Leadership today has to recognise that they have to kill or give away some of the skills that they had in the past, said Shiv Shivakumar, Group Executive President, Aditya Birla group, while delivering the hundredth lecture in the joint-lecture series organised by Madras Management Association (MMA) and Andhra Chamber of Commerce, at MMA recently. He delivered a talk on changing leadership expectations.
Shivakumar gave an overview of the management lessons picked from history over the last 100 years and said that post World War I and II, the government was the key to building economies. “The lessons of leadership came from the military and Generals like Eisenhower and Rommel. The 1950s were the industrialists’ era and the model of leadership was around what the industrialists in the US like Rockefeller, JP Morgan, and Carnegie; and elsewhere were doing. In the 1960s, the world saw the hardware era. The 1970s led to the start of global branding. Nescafe and Coco-Cola were one of the first few brands to go global,” he explained.
This, Shiv continued, was followed by globalisation in the 1990s, the digital and mobile phone era in the 2000s, and the platform era from 2020, which is marked by disruptive ideas. Pointing out that each era has had a lesson for leadership, he said that till about five years ago, our leaders communicated their thoughts to the outside world through media and journalists but now they do it through social media and their own vehicles.
Beginning and an end
He narrated how the birth of a new thing leads to the death of some other thing. “The mobile phone brought the death of the disposable camera. Social media has led to the death of traditional journalism. Selfies marked the death of autographs. OTT is the death of sleep, thanks to binge-watching. Dictation which was once a skill of leaders is now dead. Shorthand is there but there are no assistants,” he remarked.
He compared the top 10 most valuable companies and brands in the world today with that of ten years ago and discerned that tech companies now dominate the lists. With new types of companies like PEs/VCs, NGOs, start-ups and SPACs (Special Purpose Acquisition Companies) emerging on the horizon, the leadership is now much broader spread, he said and added that there are more avenues for leadership to grow and the dimensions of leadership in each area is very different.
With the average tenure of a CEO reducing globally to five years and in India to four years, the focus is now on achieving results in the short term. “Everybody talks about VUCA world. My definition of VUCA for leadership is Versatility, Uncomfortable (Being uncomfortable in comfortable times), Collaboration, and Agility,” he said and detailed the changing leadership needs.
Top 10 leadership needs
- Lead and change, not react. Guess and put into play some mechanism, so you can win.
- Be a ‘knowledge sponge,’ absorbing information from beyond your industry and putting out insights for your people.
- Develop people through meetings, coaching, the way you conduct yourself and the questions you ask rather than the answers you provide.
- Build relationships with everybody in your ecosystem. The days of independent growth are over.
- Be accountable. If anything goes wrong in your company, you have to stand up and say, ‘I am accountable.’
- Have high self-awareness. When you are a leader, nobody tells you the truth. So, seek multi-source feedback.
- Inspire through personal work, habits, and personal behaviour. Inspiration must come from lofty ideals and walking the talk.
- Communicate using different platforms. Be 24 by 7 with the team. Whether people listen or not is a different matter but that’s what they expect from their leaders.
- Have no place for complacency. Do not postpone even for a minute something which you can do right now.
- Get REAL. This is my acronym for Relevance, Excellence, Authenticity and Luck. Leaders have to be relevant and excellent at what they do. Being authentic means sticking to a few values and communicating them consistently all the time. As the world shortens, you must have luck by your side. You might tick all the boxes and still fail, so you need luck. But you need to be prepared for luck to favour you.
Beware of success traps
Answering an audience question on handling success and failure, Shiv regretted that the biggest problem for leaders today is success traps. Having been successful in the past with a particular formula, they try to repeat it. In a world which is disruptive, it may not work. So watch out for success traps, he alerted.
On handling pressure on the job, Shivakumar said that if we are pessimists, we invite pressure ourselves. Some are optimists and don’t take pressure, when they should actually be taking some pressure. Both ends on the spectrum are wrong. To handle pressure, first you must be healthy- by exercising, eating right and having the right habits. As a leader, you must have energy and focus, he said.
On work-life integration, Shivakumar said it is a deeply personal thing and no boss or company can give you that. “How you use the 24 hours a day is in your hand. Sometimes you need to give your family more time; sometimes you need to give your work more time, because both family and work will throw crises and challenges,” he said.
5G’s impact when rolled out, Shivakumar pointed out, will be phenomenal. “Assisted learning and assisted guidance will be some of the biggest things in metaverse. All the shopping which we do online in 2D now will happen in 3D.
You can wear the glass, pick an apple in a store, check it and buy it, all these sitting in your home. Right now, about 70 countries in the world have 5G. To roll it out in India, it takes time, as we need to build a whole ecosystem behind it,” he said.
Say no to jealousy
Has spirituality got anything to do with success? Shiv contended that spiritualism is a big movement which is on the rise. “It is one aspect of the Japanese term IKIGAI, which talks about purpose. People are trying to reach out and touch the roots from where they came. There are some people who are hyper and successful, who don’t take pressure. There are people who are very calm and serene but don’t deliver. There is no one formula for all. You must be comfortable at what you’re doing,” he felt.
On the current trends like moonlighting, frequent job-hopping and demand for WFH, Shivakumar said that the leaders must stick to the company policy. “I always tell my team,” he said, “Do what is right for the institution or the company. Then you’ll always win. Also, work well with other people. Unfortunately, due to shortening life cycles, there’s a lot of jealousy and pettiness at work today. Don’t just indulge in that.”
( The author is a freelance writer based in Chennai, a corporate trainer, and a visiting faculty for B-Schools)