“A leader has the vision and conviction that a dream can be achieved. He inspires the power and energy to get it done.”
Lily Tomlin, the famous American standup comedian and actress, once said that – “the trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” In this ever changing economic and competitive corporate environment, people at times tend to look for shortcuts to success. My single biggest learning – there are none!!
An increasingly common challenge faced by companies today is to inspire genuine loyalty and commitment towards their organisation. The continuing churn of more attractive remuneration and roles influence unplanned attritions and talent drains that could sometimes throw organisational plans and targets out of course.
The key to inspiring genuine motivation, loyalty and hard work amongst people in an organisation is to instill a sense of purpose and to empower them in their work. This is where leadership and mentoring become critically important in encouraging employees to become future leaders. As a leader, one should be able to convincingly articulate how individual spheres of work or small contributions affect the progress and betterment of the larger firm. I believe, through personal experience, that providing people a sense of purpose in staying the long course and mentoring them to achieve their full potential is critical to building a healthy organisation.
We all know that Google is universally acclaimed as one of the best organisations to work with, primarily because of the various employee friendly programmes they have initiated. Take for example their 20 per cent time programme where Google allows its employees to use up to 20 per cent of their work week to pursue special projects. Google claims that many of their products in Google Labs started out as pet projects in the 20 per cent time programme. Apart from the business impact, I feel programmes like these would have tremendous positive influence on staff across the organisation.
I am reminded of a quote by N. Narayana Murthy, where he states – “We believe that our asset is primarily our people. Our asset walks out mentally and physically tired every evening. It is our responsibility to make sure that asset comes back enthusiastic in the morning.” I too give this considerable thought about whether I am able to provide our employees the same feeling. The lesson here for all is to make people feel valued and empowered. Inculcating a culture of openness and participative employee engagement along with learning and development opportunities by establishing customised mentoring programmes is the key to attracting and retaining talent in the long run.
There is a wonderful story on Steve Jobs that is often narrated of his early days in the entrepreneurial journey he took. When Steve Jobs accidently walked into Robert Friedland’s room to sell his typewriter, he had sparked off a bond of friendship that would last long enough to effect a serious change in Steve Jobs’ attitude and working methods. According to the founder of Apple, “He turned me on to a different level of consciousness”. That to my mind is the power of a mentor or a guiding post early on in life.
A mentor can make a lasting difference to another life. He can guide a person to take small steps in the right direction that can become giant leaps that shape not just the mentee, but also the ecosystem and society in which he or she operates. Leadership essentially is about mentoring individuals, teams and the organisation as a whole to achieve their full potential. I consider myself fortunate that I met my mentor in the formative years of my career. He has had a huge influence on the way I approach my life and towards the underlying principles, values and work ethics that I hold dear to my heart.
Foresight is another distinct quality that a good mentor will possess, to gauge your capabilities and give you the right guidance and encouragement. I am reminded of one of my first interactions with my mentor regarding a complaint about something that I had done. But instead of raising an issue, he complimented me for my initiative and told me, “You are all horses, you are running a race; the best will win.” These words resonate with me now as I find myself in a leadership position where my focus has been on people and clients. I truly believe that for us to be successful, it is imperative to focus on factors like empowering people through effective communication, recognition of efforts, providing for a challenging and enriching career while creating a mentorship culture.
When individuals start deliberating on resolving issues without relying on managerial guidance is when you have truly enabled empowerment. An effective leadership group should analyse when and when not to initiate guidance and should be able to delegate responsibility and not micro manage. The culture of employee empowerment and mentoring should percolate at all levels if an organisation wants to excel and grow.
There is a legend that is told of a French monastery known throughout Europe for the exceptional leadership of a man known only as Brother Leo. Several monks took a pilgrimage to visit this extraordinary leader to learn from him. Starting out on the pilgrimage, they almost immediately begin to argue over who should do certain chores.
On the third day of their journey, they met another monk also going to the monastery; he joined them. This monk never bickered about doing chores and did them dutifully. And when the others would fight about which chores to do, he would simply volunteer to do them himself. On the last day of their journey, others began to follow his example and the bickering stopped.
When the monks reached the monastery they asked to see Brother Leo. The man who greeted them laughed. “But our brother is among you!” And he pointed to the fellow that had joined them.
It is clear from the above instance that leading by example is not only restrained to your own work performance. Take sports as an example where very often the best player in the team may not always be the best leader. Beyond, managing one’s own personal performance, talent and capabilities and contributing to team success, a leader should be able to extract the optimum performance from others as well. Take for example Mike Brearley, who captained the English Cricket Team to a famous Ashes Win in 1981. Mike Brearley is unanimously regarded very highly for his leadership acumen and skills. While not considered as the most gifted player he was able to galvanise talents like Ian Botham, David Gower and Bob Willis to perform and achieve unlikely victories during that time.
“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” — Theodore Roosevelt
In essence, I feel, the conviction to define right from wrong, the courage to take hard decisions and stand by them is what garners respect, which is essential for a leader to inspire confidence. A good leader will always surround oneself with people who are driven; willing to learn; take responsibility and commit themselves to the larger organisational objectives. The key is to train and mentor such talent and ensure that the next level of leadership is always to ready assume larger responsibilities. This is what makes leadership and mentoring successful – empowering people and always encouraging them to excel.