Organizational Leadership

“Leadership consists of nothing but taking responsibility for everything that goes wrong and giving your subordinates credit for everything that goes well”-Dwight D. Eisenhower

Last week Prof David Peters from Johns Hopkins University (JHU) was in our institute, addressing our faculty members for a short while. As an established public health practitioner, overseeing his division of 140 plus researchers and academicians with research network and collaborations across most countries in the world, he took up an impromptu session on career building with our faculty members at a mere notice of 5 minutes.

Through an informal discussion, Dr Peters examined the current level of research engagement in each faculty, where they wished to see themselves in five years and the opportunities and support they would need to do so including self work. He also helped acknowledge the challenges in our systems and ways to deal with them. These are not aspects that our faculty is unaware of, and given that solutions in the context of JHU may be quite different from our own indigenous solutions, there is always a scope for deeper introspection. However, the leadership quality he demonstrated was impressive. For the two hours, he held everyone’s attention. The engagement was participatory and there was an element of mentorship without being patronizing. Nor did he express his mastery over any particular area. He was more facilitative than overbearing.

The next day, the new Director of our institute (another seasoned public health practitioner) sat down with all faculty members and helped them devise a personal research plan, based on each person’s training and expertise, interests and where they wished to reach in some year’s time. There was an accountability plan as well along with it, each faculty was asked to write milestones, deliverables albeit self assessed and self proposed. I have worked in many organizations, however, this was the first time I came across a true leadership driven activity where a career plan was being devised for individual member with an accountability framework. I certainly hope that a supporting and enabling environment is provided to fulfill these individual goals. Our institute is small with a small team of faculty, hence face to face meetings, individual plans may work. In bigger groups, especially where there are 140 researchers involved, a lot is derived by setting an example that trickles down from top to bottom. More like stewardship that has been explained in a number of journal articles.

It’s not always about salary increments and benefits. Sometimes employees stay back in an organization because of self and career development plans that override benefits. Leadership involves looking outside oneself, creating an atmosphere for team members to rise and also be accountable for their actions, while mentoring them throughout. Most importantly, a leader understands the practical realities of their team members, resources, limitations and designs future plans accordingly.

  • How important is it for organization leaders to have social interactions with their colleagues?

“Sometimes you have to take a break from being the kind of boss that’s always trying to teach people things. Sometimes you just have to be the boss of dancing”.-Michael Scott, The Office

The answer to some extent lies in a mutual attitude. From my personal experience, Directors of institutes who had a regular faculty and staff meeting with their colleagues over a cup of tea had greater commitment from employees to solve organizational issues in a collective way. Not just issues, but volunteering in organizational activities also rose.

  • How important is it to reiterate organization values amongst the employees?

“Ten soldiers wisely led will beat a hundred without a head”.- Euripedes

There is no harm in reiterating organizational values like quality, accountability and trust at employee meetings. However, the leadership should also demonstrate these values amply before harping about them. Sometimes honesty goes a long way, real life stories also help where the leadership may explain that they set out to achieve something and were unable to, however they learnt something more important in that process. Being a leader doesn’t mean 100% success rate, it just means that one is able to cope with life in a much better way.

  • People management vs time management

“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” –Theodore Roosevelt

The answer is in making an impact. Organizational leaders are hard pressed for time between internal, external engagements, overseeing all the activities within organization, making decisions and also traveling around the world. Yes there is a need for balance in everything, however, making an impact in everything one does, adding value to meetings, however small these are, would be one way to leave a lasting impression. While delegation is a part of management, even more important is to know who can accomplish what in the given time.

  • Being able to take risks

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”. –Michael Scott, The Office

In spite of having a deep understanding of whether a team can accomplish a task, the leader is still open to taking risks and challenging the norms. Yes there is a line between taking an intelligent risk and stupidity, but the leader has a sixth sense in terms of understanding that their team would rise above their own comfort zones to achieve a certain goal. Sometimes trust and confidence go a long way. For the first time, our new Director is moving the academic section from paper copies of books to kindle/tab versions. This is not a new aspect in India. Most Indian Institutes of Technology’s have moved to e-books a long time ago. But someone had to come to our institute of 10 years and make that move.

Leaders are perhaps not born, but made through their experiences, ambitions and will to work hard. Mostly importantly leaders are made through their undying faith in others and their undying faith in their own strengths.

The Man-the Legend

13amitabh-bachchan3   bachchandeewaar  feat

I was watching the movie ‘Pink’ the other evening, and yet again, was wowed by Mr Bachchan’s effortless performance (though I must thank all actors of this movie for doing justice to their roles, however small). Although, the movie itself was more predictable and stuck to its mainstream roots, I enjoyed watching it, especially because after years, I could finally watch a full length uninterrupted movie on the television. Usually, the only thing running on the box now days is something Barbie or Doremon or Frozen. Though I like animations and Ratatouille, How to train your dragon, Bugs life are highly watchable, it is quite empowering to claim the TV remote for one evening and be its master. It did take some bartering with the remote’s seven year old owner, a few princess stickers, a bowl of her favorite ramen noodles and a promise that this Diwali, it would be alright to wear an electric magenta nail colour (eesh….absolutely petrificious!) but finally, the remote was mine.

To many belonging to my generation in India, we have grown old with AB’s movies being a part of our lives. He’s been an omnipresent force at every step of our growth.

I remember when I was in middle school, my mother meeting me halfway on my way back home from school, and us going together for early evening shows of Mr Bachchan’s films. My mother did introduce me to his movies and in those days, she was this energetic, vivacious woman full of life, running around the house and neighborhood, raising me. For most of my adult life, however, my mother has been confined to the walls of home, fighting her rheumatoid arthritis and leading a life of quite seclusion. Hence, the time we spent together laughing at the movies, at the wonderful, sometime witty and sometimes downright crass dialogues of ABs movies are very dear to me. These were the times, when I watched with joy, the sense of freedom and control my mother possessed. I hope I bond with my own daughter, the same way, and am able to make happy memories with her.

Mr Bachchan’s life in itself is very inspiring. It is true that when the mighty fall, they fall hard and the climb back to the top is steeper, second time. But he shows us that it is possible to collect oneself and reach an even higher peak through hard work, diligence and sheer strategic thinking. I do not think there is any role that he cannot portray. I often compare him with Robbin Williams and Kevin Spacey, although AB has embodied far greater versatile roles than either of the others.  His ability at seamlessly moving around from one accent/dialect to the other and his command over both Hindi and English is excellent. Paired with it is his sense of humility. Though we may be different in our private and professional lives, AB comes across as someone, who is aware of how a common man leads his life in modern day India, as much as someone who is higher up and makes decisions for the country and respects both as is very evident from his shows and interviews.

What impresses me most about him is his ability to change with the times. He has not only fit into the years well, but has contributed to every era he has been around. He influences everyone he works with, most of his costars respect him and those much younger look upto him as an idol to emulate, both in the acting profession and as a dignified public figure. His leadership skills, his talent and his life is a lesson for everyone.

It is true that many with talent, do not obtain opportunities to shine, but only a few utilize life’s opportunities and are able to maintain their hold on being at the top for more or less their entire lives.

Happy festival season!

Picture Acknowledgements:

Youthconnect, filmconnect and Rediff