25 Apr 2019 19:09 IST

Lessons in life and leadership from Rajat Gupta

A leader is defined not only by his achievements but also by how he overcomes fear and failure

It was a rare opportunity for FLAME University students, faculty, staff and other members of the audience to hear about the personal and professional journey of Rajat Gupta, former Global Managing Director of McKinsey & Co, at the launch of his memoir, Mind Without Fear. The book captures the highs and lows of his terrific and turbulent life.

My university has been consistent in its endeavours to bring industry leaders to campus to share their insights and experiences with the students. Over the year, there have been many leadership talks, but the one by Rajat Gupta was special, and left a lasting impression. The icing on the cake was escorting him around the campus as one of the two aide-de-camps and receiving an autographed copy of his book.

Some individuals aspire to become CXOs of multinational corporations while others take the entrepreneurial route to success. Rajat Gupta has done both, and exemplifies the best of Indian talent in global business. Considered the epitome of personal and professional excellence for decades, and despite being charged with and convicted for insider trading, Gupta is still greatly admired by leaders in all walks of life — business, politics and academia. Many today look up to him for lessons in life and leadership.

Key learnings

As a young professional, I found three key takeaways from Gupta’s talk on his accomplishments and challenges.

First, focus on professional development rather than career development. We must take a holistic approach towards building and improving skill-sets for the long run. A rewarding career would be an unintended outcome of hard work, coupled with determination and direction. Success may be delayed but won’t be denied; it compounds, like interest in the financial world. In a world where problem-solving involves a multi-dimensional approach and requires collaboration, one must strive to make others successful in order to be more successful oneself.

Second, listen to your heart and remove fear from your mind. Decision-making cannot be done in haste; we must learn to distinguish between the right decision versus the safe decision. A moment of carelessness, misjudgment or bad timing can prove to be detrimental or fatal. Peace of mind is sought by everyone; it enables an individual to think through a problem or situation, and then take a calculated decision. Meditation helps, and introspection, or reflecting to amend current and future actions, is the essence of consciousness.

And the last is that important learnings come from facing adversities in life. One must deal with the ups and downs with equanimity; it is only then that one achieves inner peace. Equanimity is mental or emotional composure, especially under tension or strain. At an evolving workplace and in disruptive times, it is critical to maintain one’s calm, which is imperative to existence and the success of an individual.

The rough and the smooth

Gupta’s book vividly captures his entire life, from a tough childhood to excelling at IIT Delhi and Harvard Business School. It is interesting to note that Gupta went from being rejected by McKinsey & Co at Harvard the first time to leading the firm world-wide. He is known for his philanthropic initiatives, including chairmanship of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Advisory Board, Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and establishment of the Indian School of Business, the American India Foundation, and the Public Health Foundation of India.

Rajat Gupta has survived and excelled in both the good and bad times of life. He continues to be a beacon of inspiration for youngsters.

(The writer is an MBA student at FLAME University, Pune.)