and equal to everyone.

Thirdly, I would look for somebody ambitious, not in terms of delivering, but in terms of bringing change. I believe when I leave this company, there will be a lot of areas for improvement. Someone who challenges the status quo, takes things forward, brings in something new, and allows this business to evolve.

Rahul: If you are in an interview with very little time and you can only ask one question to that particular candidate, based on which you have to decide whether that candidate is the right fit or not. What would that question be?

Kapil: I would ask, “Are you ambitious?” You could look at the body language of an interviewee, it brings out certain aspects. It allows me to gauge the ambition and the way they speak reveals how they are going to handle their team with the sentences and words they use.

If they talk only about their ambition, then they will leave the team behind. What I would like to understand from them is how ambitious they are, as individuals and collectively.

Rahul: What is the most crucial or critical competency required of a great manager?

Kapil: I think one competency is their willingness to learn. When I move to  next level, I always start at the bottom of the pyramid, having to climb up again.

‘So, their willingness to learn and leave the baggage or whatever legacy they have, in terms of how successful they were, relook at the role through a new lens, and adapt themselves.’

I also think about the willingness to change themselves and the way things are currently. If there are failures, accept them and do not give up.

Rahul: What are some of the typical people management challenges that you face?

Kapil: One of the challenges I face is the growth that is to be given to our employees, especially in a business that is not growing. Textiles is a traditional industry to attract and retain good talent, this is another issue which we face. It is important to motivate your team and keep them engaged, this is something which we always try to do.

Rahul: If you had the opportunity to give some piece of advice to your younger self from about ten years ago, what would that be?

Kapil: One piece of advice is definitely to have more patience. I think I was a little impatient in terms of my growth. I’m a very ambitious guy who wants to grow very fast, thankfully I got the opportunities, so I have no complaints.

I think the other bigger  advice would be to be a little bit more empathetic in terms of people’s feelings. I would also have liked to have spent more time with my family. I regret not having done that because of spending more on pushing for mywork..

 

About Rahul Mahajan:

Rahul is the Country Lead of Great Manager Awards and has played a pivotal role in strengthening the Great Manager Awards program in partnership with The Economic Times over the last 6 years in India. Rahul has been consulting organizations for over a decade to identify & develop successors

About Great Manager Awards:

Great manager awards program is an initiative by ‘people business’ to identify, recognize and reward “companies with great managers” in India.

This program enables the participant organizations to compare and benchmark themselves and their managers across the industry. It helps organizations create real competitive advantage through its managers.

 

Confidence & Self-Awareness: Essentials of a Successful Manager

In this edition of the ‘CEO Insights,” we have Mr. Sharad Heda, the Chief of Staff of Microland Limited. In his conversation with Mr. Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares the values and principles he follows as a leader.

 

Rahul: How would you describe your style of working?

Sharad: I believe the right mix of high expectations backed by unbridledsupport brings out the best in a person. The idea is to have people surprise themselves and believe in their ability to deliver extraordinary output. And the more they do that, the more they feel good about themselves, and there’s nothing like positive energy to keep great work, working.

I believe three traits that differentiate a leader in this VUCA world are – First Principles-based approach, the right “T” for solving a problem, and Intense Collaboration.

The first-principles process is about negating your biases and approaching an issue by assuming that it may have variables that you do not understand well. Hence, an attitude of “know-it-all” does not work, and it is essential to infuse that humility and curiosity to look further and beyond.

I’d like my team to understand the 30,000 ft big picture and be in touch with the ground realities while finding a solution. I call it “the right T” – a combination of broad perspective and rolling up of sleeves—breadth in vision and depth in action.

The spirit of collaboration is essential to me since it’s both power and humility rolled in one. None of us have all the answers, and also, not everyone will be in the best-of- mindset when solving a complex problem. One-upmanship and unhealthy competition needs to be purged, and teams need to bring a team-sports culture to work—all for one, one for all.

“Individual commitment to a group effort is what makes a team work, acompany work, a society work, a civilization work.”

 

Rahul: What were some of the big breaks in your career, and who are some of the people you consider as mentors in this journey?

Sharad: I started my career in Wipro in 1983, where I worked for almost ten years. When I joined Wipro, IT was a new sector. Our company was only a couple of years old and was known more for its oil business than computers. So in a way, it was a risk. However, Wipro taught me great business ethics, how to build high-performance teams, and I happened to be in a sunrise sector that has not seen a downturn in the last three decades! So I consider it a significant break because it built the foundation of my leadership style and a habit of lifelong learning. Mr. Premji and Dr Sridhar Mitta have been a critical influence on my life all along.

“Risk something or forever sit with your dreams.”

In 1992, I moved to the US to set up operations for some strategic accounts for Wipro’s IT services Exports business.Life took a turn, and I chose to join Pradeep Kar in building Microland as India’s first IT Network Integrator. Becoming part of this start-up was the second big break in my life. In hindsight, the last 29 years of my journey have been most fulfilling. Microlandtoday has the reputation of being a pioneer in the IT infrastructure services space, servicing several Fortune 500 customers. They say you are defined by the choices you make, and choosing Pradeep as my professional partner made all the difference.

