Friday, March 29, 2013

Leadership - A process

Leadership has many facets. In fact it can be construed as a process chain, with interlinked stages.

Many years ago (much before the popularity of the transformational leadership theory) I wrote an article, when globalisation was just taking its shape in this country and the Scorpio Mahindra had scarcely been launched, perhaps it was 2002. This is just a reproduce of that article, which was published in Training & Management then. I realised that the article did not have a soft copy and also social networking on the internet was not so popular as it is today and therefore the reach of that article must have been limited. Here it is for all to read.

Perceptions may differ, but if one views any process, whether it be as complicated as the life cycle of any being or maybe as simple as having your bath or eating your food, one would observe that every process is a chain of smaller activities or stages. Leadership is a concept, which is a vital fac­tor for the success of any community, nation or group. I have always viewed leadership as a process, more so in the recent times. When the success of leadership is more dependent on the changing times and the cultural diversities, how can we standardise to perfection the static characteristics of leadership? If we agree to this argument, that the characteristics need to be modified periodically, you have to actually initiate a process! The figure displayed shows the stages that are linked, to form the process of leadership.

The process of leadership – a chain

Let us examine each stage of this chain or cycle. (Please observe that the first alphabet of every stage, if lined up together would give you the word L E A D E R S H I P)


A few years ago while I was conducting a training session I was informed by one of the participants that a facilitator that he had met in the recent past was titling himself as a 'learner'. I was not surprised at all because I was convinced that one who was facilitating a learning process first has to be a learner himself. Likewise, a leader who has to educate his team consistently has to be a keen learner himself! Where-­from, otherwise, would he be able to add to the knowledge and skills of his team members, who are constantly looking forward to him for 'his guidance and value addition? Believe me, no team member enjoys stale information anymore. Useful information keeps the group charged, besides helping to introspect for upgrading competencies and remaining contemporary!

* Evaluate:

The other day I was ushered into an on-going product sales training programme by a friend of mine, without my being aware of what I was heading for. The products did not lure me but the style of the trainer definitely did! She was emphatic about TEAM - Together, Everyone, Achieving, More! All that registered and perhaps evens a little more, that I could probably include in my sessions, but nothing much about the product and its sales, which was the objective of the trainer. As a leader also, one would have to sift through the information - flow and evaluate as to what was relevant and what was not, what could be given shape to and what could not be. Every piece of information and learning may not be contextual. The leader should be adept in such an analysis.


The evaluated information not only has to be registered, but the leader needs to plan and strategise as to how best he could utilise the information available. Although 'Project - Scorpio' was nearing com­pletion Anand Mahindra, the leader of the Project Team in M&M decided to hold back the launch of the product for 2 more years.

Information was available that the BPR exercises carried out in the organisation were yielding stunningly positive results. Anand Mahindra had to take a choice as a leader. He took a decision that the results be incorporated in the manufacturing lines planned for Scorpio and hence launched an intermediary model only - Bolero.


Whether they had acquired international or national fame and sta­tus, all leaders including corporate leaders, had missions to fulfil and each such achievement of a mission was exemplified by their actual demonstrating to their followers, their own learning and how they thought they could put it to use. Each leader, be it Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, JRD or Ambani - one observes that every one of them spared not a single opportunity to put into practice in their own lives whatever they preached - because they wanted to demon­strate. At times they paid the price for it! But they did not stop demon­strating themselves. How would otherwise the team be convinced of the ways adopted? NR Narayana Murthy emphasises in all his inter­

views and his addresses that one has to lead by example.          '


The dictionary meaning reveals a very simplistic interpretation - 'to be able to understand someone else's feelings, because one has under­gone similar experiences' 0 Actually, in management, the word 'empathise' has been borrowed from the scientific studies and their application in the field of Social Work. Social Work depends heavily on counselling - both individual and group. Individual counselling is referred to as Casework and group counselling as Groupwork. In both forms of counselling, empathy becomes an important tool towards developing rapport. You are actually bringing yourself at par with the thought process and the frame of mind and the perception of the one you are counselling, without getting emotionally involved.

