leadership by vivek paul

By Vivek Paul

It is truly a source of pleasure and pride to all of us BITS alumni to see how many successful leaders have been produced by BITS. What made the BITS experience so useful was that was that BITS did more than just teach us curriculum, it made us grow in multiple dimensions as we emerged from our protective familial cocoons to a melting pot of the best and the brightest from all economic strata and from all parts of India. The list of successful leaders in this issue is a salute to that diversity. As I think about the essence of leadership, the first thing that comes to mind is that different circumstances sometimes throw up leaders that are right for that time and situation. But even if you hold aside the situational leader, there are many threads in common for those that lead through all seasons, and I?ll share a few through some key quotes. ?All progress owes itself to the demands of the unreasonable man?. To be reasonable is to accept the status quo, to accept small gains. You must be unreasonable — have a vision, a change agenda, something that most people would not see or be willing to push. So look around you ? what do you see changing that requires a different approach. Learn to pick up on the weak signals ? change descends equally on everyone, but a few realize it faster than others. These few see a technology shift, a social shift, an industry shift and seize the agenda. So go explore the boundaries of knowledge. Be like a jigsaw puzzle player who sees the full picture the fastest. And be unreasonable in demanding from yourself and others the effort it would take to change the status quo. ?Nothing is impossible for the man who doesn?t have to do it himself?. This skeptical view has checked many a leader in his or her tracks. Leadership can only be successful by example. If you expect hard work from others, you have to work the hardest. If you expect breakthroughs, you have to show a few yourself. There is no room in the world for ?empty suits? and never let a formal designation lull you into thinking you no longer have to personally contribute. So always balance your time between directing and excelling as an individual performer in whichever aspect you can do well at. ?If it is not important to make a decision, it is important not to make a decision.? There is this stereotype of this macho leader spewing a barrage of decisions. The reality could not be more the opposite. You have to learn to live with ambiguity for about as long as needed, able to balance the action list with ?no regret?, ?hedge the outcome? and ?full steam ahead? moves. There are only two ways to get this mix right. First, use a lot of data for every decision. Irreconcilable differences vanish when enough data is mined. The disciplined training in thinking we all get at BITS is invaluable for this. Second, is listen ? respectfully and with an open mind to your team. And here the diversity of your team is truly an asset. Foster the differences in perspective, and this is one area where I now see how BITS truly stood out in its encouragement of diversity in its population when I was a student. And since this is so critical, weed out yes men and foster people who are unafraid to tell you the unvarnished truth. In the jungles outside Bangalore there are many elephant camps where one can see huge elephants chained to a tiny stake. I wondered why the elephants do not just pull them out of the ground. I was told that as calves when they are tied to this stake, they try very hard to pull, but cannot, and reconcile themselves to being tied down by the stake. But as they grow bigger and stronger, they are mentally still tied to that stake and do not even try to break free. This then brings me to the next leadership idea ? have an infinite faith in yourself. The problem in being a leader is that there is no one to say ?well done?, no one to reconfirm your agenda against the whirlwinds of uncertainty you face every day. There is only you. And the good news is that just you is enough. I will end with something I learnt from Jack Welch, previous Chairman of General Electric. He said that he loved international trips, because every time he got on the flight on the way home, he would pretend that he had just been appointed CEO, that this was his first day at the office and that the guy before him was quite a dud. He would come up with scores of things he would do differently as the new leader. And this brings me to my last leadership idea ? always reinvent yourself, never being afraid to challenge your own past and your own success. So in a nutshell, catch the wave of change for therein lies opportunity, be unreasonable in terms of your expectations, demand of yourself more than of others, have an infinite faith in yourself, never be reluctant to change yourself and when success swoons at your feet ?always take your job seriously, but never take yourself seriously?.

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