“When you can picture how your business with zero legacy might look like at the time of VUCA, you start creating new strategies to invest more for your future business.”

 

Rahul: What are some of the top pieces of advice you find yourself giving in coaching and mentoring?

Sharad: Coaching and mentoring are all about bringing out the best in a person by helping them realize their infinite potential and then starting on a journey to bridge the gap between potential and current performance. I tell my mentees to believe in themselves and visualize the best versions of themselves as world-beaters.

The other part is introspection for a better and deeper understanding of yourself on three dimensions – the way you think that is your IQ and cognitive skills; second,  the way you feel that is Emotional Quotient; third is how you feel and act. All three dimensions influence the leadership style an individual aspires to develop.

“I would advise the person to consciously create self-awareness; a positive and virtuous cycle of the three dimensions and zoom into their performance zones.”

 

Rahul: How have you been leading through the crisis, and what are some of the leadership lessons you have learned during this pandemic?

Sharad: The pandemic has taught us that the actual new standard will be “no normal.” As we move forward, we will see a much higher frequency of life-changing events, expecting us to question the ground rules of the business now and then.

Accepting this reality is the first step of leading through the crisis, and turning it into opportunity is the second step.”

It is a time to support and rebuild a better relationship with every stakeholder, client, colleague, and other stakeholders in the business ecosystem.

 

“During a crisis, customers’ expectations and demands change, and one’s priority should be to care for their customers and remain their partner of choice.”

At Microland, as we address the most critical challenges to the business due to the crisis – revenue momentum and employee wellbeing, most of the time has been spent reimagining various business scenarios and strategizing ways to cope with uncertainty. And for us, a leadership style with “Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesh”– all-in-one has helped rapidly build the new Microland! The Brahma for imagining and creating the future business, the Vishnu for sustaining and growing what is truly valuable for tomorrow, and the Shiva or Mahesh to and unlearn what won’t work.

 

Rahul: According to you, what is the most critical competency a manager should have?

Sharad: I believe that self-awareness, perseverance, and confidence are what matters the most. If leaders do not “truly” understand themselves or underestimate/ overestimate who they are, they often fail in critical situations.

“Nobody is going to back you if you don’t back yourself.”

You have maximum control over yourself than anyone and anything else. Everyone else – be it, family, colleagues, customers, etc. can be taken care of and remain happy if you know how to manage yourself first.

“Knowing yourself and leveraging all you have got impactsthe domain you work in, the people you surround yourself with, andthe strategy you adopt for yourself and the company.”

 

Rahul: If you had the opportunity to ask only one question in an interview and decide whether to hire a candidate or not, what could that question be?

Sharad: While hiring for a senior leadership role, I would ask, ‘Who has been your best hire, and why?’ This will make me understand if the leader is hiring people better than himself. If every hire increases the average IQ of the team, and you build a top-notch team with complementary skills, the rest of the things fall in place gradually.

 

Rahul: What is your approach to building the organization for the long term, and how do you cascade that vision down to your team members?

Sharad: People usually comment that it is difficult to think about an agenda for the long term. But this is such a wrong notion, I believe. It will not be surprising if I say that, 10 years from now, all of us will have 5-10 devices on our body which will perpetually pick up various signals and tell them about their health. But if I ask one to tell me what will happen in the next 2-3 years on IoT adoption for health year by year, it will not be easy for the person to answer.

 

‘In this VUCA world, the challenge is to understand the mid-term and to navigate the organization through that, keeping a long-term plan in mind.’

My approach to cascading vision is a mix of one-to-many vehicles such as Microland-One App,  weeklystand-up calls, town halls, etc., and intense one-on-one discussions with the top 10-20 people. I have found that once the top team buys in and starts transmitting them to the next level and the next level takes on that, you create an exponentially growing solution.

“The more fearlessemployees become, the more they express themselves in the organization.The trick of successful leadership lies in creating a fearless organization.”

On the Technology front, we have invested significantly in building ” Microland-One,” an App that connects all Microlandersglobally on a 24 x7 basis and has all that the employee needs to engage with the company and its leaders – chats, events, policies, events, etc. It’s a one-of-its-kind tool that unifies Microlanders and helps us cascade our vision to employees and other stakeholders of the ecosystem – be it customers, investors, suppliers, or society at large.

Microland’s priorities for the next few years are to primarily focus on partnering with our customers in “Making Digital Happen” for them, helping them transform their business – including products, offerings, and processes. We are also changing ourselves in parallel – building automation platforms and up-skilling the workforce.

“If you want to reach a goal, you must “see the reaching” in your mind before you arrive at your goal.”

 

About Rahul Mahajan:

Rahul is the Country Lead of the Great Manager Awards. He has played a pivotal role in strengthening the Great Manager Awards program in partnership with The Economic Times over the last six years in India. Rahul has been consulting organisations for the last ten years in identifying & developing successors.

About Great Manager Awards:

Great manager awards program is an initiative by ‘people business’ to identify, recognize and reward “companies with great managers” in India.

This program enables the participant organizations to compare and benchmark themselves and their managers across the industry. It helps organizations create a real competitive advantage through its managers.