People often want to emulate their leaders and walk in their footsteps. Dr Arvind N Agrawal and Prof. TV Rao’s book, ‘Leaders In The Making: The Crucibles of Change Makers In HR’ offers a glimpse into thirty leaders in HR, so one can take a deeper look into the experiences that shaped these people.
The story behind how the book came to be is a fascinating one. It was Agrawal who came up with the idea. He had met and knew many seasoned HR professionals and had a line of sight to their impactful work. This kindled a curiosity in him in knowing more about the life of these people who've silently carved a way for themselves in the world of HR. He wanted to know, “What’s the life journey of these people? What have they gone through to become who they are?” Once he had this idea, he contacted Rao and told him that as this was his first time writing a book, he needed a partner on this journey. He quips, “He (TV Rao) took his time. But then gave his enthusiastic support that overwhelmed me.”
What piqued Rao’s interest was the term “baking of HR leaders.” Arvind’s passion really motivated him to come on board. “Arvind did a lot of the early interviews for 2-3 years,” he shares. It took them a year to define the criteria for selection. They wanted to document these lives by diving deep into their childhoods, points of inflections in their lives, and the choices they made to get to where they are.
They didn’t start out knowing that there would be common traits between these leaders or if there would be any similar patterns. But after conducting all the interviews, they did find patterns that were similar and presented their findings in the book along with life stories. One pattern that jumped out was that regardless of whether they grew up in affluent families or in families with modest means, they all grew up with parents who instilled in them positive values and social and patriotic awareness. Agrawal and Rao believe that the awareness broadened the perspective of these young children. Rao also highlights how mothers played a powerful role in each of these leader’s lives.
Value of mentorship
The role of teachers and mentors was also a pivotal one and one that was shared across the board. All the HR professionals had a teacher or mentor who had a noticeable impact on the course their lives took. “Teachers had a personal connection to these students.” Agrawal and Rao also noticed a continued ability among them to observe, assimilate, learn, and then apply these lessons to life. Rao speaks of one such instance wherein one of these leaders wasn’t good at Maths and so he didn’t want to take the exam. The teacher went to the child’s house and asked him to at least attempt the paper. Rao says, “This personal care really pushed the child not only to take the exam but also excel in the subject.”
You are who you meet
But one might wonder if there is an inherent quality in these individuals that got them to where they are or was it the upbringing and the select experiences that shaped them. Agrawal and Rao believe that these crucible experiences shape our beliefs and make us into who we become. They also believe that it is the interactions with people during their lives and the values they share that culminated in these crucible experiences. One of the anecdotes from the book illustrates such a story wherein one of the leaders as a child wasn’t very good at studies because of a lack of motivation. One day, a neighbour told his father, who was a bank manager, to employ his son as a peon at the bank. On overhearing this conversation, the child vowed to his dad that he will be much more than a peon and changed completely after that and took his studies seriously. He became the CHRO Asia Pacific of a global multinational. This is what Agrawal and Rao term as a crucible experience. Arvind says, “Something somewhere creates a life-changing experience and we have captured these experiences through their life stories in the book.”
Dual skill set
Another pattern they noticed was the acquiring of two skills that played a major role in their opinion. Many leaders mentioned in the book had taken up a business role at some point in their career, which helped them understand the business better and in turn how best to serve. The second was their ability to connect to people and understand their individual concerns and through it better deal with people. Rao elaborates, “They were versatile and cultivated the ability to integrate business with people. This made them different from others.”
A path of your own
Another important aspect that these people shared was that they didn’t wait for someone else to define the job for them, especially in senior positions. Agrawal remarks, “They tried to understand what the business required and what people valued and created a role for themselves relevant to the business.” This inner urge and clarity of mind to take charge and create their own parameters has set them apart from the rest.
Agrawal and Rao are both optimistic that these crucible experiences can also be curated for individuals to learn from and grow. Agrawal believes that the exposure of these individual experiences can be designed to suit individual needs. Rao said, “One has to find the leader within to deal with challenging situations and then have the humility to learn from them.”
Now that the book is out, Agrawal and Rao are already looking at next steps and are busy pondering on what more needs to be done. They bemoan the fact that there are only two women among the thirty, but wonder if it’s because of the time period they chose. Most of the leaders selected for the book were born in the 1950s and 60s in India when female literacy was poor. They want to document more women and want to explore more stories of people from different sectors who are leaders in their field.
This book offers a glimpse into the life of these different people who are leaders in the field of HR and one can learn much from the crucible experiences of these people. These experiences and how they overcame the obstacles in their paths offers each one of us the chance to interpret these stories in our own way and learn from them.
If you are eager to find out the 'Who the leaders Are' in each of the instances mentioned above, buy a copy of the book online or in select stores now.