Learning To Be Better Leaders
By Anand Prasad Kruttiventi
This series of articles are my personal learning and reflections of working with and observing leaders in business, government and society in general over the last 35 years of my working career. In this period, I have worked in 6 different countries in various capacities. What I liked most was directing the Leadership Development efforts of two very large, global companies that are leaders in their industries.
One of my beliefs is that while we can always see what others leaders DO, we can’t emulate those actions. Nor is it the best way to develop our own leadership potential. It is easy enough to see what Bill Gates does as a leader. It is both difficult and unprofitable to mimic his leader behavior. His context and his reality are different from ours.
I believe the best way to learn from leaders like Gates is to understand their thinking frameworks; the internal workings of the machinery of leadership inside those people. I believe this is a better way to develop our own leadership potential in a sustainable manner.
This could also help us avoid the fads that are always present around us – servant leadership, inspirational leadership, mindful leadership, and so on. While all these types of leadership have many insights we can learn from, none of them are panaceas – each of us needs to develop our own philosophy of leadership and our own personal style in order to sustain our growth as leaders over a lifetime.
In this first article, I will lay down the framework of my own thinking, drawing from my observations of leaders. In subsequent articles, I will deal with each of the elements of this framework in depth.
Here is the framework.
1. They Compete and they Win: Firstly, leaders are competitive. They thrive in competition. They aspire to betterment and they like to do the more difficult thing. As one of the leaders of women’s tennis, Victoria Azarenka said in a TV interview, “The easy is boring”. They typically compete in the following ways:
a. Compete with existing records of excellence:Leaders like to set new records of excellence. In their quest for new records, their competition is always with the standard of excellence, not with people who hold the current record. Jack Welch of GE wanted all his businesses to be #1 or #2 in their industries. Tha was a nearly un-heard standard of excellence at that time.
b. Compete with their own record of excellence:Leaders like to beat their own records all the time. One of the most apparent ways they do it when they set financial and commercial goals – next quarter is usually always better or higher than the last quarter. Steve Jobs’ obsession with creating the ultimate interface with technology produced so many excellently designed products that were all better than the last one.
c. Create unique accomplishments:Leaders often want to leave a legacy that is difficult to replicate. Sometimes, it is the businesses they create; sometimes it is the product/ technology that are unique; sometimes it is the way of doing business. While having many forms of expression, this desire to be a stand-out, a path-breaker/ pioneer, a change agent is another quality of the thinking of best leaders.
d. They create conditions for winning:They create winning businesses and organizations. This is reflected in:
- Choice and Commitment: Leaders choose where they play and compete. And, once they choose which is often late and at the last minute, they fully commit themselves to that particular path, nearly to the exclusion of other alternatives. Through this commitment, the invest resources, energy, people, and themselves in pursuit of the goal that they have chosen. Choice focuses the energy and resources of the organization and commitment provides the level of self-belief and concentration on the goal.
- Focus on Execution: Once the choice has been made and resources committed, best leaders make execution easy. They invest up front in communication, in getting people on-board the chosen path, in training them to capable and placing the right people in the right places. Once this up-front effort is completed, execution occurs without distractions, without a lot of cross-talk and dissent, without too much re-training while in action.
- Culture of Performance: Great leaders create and nurture a culture of high performance that is clearly balanced by fairness. Culture of high performance is usually evident in the milestones for progress that are set up; results that are published broadly for everyone involved to be clearly aware of progress and problems; a review process that focuses on learning from the past period to do better in the next period of action. Fairness is evident in this culture in two ways – 1) Performance Feedback that is data-based; and 2) a reward/ pay structure that is geared to the market.
- They are present: Best of leaders are in touch with the reality all the time – about themselves, their business, their customers, their consumers, their operating environment, their best people, and their management. They seek and quest for feedback on all these aspects so that they can learn, change and do better. They don’t set goals and depart for the golf course. They are present in action with their people all the time.
2. They develop others into leaders: Great leaders are not threatened by people with better abilities than themselves. They love to see such people achieve their full potential and do all that they can to help them grow. They take risk – they place the people with most potential, sometimes less tested people into the most critical and challenging roles in the business. They create space where their people can be innovative and are able to take initiatives and risk. They give autonomy gladly and also support and help with equal level of happiness.
3. They work at being better leaders every day:Best of leaders are conscious of their actions; they are mindful and purposeful in most of their behavior, especially public behavior. They learn constantly and from everything and everyone. They are curious. They love to teach because that is one of the best ways to learn – especially about themselves.
This, in short is my framework for being the best leader one can be and continue growing every day. In future articles, I will examine each element of this framework in some depth and offer some real-life observations and commentary on leaders that I knew or I observed.