Article: What I look for in young leaders: Azim Premji


What I look for in young leaders: Azim Premji

Intensity to win, acting with sensitivity and unyielding Integrity
What I look for in young leaders: Azim Premji

People who have a burning desire to excel and set new standards are the ones who innovate and take the path less travelled


While hiring, we look harder to identify the softer skills in people. The technical skills usually appear clearly in the resume


Intensity to Win, Acting with Sensitivity and Unyielding Integrity, Excerpts from an interaction with Azim Premji, Chairman of Wipro

What does Leadership mean at Wipro?

Leadership at Wipro means the ability to win the hearts and minds of all our stakeholders whether internal or external. It means leading others with humility and yet having big dreams. It means the self confidence to accept that you are wrong and resilience to fight back. Leaders also need to challenge themselves and their team members to surpass the best. The leaders need to manage the change with sensitivity and confidence. Sensitivity towards building an organization where people dare to dream big and yet find their own path of reaching their goals. Leaders need to manage many elements that seem like contradictions – for instance being able to think strategically and yet being able to operationally execute the plans by empowering people whether they are in their team or those who they need to influence.

What do you look for in young talent as an indicator for leadership potential?

The spirit of Wipro is easy to identify even in the young talent – people in the early stages of their career. It involves three key ways of operating:

1. Intensity to win – a person who sets high targets for self has the cultural fit that makes people succeed at Wipro. People who have a burning desire to excel at whatever they do and set new standards are people who have the capability to innovate and the courage to take the path less travelled.

2. Acting with sensitivity – We are a global organization operating in more than 50 countries. We look for the ability of people to operate seamlessly in a multi-cultural environment. That means being sensitive to diverse styles, ethnicities and people from different social strata. People who act with sensitivity become leaders who care about others.

3. Unyielding integrity – We look for people for whom integrity is pretty binary. It is either above board and “clean” in every way or it isn’t. We look for people who are willing to take a stand and pay a price for their beliefs. Integrity is a wider term that simply means saying what you do and doing what you say.

What role do you think HR should play in the identification and grooming of potential leaders?

The role of HR is to be the evangelists for the employer brand. They are the custodians of the processes and are strategic partners for us to keep aligning the portfolio of skills that are needed for the horizon. They set standards for the talent that meets the expectations the customers have from the organization. The role of HR is to be the specialist function that helps in assessing, identifying and developing talent for the corporation. To coach and groom the existing leaders and identify leadership potential for those who are early in career.

Professional aptitude and the ability to generate business and profits can be easily identified based on performance and is transparent to everybody; how do you look for the soft aspects of leadership - like ethics, ability to groom others, retaining poise under severe stress?

The ability to be a talent manager is an important element of the role of a leader and he/she is expected to devote 30-40% of their time in developing people. We also expect them to recognize talent not only among the people who are in their team but across the breadth of our corporation across diverse businesses and geographies. To me the leader must have a multi-business, multi-geography and multi-function view.

While hiring, we look harder to identify the softer skills in people. The technical skills usually appear clearly in the resume. The softer elements don’t. That is the differentiator. We look for past patterns of behaviour with previous employers. Reference checks reveal the softer elements better.

I have noticed there are very few women in your management team and board. What obstacles have you encountered in identifying, grooming and retaining women leaders in your group?

We recognize that while women are represented at around 29% in our organization, the percentages dwindle as we move up the hierarchy. We are conscious that there is a long road to travel in this area. We just need to work harder at making this happen.

When you look to grooming leaders from within Wipro, to what extent are you looking to developing leaders within the IT segment and to leaders who can grow the business horizontally across new sectors?

Our roots have been in the consumer business. The IT/ITES business has grown subsequently. We have a consulting arm and business in Infrastructure Engineering where we are among the top two worldwide. The Water and Eco-energy business are our investments for the future. To run a business that is diverse and with a global footprint, Wipro will always need leaders who are ‘deep generalists’. Our most successful leaders have held roles that have built a deep appreciation of our business model and those who live our values of integrity, sensitivity to others and have an intense desire to win. We believe that diversity of business experience will help leaders become more innovative and create leaders who will succeed in the future.

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Topics: Leadership, Culture, Learning & Development, #BestPractices

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