Mr. Leader…. What Choices Are You Making?

Posted in Human Resources Articles, Total Reads: 1116 , Published on 13 September 2012
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In corporate world, at some stage of career, one shall be in the leader’s shoes. Every leader encounters some situations where he/she is supposed to make a difficult choice. For a leader, the questions to be answered are, first whether one is able to identify the situation(s) to be thought upon for making a choice at the right instant, and then, whether one is able to make the right choice or not- speed and accuracy. The article below tries to explore how these elements of the backend thought process of a leader influence the ‘decisions’ taken and eventually how the ‘results’ get (mis-)driven due to these decisions.

So Mr. Leader…. What choices are you making?


Are you sure you are appraising ‘yourself’ the right way?

To make a quick relation with the context, let’s consider this. In Nov 2009, Sachin Tendulkar hit a massive 175 against Australia at Hyderabad.In the presentation ceremony, despite being declared the man of the match, he had a sulky disinterested face, for the only reason that India failed to win the match. He had the choice of being a contented man who achieved the milestone of being a MOM. But then, his priorities were different. Sachin displayed traits of transformational leadership- emphasizing the greater good of the team.

Now, here’s the choice Mr. Leader. Do you view your success in ‘you’scoring a century or in victory of your ‘team’? In a company, do you carry out the operations in a way which enables ‘you’ to leave the office in time or which facilitates comfort for your ‘team’? What’s your immediate goal for the year? To earn a seven digit annual salary for ‘yourself’, or to have your ‘project’ earn an n-digit revenue? Is your company’s vision about promoting ‘your’ ideals or ‘its’?  In technical parlance, it’s the difference between transactional and transformational leadership.

To prefer the first alternative in each case is not essentially incorrect or unethical. It’s just that, your focus is tuned to enjoying the fruits of your new status. However, for a leader,the team/project/company has to be a going and growing concern.Driven by personal targets, the leader can undoubtedly take the team to new heights, but the success is short-lived then. Once the ‘leader’ reaches the desired individual status, the downfall of the team, in terms of results, is inevitable.

How do you evaluate your direct reports? Are you ‘convinced’ about your metrics of evaluation? Do you need to be ‘convinced’ or be ‘clear’…?

Let’s take this situation, which is very common in India.Inc these days. A company’s management deciding to lay off its finance manager because the returns or the earnings do not quench its monetary expenses for the last few months(say 9 months). Questions to the management: In consonance with your financial constraints, did you enhance your expectations from your finance head? In last nine months, did you make the concerned employee ‘consistently’ realize that there is a huge deficit between expectations and reality? If not, then were you NOT concerned about the company’s financial targets? If yes, then were you scared of being harsh to your subordinates?

If yes, then Mr. leader, its critical to know that a leader is there to hold direct reports ‘accountable’ rather than making oneself‘endearing’ to them. You are simply worried about being confrontational, owing to highly formalized structures that were, until very recently, the norm.The assumption is that in our culture, people tend to be defensive, and more formal than not.

Also, being entirely task-oriented or entirely people-oriented is not the point.It’s a misconception that a happy-happy situation can get wonders done.In fact, a recent study by Gallop, a reputable consulting firm, says that new employees are a lot more engaged than older employees.In Indian context, that is difficult to swallow, as most of the previous generation have spent their entire career in a single company.So, where does all this leave the leader?

To put it simply, make the right choice, the difficult choice- as it may come to be. Communication of objectives, honest appraisal and feedback helps encourage the talent and ensures that the right people stay back.In effect, either you choose to delight your subordinates for nine months or then land up in a situation to fire him after having stumpy results or you can choose to hold them liable throughout the year, preventing a bad show.

On the other hand, If the fault lies at your door, then were you ‘clear’ about your company’s financial aims and plans? If not, then why not? Weren’t you ‘convinced’ about the plans at your end? Did you fear having a plan which may later prove you ‘wrong’ in front of your team? If yes, then Mr.Leader, lets attack the root cause. A leader who doesn’t know what exactly he expects from his subordinates can never hold them ‘accountable’.

