I was excited to see your overwhelming comments for this topic which commenced last week as a serial. I profusely thank all of you for your encouragements. For such of those who have joined this episode first time, here is the synopsis:
· All of us without exception wished to climb up in the corporate ladder and lead a large corporation or at least a group of people.
· Many of us climbed the ladder up to a certain level and declared as inadequate to go further. This applies to even Jim Mc Nerney, the CEO of Boeing who was shortlisted for stepping into the shoes of most celebrated CEO Jack Welch of GE and lost his chance to Jeff Immelt who was ten years younger to him when Jim was 51. Jim left GE and joined as a CEO in 3 M and later produced spectacular results for Boeing, the largest aircraft manufacturing company during his tenure as a CEO.
· This leads to a quest in our mind to know what are the characteristics that distinguishes one human being from another by virtue of which he or she could lead a corporate which many of us are not able to. Although it is an ocean of a question and no one can write a prescription which will be a panacea for everyone to apply to achieve what some of these exceptional leaders have achieved.
· I have started one more futile attempt which many authors have tried in the past to give cook-book solutions for leadership! In this series I am trying to narrate some of the characteristics observed by me during my meetings with many accomplished CEOs of Indian corporate world. The anecdotes are disguised some times to secure the identity of people. I welcome you to explore the hidden potentials of you to become the CEO of one of the corporate in the future.
· In my last episode I explored two topics namely “Going Extra mile” and “Self-esteem”. I invite my new readers to read these topics before continuing this episode-2.
I wish to explore a few more qualities of a successful Leader in this episode:
Highly Talented a** hole vs highly talented team player:
Please pardon me for using the often uttered American phrase which is the influence of reading a recent book “You cannot order change” by Peter S Cohan in which he describes one of the characteristics for climbing the corporate ladder is to avoid becoming a pain in the neck when we are high performing individuals but very poor team players. Let me explain from my own life experience.
I secured ranks in my engineering educations and developed an arrogance, viewing everyone one else as cockroaches which is the syndrome of most of the rank holders. I was often described as a highly talented design engineer but a pain in the neck due to my poor interpersonal relationship. This was a big impediment to my growth as I needed the quality to become a good team player to occupy senior positions in the company as I have reached a stage where I was the next in line to become a Chief Designer.
My seniors tolerated my indifferent behaviour as I was a performer. I deserved a pink slip many times for my nasty kick backs towards many peers and bosses and narrowly escaped with feedback which I never took seriously. It never dawned on me that there was a need for transforming my personality till I was 34.
It is often said in Vedanta that the “Guru will arrive when the disciple is ready”. At last, I was lucky to have a mentor who could recognize that I am in a state of “One who knows not that he knows.” – One who has the ability to lead but he is in a state of slumber waiting to be woken up. Even great people like Swami Vivekananda needed a spark from Ramakrishna Paramahansa to wake him up.
My mentor and boss Anandakumaran Nair affectionately said that he will promote me as Chief Designer of Lucas- TVS with one condition. I will reproduce here with his own words “I am promoting you with one condition that you will make everyone to say that you are a good team player within six months and if you fail, I will demote you back as a designer.” He also gave me a clue by saying “The simplest way to become a team player is to go with a helping hand whenever someone needs your support”
One of the blessings of Lord to me is the GPS – a compass that was helping me to catch me going wrong and set me on the right course which eventually Nair’s words did. I took a U-turn from a “Highly talented X hole to a highly talented team player”. The rest is a history which gave me promotion every two years till I headed the highest levels in the technology stream in Crompton Greaves. No one knows what would have been my fate if my mentor had not arrived in my life.
Today in my consulting career I see many blind folded NCs (that is me) in their 50s doing the same thing what I did in my thirties. Alas, what big opportunities these “Highly talented X holes” are missing in their life. I chose to write this topic with a hope that some of them shall read and get a spark in their life. If they don’t do, their corporate will miss great CEOs and they will retire blaming everything else other than themselves!
I have come across a few top performing managers in certain corporates who have completely lost their ability to get along with their peers, bosses and sub-ordinates. These individuals although contribute to the growth of the organization, score very low in their 360 degrees evaluation. In spite of several feedbacks from their seniors, they refuse to alter their attitude till they are side lined. On the other hand there are people who may be mediocre in their performance but are excellent team players.
I had the privilege of coaching CEOs during my consulting career and often one of the biggest obsessions of high performing CEOs are “How to deal with these highly talented X holes? Let me try and explain why some of us reach this syndrome and live in a state of “One who knows not that he knows not is a fool”.
Unfortunately we were not taught how to become a good team player either during our education or mentoring. May be due to competition mentality injected during our childhood by parents and teachers when we were in school, we always wanted to win in all our human interactions. Due to this folly we lost our ability to relinquish our individual identity and merge with the team’s identity. I often find this quality of individual is of paramount importance to break the barrier of individual identity and grow as talented team players as they are most preferred than others!
I wish to quote the words of Jim McNerney the legendary aerospace giant who is one of the most accomplished CEOs of this century:
“You cannot order change. After all, there is only one of me and 1,60,000 of them.”
Jim is saying that even though he is in a powerful position as a CEO, is powerless as all the 1,60,000 people in the corporation must be willing to hear and get convinced about what the leader is saying. After all people will enrol only when they are seeing what is there in it for them?
Recognizing the fact that we are not alone on this planet and we need the help of everyone else for our survival and comfort is the most difficult task. This is evident in a simple exercise of analysing everything that we use during our day which are the result of someone else’s hard work – the food we eat from the farmers, the cloth we wear from the weavers and so on. Unless otherwise we have a sense of gratitude we have no way of overcoming the syndrome of “I am the greatest! and don’t need to recognize the other human beings in my life.” If we fail to transition into a “highly talented X hole to a “highly talented team player” we will miss the bus once and for all.
- We are not alone on this planet
- To remain sane in life, we need to live in the presence of all human beings.
- Psychology says “we can remain sane only for 30 days if you are left alone without any human beings around, as our identity is the result of the presence of other human beings”
- We cannot accomplish anything without the support of all other team players.
- It is not enough that we are highly talented – this thinking will lead you to a state of “Highly talented X hole” and get side lined
- Transition to “highly talented team player” is the key to growth in the corporate ladder
· Learn to be a good team player before you could lead teams as a CEO.
The Serial will continue. See you next week in Episode-3 with more tips on Stature building for Leadership
Jai Guru Dev
Jai Guru Dev