Every leader has to empathise with his followers to have a strong and intense following. The leader needs to be trusted by the team to deliver - empathising helps to achieve that trust, which needs to be reju­venated from time to time


Let's look at the traditional gurushishya parampara. Recognition was the path to motivation. Arjuna was recognised as the most accom­plished disciple of Dronacharya. Eklavya cut off his thumb to achieve a similar recognition, which motivated him further to shoot more accu­rately despite the absence of his thumb. Ramakrishna Pararnhansa recognised Narendra Dutta - more commonly known as Swami Vivekananda - who volunteered to carry the message of the Vedanta, round the world. Dr. Parvinder Singh, former Chairman and Managing Director and the builder of Ranbaxy's corporate empire, had recognised and named D.S. Brar, the then Head of Marketing, as his successor. Recognition is something that has to be inevitably provided to the team members by the leader, based on the performance of the team members, failing which the latter would not have anything to look forward to. We keep taking of motivation as an essential ingredient of leadership and team building. We ought to be more conscious about this consistent need for motivation through recognition in the ‘process of leadership’.


The need to chisel and sharpen the knowledge and skills that a leader assimilates and also to encourage and ascertain that his team members do the same is inescapable. Here is where the leader plays the role of an effective trainer and facilitator. Did not Mahatma Gandhi train and facilitate in his own charismatic manner the group of statemen who took over the reigns of independent India after it attained its freedom? Did not JRD train his successor Ratan Tata to deftly handle the corporate group companies of the Tata’s? In today’s changing scenario, NR Narayana Murthy states in an interview, “…core competencies…. Our people’s ability to learn a new paradigm of technology, to deploy it and provide benefit in terms of the quality and productivity of our people.” The point that needs to be driven home here is the ability to deploy. This is what adds to sharpening of knowledge and skills – both of the leader and his team members.


the competencies need to be constantly upgraded to attain those ‘heights’, where your competitor would not find an easy way to reach and you and your team, continue to achieve the unsurpassable ‘competitive advantage’ Dr. Deepak Chopra, the former chief of Staff of the Boston Regional Medical Centre, the noted author of many a book on health and a prominent speaker on leadership and entrepreneurship, was once asked as to what made him tick. He replied, “I think the main thing is that I really enjoy myself and I have a passion for what I do. There’s always something new round the corner for me every time I open my eyes. “whether they be the team members or the leader himself, they have to be geared to cope with change by ‘upgrading’ themselves and taking their competencies to those heights, from where competition is left far behind. Notwithstanding the success stories of General Electric, Sony, Shell which have their roots elsewhere in the world, Reliance, Infosys, Sahara of your country also have stories to tell about how they have left behind competition (for a while maybe!) by heightening their competencies with an effective leadership process.

*Innovate:          ­

Azim Premji, Chairman, Wipro Corporation, when invited by AIMA to deliver his address on ‘leadership’, on his receiving India’s most covered award – Businessman of the Year of Business India – states 2 points as characteristic of a good leader which were different from the usual explanations. A good leader is one who can among his team members, ignite imagination’ and generate excitement’. How would one do these if there were no challenges round the corner for the team members? One has to show the way up the value chain. Innovation is the buzzword and the answer to change and uncertainties. Once the competencies have been created and ‘heightened’ the implementation of the conceived innovation/innovations, commences Evidently, the leadership process being to firm up its foothold. Look to what extent Wipro Corporation has innovated! From a soap and hair oil marketing company, today Wipro is a giant in the IT sector and has moved on the IT enabled services with its taking over a major stake in Spectramind, a well-known call centre.  


Once one has been able to bring about the changes through innovation, the sharpened and the heightened competencies would speak for themselves – through performance. Performance is the end result, which shows the quality of the inputs received by the ‘leadership process’ at the various stages illustrated above. Performance is what other – particularly the customers get to see and feel gratified about. I am reminded of a colleague and friend of mine who vehemently prevented me from presenting a case study, which highlighted the incessant efforts that were made in a process for making a project successful, because the success was yet to be seen. Success stories are therefore indicative of performance. Performance needs to be practised so that it would lead to consistency in performance and give the final 'Midas' touches to the leadership process.

The bottom line is that the leadership Process Chain or Cycle is equivalent to going up the value chain – because the stage of learning sets in once again!