A leader, even if he surpasses the lure of being lovable amidst the team, can falter badly if he chooses to be ‘sure’ of his plan. Its compounded further when he waits to communicate the plan till he is certain of it. Mr. Leader, its fine if the plan is subjected to changes later. But at any instant, having a definite plan is THE need to have accountability. And as a leader, even though one takes some erroneous decisions, with time and practice, the probability of making right decisions in one shot rises. In a nutshell, its better to be ‘clear’ than being ‘convinced’ or being ‘sure’.

Clarity by means of goal-setting, delegation and timelines in tandem with performance based incentives – this is a norm rather than exception in theory,but putting it to practice and actually driving it as an organizational culture- that involves visionary leadership. For instance, OP Bhatt revamped the entire system at SBI, and brought SBI to a level PSUs could never dream of at that time.

Do you dislike discord and disagreements in meetings and discussions? Yes..? Then, this is the toughest trap for you,Mr.Leader, to beat.

Some time back in Europe, there was a company manufacturing bicycles. At its inception, an estimate of its break-even was given according to which after 15 months, the company will be able to generate surplus. The company did make surplus money after 15 months, but they realized that the money now they had was insufficient to carry out present operations and meet current expenses as now the same expense demanded more, on account of inflation. To meet the requirement, they borrowed money and committed to repay after two years.

Production and sales targets for two years were made again ignoring the fact that the targets should be set keeping in mind the after-effects of inflation and the firm found itself in trouble again after two years. Later it was discovered that finance department, despite being highly apprehensive, never discussed this concern with sales and the sales department could never imagine about this concern of inflation…!! Probing further, the root cause was that people feared getting into arguments since conflicts were either discouraged or never encouraged.

As a leader, one not only needs to ‘encourage’ disagreements, but going a step further, needs to ‘like’ them. By disagreements, we do not mean fights and heated arguments. We mean those fruitful incongruities, which bring out ‘comprehensive’ results and decisions. Constructive conflict is necessary, so is a healthy discontent - the cause for change. For churning out cream out of milk, milk has to be agitated. One cannot imagine cream being whipped out of milk in a ‘settled’ state. Again, maintaining so called ‘harmony’ is not a bad idea. But then one needs to choose whether one wishes to get cream out of milk or not…

Why is this trap the toughest one?

This trap might appear to be the same as the attraction to be endearing, but no, it’s drastically different. Here as a leader, one needs to get the ‘team’ out of this deep-rooted lure to be liked.

But how? Of course, one cannot tell this verbally or write this in a mail. However, not conveying this can be fatal as seen in the example above. All right, let’s go a layer deeper. Why would one resist to challenge a statement and be disliked (even though temporarily)? This is because challenging someone might invite criticism and people who avoid feedback are generally insecure by nature. As a trend, rather as a misconception, aversion to criticism is considered as an indicator of insecurity. People, when they observe confident colleagues, they fear to challenge them as then they shall be tagged and viewed as ‘insecure’.

It’s actually about cognizance of the fact that it’s generally ideas that are criticized, not people. Unfortunately, many miss that part.

Now, as a leader, one should attack from the other side. Be open to criticism for ‘your’ ideas during discussions and let this mean ‘insecurity’ to others. When the highest ‘perceived’ member of the team (leader) is seen as one NOT scared of being branded insecure, why would anyone else hesitate to be so?

The reason for which this is most difficult knot to disentangle is, it takes a really big heart and a lot of patience to be consistently capable of being one as described above. But this is the cost,Mr.Leader, you’ll have to pay for tossing up your people from their comfort zone to a state where stirring out the best ideas becomes ‘their’ priority. And that’s why, they call YOU the Leader and not everyone else J

Essentially, character and connect comes before reasoning-because, leaders cannot be who they are if they do not reach beyond what is strictly business.

Leading by example, connecting with mates, having a vision, setting targets, chasing those, be it any other aspect of leadership, all these are simply manifestations of a leader’s thought process. In each of these aspects, a leader has to make a choice, which if delayed or taken with even slight carelessness, can be disastrous.

To concentrate just on manifestations, or to polish the thought-process that leads to effective manifestations, is again a choice for all Leaders to make…!!

This article has been authored by Aparna P and Vibhu Gangal from SCMHRD.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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