One of India’s most well known and respected leaders from the IT industry, Gardener and Vice Chairman at MindTree, Subroto Bagchi is also the author of three business best-sellers. In his current role, Bagchi interacts with the Top 100 leaders on their “personal-professional” issues, and works with them to expand their leadership capacity. Known the world over, Bagchi communicates at the grassroots level to foster organizational learning. He recently shared his views with Emploi Globale. Some excerpts:
Q: In your book, Go Kiss the World, you have spoken about Servant Leadership, and creating leadership capacity within the top people of the organization. Can you elaborate on how this can be done across multiple organizations?
A: The idea of servant leadership is not new. Mahatma Gandhi talked about it. It is relevant in the context of the post-modern organization that does away with the concept of hierarchy. Knowledge and competence are more important than rank. In the industrial economy, inefficient people could hide behind rank; today it is no longer the case. Given the fact that we can no longer “rule” over our subordinates, the new imperative is to work to make them more effective and more successful. In every form of organization, the shift is now to the field, the front, and given that, a leader’s first job is to serve those who man the outpost.
Servant leadership is also about humility. Higher up I go, more humble I must become in my attitude, my claim to impact and everything else. Finally, servant leadership is about the conviction that I am just a means to an end; I am not the purpose, I am the mode of conveyance; like a municipal water pipe, my job is to deliver the water and not quench my own thirst.
Q: How can potential leaders develop a demeanor that suggests receptivity, which is an important ingredient for successful leaders?
A: We can receive only with an empty mind and an open hand. In a corporate sense, this manifests itself in seeking help across the line. It is about admitting that “I” am not the reason, the cause, the purpose or the centre of things. I am who I am because of people around me. The Japanese say that the mind can be a mountain or a valley. However tall a mountain is, and however torrential the rain on it, it cannot hold water. To hold water, you need to make your mind a valley.
Receptivity is a body thing before it is a mind thing, if the body does not listen, the mind cannot. We listen through all five senses – a surgeon listens through the fingers, a manager listens through her eyes, a tea taster or a wine expert listens through the taste buds, listening is not just through the ears. We need to train all five senses actively and continuously to build receptive capacity.
Q: How do you recognize a future successful leader? How do you encourage his receptivity? What are the signs that would convey he would become a successful leader in the future?
A: While this may seem like a vast issue, we can often look for signs through small things. When candidates are asked to speak about their lives in an interview, there is always one set of people who describe their achievements. On the other hand, there are those who quote instances and individuals who have influenced their lives in various ways; while taking credit, they are generous with the acknowledgment. The latter are the ones who credit their lives and success to the power of people around them. This clearly points to their capacity to receive.
The second interesting thing about the power to receive is about who you ascribe your failures to. A person with a good power to receive is the one who ascribes his or her success to the team, a set of situations or even luck. In addition, such a person never blames other people or situations for his failures.
In interviews I ask people to tell me about things about themselves that the resume does not. Usually, they ask me, “Where do I begin?”. I tell them to begin from the beginning. I sit back and listen intently and look for signs: some candidates present an islandic or singularly capable view of his or her life and then there are those who give you a sense of being connected and collaborating.
Q: What role do human traits like passion and emotions play in building an organization? Can they be seen as strengths?
A: Daniel Pink presented a core idea in his book, ‘A Whole New Mind’. He explains how the last century was predominantly led by left brain people while this century will be led by right brain people. Differentiation and the right brain go hand in hand. Organizations are about differentiation, breakthroughs, ideation and innovations, which according to the post-modern thinkers come from the right brain. Daniel Pink also mentions in his book that the three killers of differentiation are automation, abundance and Asia. When confronted by this triad, you rise above the pack only when led by the right brain. Thus, understanding the total picture and relationships, hence emotions is quintessential in a leader of tomorrow.
Q: Having worked with global leaders, do you think Indian leaders have a stronger ability to work with right brain or left brain thinking?
A: Indians are naturally suited to see totality. We are more networked than others. However, that does not give us an instant edge. Peter Drucker said that management in the last century was a child of modern science. The core of modern science is the cause-effect theory as against the big picture. Thanks to the education system in India, we produce more cookie cutter engineers and MBAs than people who are truly in touch with the right brain, understand its potential and use it well. We are in some sense factory-fitted with higher right brain capacity but we let it rust and fade into the background.
Q: Do you see a leadership talent shortage in Indian companies? If yes, how can these companies attract global talent to India?
A: I don’t think there is a shortage of talent. However, I believe there is a shortage of talent cultivation and harvesting. Our view of leadership development has been that it is the job of a department and sometimes a paid outsider; we must see this as a critical piece of legacy creation by top management and leaders among leaders must be personally invested in the cause.
Speaking about attracting global leaders and talents to work from India, we have a serious societal and infrastructural handicap. In order to attract a global talent, the company first needs to attract the spouse and children of the talent. India has to be made livable and secure as per global standards. Secondly, we have to prioritize diversity. Once these are achieved, we can attract global talent to India.
Q: How can mid-level companies attract global talent from bigger companies?
A: The missing component in large companies is freedom and intimacy. This is not the case with mid-tier companies, and that is an advantage.
Q: You have stated that you view your role as one of a Gardener, you nurture leadership at the top level, and also work at the grassroots with various communities of practice. How do you see organizations inculcate the “Gardener” philosophy for shaping their own future?
A: The job of top leaders is to build leaders. That is a one-on-one thing like a gardener must tend to his or her plants in a one-on-one manner. Each plant has different needs at different times and the gardener must anticipate those and be proactive. The plants do not come to the gardener; the gardener must go to where the plants may be. The plants do not serve the gardener; the gardener serves the plants. The gardener must know a useful plant from a weed. Organizations of tomorrow must build such a view so that they build leaders.
The post-modern organization is a community of communities. Communities of practice represent the spirit of volunteerism and are what we call the ‘hetroarchy” as against the hierarchy. The organization exists, largely outside the org-chart. We need to engage with the white space in the org-chart more than ever before.
Q: There is a dearth of leadership talent when it comes to the senior and mid-level. What steps do you believe organizations need to adopt to address this issue?
A: Invest with a long view of time; if you want to eat today, you should have sown the seeds last year. Leadership development is not a HR issue, it is a CEO issue.
Courtesy: Emploi Globale, Newsletter – December 2010