When A Conference Showed The Leadership Way
“I was in Lonavala for two days attending a conference.” Lulu had flown in to my study and settled on my laptop.
“The world knows about it. You have been posting so many photographs of the beautiful flowers on social media. I was watching you, sitting on the tree to which your hammock was tied.” Lulu, my parrot, travels wherever I go and keeps a watchful eye. “What happened in the conference?”
“It was their annual review conference. They took a hard look at the performance of individual plants, and of other departments.”
“Who are ‘they’?”
“Well, the owner’s name is ….. hmmmm …. Let me call him just ‘M’.”
“Do you know who was ‘M’?”
“He was James Bond’s boss.”
“Ha ha! That’s interesting.”
“Okay. You were telling me about the conference.”
“I have attended many conferences, but this one was the best of them all. It was different because there were different strokes.”
“Tell me in simple way, no riddles please.”
“Every plant, and they have four plants, presented its ‘performance’. Usually, the bosses at the conferences speak ‘correct’ language. They over-appreciate, glorify contributions. And they gloss over the non-performance. They take care that there is no loss of face.”
“That’s the hallmark of such conferences. Reviewing managers often do not have skills for separating the judgment of action from judgment of men. So, they choose safe path of what you called the ‘correct language.’”
“The plant heads and his team did not enjoy that benefit. M clearly pointed out the areas of less-than-okay contributions. No words minced; but he criticized actions not men.”
“That’s a skill to learn. I guess it comes more easily to some bosses than others.”
“I too think so. He ended every review by giving positive strokes to people, placing his hopes on their abilities and skills, and showing them the way to be successful. M identified their uniqueness for appreciation.”
“That’s remarkable. I should have flown in to the conference room.”
“You would have enjoyed the deliberations. The managers were not from any reputed B-School. Most of them were not even from reputed engineering schools. Some were Diploma holders, not even degree holders and they were presenting how to make profits on their operations. Making individual plant more profitable, I mean. They were discussing concepts like ‘value-added’, and ways to improve it, focusing on customer satisfaction. These issues is never heard in the conference rooms of big companies. Not in the conference where the first line managers make presentations.”
“Stop here. Are you telling me that they were working like owners of a small unit? Like an entrepreneur?”
“You got it right. Their philosophy is to practice the concept of ‘inverted pyramid’ . In letter and spirit.”
“Oh yes. Inverted pyramid encourages the frontline employees to shoulder higher responsibility. And managers play the empowering role. It’s so difficult to transition from the traditional way to this enlightened way.”
“M’s management methods are akin to cutting diamonds. He has made business managers out of people who don’t have the kind of profiles big industries prefer. And yet he has shaped them as business managers.”
“There is a fundamental belief I see in M’s actions. I see him trusting people’s ability to learn; I see him appreciating the value of organizing work which places high responsibility on the shoulders of all, particularly the frontline employees.”
“You got it right.”
“Development of people is not an easy task. It is not all-sweet talk. It is about throwing a challenge. The challenge of doing an excellent job, of discharging responsibility in exemplary way. And of creating processes which demand such work.”
“People and processes, both are important. I don’t see enough recognition of the importance of the processes. And coaching is fast becoming a fad, if its hasn’t already become one.”
“And M told all managers, about seventy of them that he intends to take a back seat in operations of his organization. He now wants to focus on how this organization can run for at least next fifty years, in other words, leaving a legacy.”
“Oh Wow! Unbelievable! What are you telling me!! He is handing over reigns, focusing on leaving a legacy? That is stepping on to the highest level of leadership pyramid. It is heartening to see that a country which produces Vijay Mallya, Nirav Modi also produces unsung heroes like M.”
“M obviously thinks of his role constantly. And Osho says your roles change every seven years perceptibly. But we live our life like a man walking in his sleep. Unaware. Not conscious of role, and purpose.”
“Yes, Lulu. Meditation is the kay.”
“Yes, but it is not just meditation; it requires a certain philosophical base to actions. Giving up a ‘controlling’ role does not come easily to people. They have to decide the question which Charles Handy mentioned …..”
“The most important question which people must decide is ‘How much is enough?’ M could have carried on as the chief as long as he wanted; he created the organization and he owns it.”
“But he has chose a different course. In a sense he is dedicating the organization to the Society; that is leaving legacy all about. It is ‘giving back’, because he wants to create an organization which will survive him and will run at least fifty more years.”
“And he is putting in place a structure to ensure that it happens. M has thought of the future course of action.”
“Do you remember what Richard Grant said? He said, ‘The value of identity of course is that so often with it comes the purpose.’ M’s story highlights it. And it takes the leadership practice at the highest level.”
“Not just inspiring, but worth emulating. What say you?” Lulu glanced at me to check if I had got his message. And that will keep me thinking many a night lying awake.
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” / Read more Lulu blogs in my book ‘The Lulu Duologues’.
Wonderful example of value of identity
Well written! Role and identity is different. Giving up is easier said than done but when done, it has deep impact.
Powerlessness is in a way power as more often than not it has pull rather than push factor.
Not just inspiring, but worth emulating.
Bravo – now M should teach his skills to others!
Good one. M is doing a great job, building capability and succession for the long term using a positive, non judgemental approach, recognizing that each one is different and that some cannot do what others do but there is no point in emphasizing that aspect of each person.
I read somewhere that a good leader knows the way, shows the way and walks along with others on the way. M seems to be doing all of that.
Its time we dropped the mention of educational qualifications as they may be relevant only at the point of entry, interviews. Corporate world has its caste system and it needs to be broken. Who else is better qualified and equipped than Vivek Patwardhan to do so?
Wow what a legacy , M seems to be a person of his words , he has nurtured leadership and empowered people , respected individuals and supported his team , the results are seen bright and clear
You have blogged it in anonymity but it relates
Very well said. The inherent role of a leader is to create more leaders. The transition from controlling to trusting is indeed a difficult journey. It starts with passion but should dovetail in dispassion. People development hence a critical task of this process.