30 January 2022 16:50:10 IST

Kamal Karanth is CoFounder of Xpheno, a specialist staffing company he has been building since 2017. Before turning an entrepreneur, Kamal worked as MD of Kelly Services and as Director APAC for Randstad, where he built teams that grew and created extraordinary results. Today, his team members are making an impact as leaders across the talent acquisition, HR, and staffing domains. A movie buff and cricket enthusiast, Kamal is a believer in relationships and has been writing monthly columns for The Hindu BusinessLine since 2016. LinkedIn ranked him among the top voices of India in 2020 for his consistent influencing blogs and vlogs around workplace dynamics. He is a talent specialist in RPO, IT staffing, and executive search.

The fault in our leaders

Source: Getty Images

Tennis player Daniil Medvedev, said, “Every good relationship must have its ups and downs,” after first being booed and then supported by spectators in the Australian Open matches. However, enterprises and Boards walk away from their relationships with leaders, ignore their brilliant performances and try to tame their stars. They play to the gallery of pundits on social media by doing so. The problem is that opinion makers on social media do not run your organisation; your leaders do.

Do you prefer a sulking Virat Kohli scoring his fifties and fielding in the deep when his cricket team is losing or any of the outspoken founders forced into a break at a time when hundreds of other funded start-ups are trying to grab their market share?

The thin line

A press release irked my boss one fine morning, and the PR department had to go on an overdrive to withdraw it; it was too late. They asked why I did not refrain from answering a particular question. As a CEO, I had to admit that my opinion was a touch reactive at a live conference. The global bosses disapproved of the statement. For the next few months, I was barred from giving any external press interactions, had to swallow my pride and run my comments through the screening process led by global teams before anything went to press.

Large brands want the best of your leadership intellect and expression but also fear the reputation risk to their brand. A carefully built brand can indeed be jolted by one instance. Still, strong brands must undergo these tests and stay resilient to a few adversarial situations, even if undesirable. After all, the same brands also gain from their leaders’ mercurial presence and performance in the public space. Can you think of anyone else coming up with multiple business pivots and the fundings like Bhavish Aggarwal has done for Ola. 

The perfect behaviour

Large enterprises spend substantial time and money to groom the finer aspects of leadership before they eventually hand over the reins to them. Much of this orientation is to give an external makeover to their personality. They orient them on how they look, speak and behave or what is generally referred to as their executive presence. But training these leaders in real-life pressure situations is a difficult task. One can’t imagine all situations, nor is it easy to pass over the leaders’ instincts in volatile, stressful contexts.

A country that gave 44 Unicorns last year and is likely to add 50 more Unicorns this year may see a few more founders who don’t follow the unwritten code of conduct approved by all. You may not like some of their tweets, but they will build breakthrough companies and bring unique products and services to the consumers. To encourage the disruptions of many of these mavericks, we need enterprises and boards who have the guts and space for the imperfections or outages of their leaders. Yes, we live in a hypersensitive world, but to expect leaders to be Zen-like in all their interactions is asking for too much.

“To encourage the disruptions of many of these mavericks, we need enterprises and boards who have the guts and space for the imperfections or outages of their leaders. Yes, we live in a hypersensitive world, but to expect leaders to be Zen-like in all their interactions is asking for too much.”

A bit of envy

Have you observed that some of us seem to enjoy it when aggressive leaders go through a blip or make  a faux pax? There are several “I told you so” expressions when some of these players/founders are asked to step down or marginalised by their boards and organisations. Is it because many of us suffer from low self-image and can’t create what they did or be as successful as them? Naturally, we react by judging them by our behavioural template than the massive impact those leaders bring to the table. It’s easy to tame a leader by stripping them of specific titles or roles.

But it takes ages to create leaders who create the winning impact that people like Kohli have achieved, or some of the unicorn founders have built or will create in the future. Considering that only less than one per cent of start-ups survive and a minuscule of them become unicorns, is it time we let go of our envy and appreciate what they create?

Don’t be so prickly

Shane Warne recently said he always asked his captains and coaches tough questions, but that shouldn’t have deemed him anti-establishment. As employers, we tend to cultivate a process of conformity and control as that allows easier management of large enterprises. However, Boards and CEOs need a bit of thick skin to assimilate some of the brickbats from their leaders or the criticism from outside about their leaders. The more sensitive and punitive enterprises become, the less likely will they be in attracting and retaining natural, unique leaders who risk their careers to transform their organisations. Last week, we were interviewing a CXO, and the feedback was that she gave templatised answers. They said, ‘ can you bring someone more natural and enterprising from any of the start-ups’?

In the current hypersensitive atmosphere, can organisations handle dynamic, expressive leaders who at times may embarrass you but may create a competitive brand and immense value for shareholders? Or should we remind ourselves of the quote “good behaviour is the last refuge of mediocrity” and let go of some of the behavioural transgressions of our racehorses?