What matters in business is your ability to act, even more perhaps than your ability to think
People Matters asked thought leader Gurcharan Das to recommend must-reads for anyone who manages people.
Gurcharan Das was CEO of Procter & Gamble India and later Managing Director, Procter & Gamble Worldwide (Strategic Planning). He is an author, commentator and public intellectual who has written the bestselling books India Unbound, The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma, A Fine Family, The Elephant Paradigm and most recently, India Grows at Night
I generally don’t read business books because there are so many books to read and if I had some time, I would rather read War and Peace than read a book on business. That said, one book that had an impact on me and which is one of the few business books that I’ve read and which maybe is one of the best business books ever written is In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. It was published in 1982, but is still relevant. It made me realize and confirmed my suspicion that what matters in business is your ability to act, even more perhaps than your ability to think. We make a mistake when we decide to hire only the most intelligent people for a job. I’ve learnt that in leadership, more than intelligence, what matters is determination. You can be highly intelligent, but have very poor levels of determination and so, be a failure as a leader. This book talks about the bias for action, the notion of fire in the belly, concepts that I hadn’t thought of before. Because I was Indian, I was able to instinctively relate to the fact that there is a great gap between thought and action in India.
Indians are very happy to discuss things, the eponymous argumentative Indian, and are very good at arguing in meetings and committees, but when it comes to action, we are not that good, especially if that action requires the collaboration of many people and team work. These were some of the things that the book brought home to me as a manager and particularly an Indian manager. I think the book still has value today. It talks about managing by wandering around the office, by giving credit to others, etc., all of which are still important and meaningful today.
The second book is From Good to Great by James C Collins. When I read the book, which makes the case that companies that make the journey from good to great have certain common traits or qualities, the message that stayed with me was that great companies are led by people whose leadership quality is determination and willpower. They never give up. They are leaders who are hugely ambitious, but are ambitious for their companies and not for personal reward. To me, this seemed like what Krishna says to Arjun in the Gita about the concept of Nishkaam Karma, the imperative of action without worrying about credit or result. It is about doing what must be done and what is right without evaluating the positive or negative outcomes. It is essentially dharma. This to me is a powerful timeless message and in this book, Collins was able to bolster the argument for Nishkaam Karma in business with facts and analysis.