27 Dec 2018 19:26 IST

Creating a different kind of balance sheet

What are the assets and liabilities on your values, relationships and habits?

A new year is an opportunity for growth. It provides us a milestone to measure the progress of our leadership journey and renew ourselves for the journey ahead. So, how can we make it a meaningful milestone? One way is to ask ourselves how we can start afresh and begin the New Year with a clean sheet. Let’s look at a few ways.

Our values

At times, we choose wrong values. More than anything else, our values influence our leadership style. They are the foundation of every decision we make; the way we choose to spend our time; the stamina with which we pursue our goals. The New Year is a good time to ask ourselves: “What are my values?”. If they are time-tested and have had a positive impact on your leadership skills, then it’s time to renew the commitment to them and ask yourself how you can keep living out those values well. If they have not served you or your team well, it is time to leave destructive values behind and embrace new ones.

Perhaps your value has been “What’s in it for me?”. This can make a player selfish — engaging with colleagues, clients and bosses with a hidden agenda. Each interaction is a transaction and a potential benefit. Perhaps your value has been: “What will make me look good?”. This makes you take populist decisions, craving the approval of others rather than doing what is in the best interest of the team and the organisation.

We have read the news of businessman Carlos Ghosn’s arrest. A titan of turnarounds — someone many of us looked up to — is now behind bars. He is not accused of any competence failures. He’s in jail for understating his income to evade taxes — a failure of values. What is often shocking for many young MBAs getting into the business world is to see how widespread corruption and the lack of values is in the corporate world. Kickbacks, pay-offs to get a deal, improper gifts accepted, double lives, bloated expense statements, the misuse of company property and time... This is not just the turf of politicians. Where we chose wrong, we need to resolve to start with a clean sheet. A leader needs to choose right — every day, every week, every year. Her values will define her.

Our relationships

As a word, ‘relationship’ sounds too warm and fuzzy to be a part of the rough and tumble of business. But it is at the heart of many successes and failures. When a leader gets her relationships right, she finds that her leadership style has more momentum and speed. When she gets it wrong, she can find the impact of her leadership often slowed down by speed bumps. The New Year is a great time to take stock. Relationships rarely break all of a sudden — they fray over time, sometimes because of misunderstandings and miscommunications, and other times because of plain indifference. Now is a good time to mend broken relationships — to say sorry, to pick up the phone and say hello, to drop a no-agenda mail or message. It’s a good time to start with a clean sheet.

I’ve known of colleagues who have lived out decade-long wars with others on the team. It may be a perceived or real slight, two leaders competing for the same promotion, favouritism by the management, or a professional disagreement that became personal. In each case, people hold on to grudges and became unhappier as a result. The burden of these grudges also slows them down professionally and dilutes their leadership.

Relationships also break because of imagined disagreements or assumptions when people ‘dance with ghosts’. As meditation teacher Sally Kempton said, “It’s hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head.” All it takes to fix such situations is for the leader to have an open and honest conversation with the other person concerned.

The New Year is a great time to break free of these relationship burdens. ‘Forgiveness’ seems like an alien word in the business world. Yet, it could save leaders from themselves, save organisations energy and time and, yes, it could save or even earn the big bucks — though that’s no reason to embrace it.

For example, the two Singh brothers — Malvinder Mohan Singh and Shivinder Mohan Singh — were hailed as business heroes because of the killing they made on the Ranbaxy sale. They seemed to have the Midas touch for making deal. Today, they are more in the news for their fisticuffs with each other.

Our habits

Our habits, in many ways, are our leadership. Over time, and often sub-consciously, we pick up bad habits that can distract us. Sometimes, even destroy our leadership skills. I knew a senior finance professional, who was slated for big things in the organisation, but whose drinking habit proved to be a personal, social liability and professional liability. His career growth hit a stand-still. Another senior professional had the bad habit of a loose tongue. Confidential information often found itself in the public domain. When the management dug around, the root cause was often this gentleman’s propensity to impress all and sundry with the ‘inside info’ he had access to. He, too, soon found his career going nowhere.

The New Year gives us a chance to let go of old habits that hold us back as leaders and embrace new ones that will make our leadership more impactful. These can be personal habits such as making place for daily quiet time, reading a book a month, or professional ones such as setting aside time to have lunch with a colleague from a different part of the organisation, getting into the habit of going out and visiting clients instead of just mailing and calling them, or getting started with a coaching programme.

This is a great time to draw a different kind of balance sheet. What are the assets and liabilities on your values, relationships and habits? In the final analysis, this balance sheet will matter more any other.