Straight Angle™: Thoughts on Leadership - Vivek Paul
Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Thoughts on Leadership - Vivek Paul 

My Thoughts on Leadership - Vivek Paul, CEO, Wipro Technologies

BITS Alumni Magazine

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. Even in the same situation a leader at one particular time may be wholly inappropriate at another time. But if you hold aside the situational leader, there are many threads in common for those that lead through all seasons, and I share a few through some 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. Every great city, every wonder of the world, every giant corporation was built by some individual who kept pushing against the mountain and was, to the amazement of all, able to move it. When you start to put that shoulder to the first boulder, the task will appear impossible but you will find that when others believe in your vision and start applying their own minds and their shoulders, they will not only create a bigger force, but they in turn will also attract others, and even gargantuan tasks will shrink rapidly.

Change descends equally on everyone, but a few realize it faster than others. Many of these unreasonable leaders were able to see some change in their circumstance that would render doable what was until then considered the impossible. So look around you what do you see changing that requires a different approach. Sharpen the pattern recognition engine in your brain to see a technology shift, a social shift, an industry shift pick up on weak signals and seize the agenda. So go explore the limits of knowledge read, interact with smart people, always ask questions so every day you can steadily push further and further back the dark boundary of ignorance.

Every day we struggled to make things better, and after a few years when we looked back, it looked like a strategy, is a quote I have heard attributed to Shoichiro Honda when asked about his strategy for success. This is a reminder that while vision and change are good, they are of little value unless accompanied by the daily struggle. It is no surprise that few successful organizations do not also have a reputation of being incredibly hard working and fastidious.

Nothing is impossible for the man who doesnt 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 make 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 a 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. Second, is listen respectfully and with an open mind to your team. Both the talent and the diversity of your team are huge assets. Never be afraid to hire people who are smarter than you, more experienced than you, and never hesitate to create a mix of experiences, genders and strengths. 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, and break away from any self imposed limitations. As a leader, you will find there are few people to say well done, or to reconfirm your agenda against the whirlwinds of uncertainty. 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 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, be willing to struggle for it demanding more of yourself than others, be unreasonable in terms of your expectations, have an infinite faith in yourself, surround yourself with a diverse and strong team, 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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