Wise Leadership

An article on ‘wise leadership’ talked about how we tend to think that the best and wisest leaders are smart, intelligent people. But what do we mean by ‘smart’ and ‘intelligent’? According to Prasad Kaipa (Senior Research Fellow & Executive Director Emeritus at The Center for Leadership, Innovation and Change of Indian School of Business) what we call ‘smartness’, falls into either the Red or the Blue Zone. The Red zone is about being more aggressive, always looking for the next opportunity, always looking at the big picture but not paying attention to the operational details, and so on; the Blue is about being more cautious and careful, paying attention to excellence, making sure everything gets done impeccably, etc.
So which is a better leadership style? Is it just a combination of the two or avoiding an extreme of either? Kaipa says that a good leader or a wise-leader is one who is able to maintain a balance between the two zones, or use each set of traits appropriately.


This ties in very well with what we believe at Vivékin: A good leader is one who is able to exercise the appropriate intelligence according to context. We believe that with anything, be it leadership, or business strategy, what makes it most effective is when the right intelligence is exercised at the right moment.

Presidential Debates, Professors, and Leadership

The first US Presidential Debate of 2012 concluded a few hours ago and, as usual with events of this nature, it offered some lessons on leadership. Analyzing the debate immediately afterwards on CNN, David Gergen opined that President Obama was “professorial.” “And more!” he said. To use the word “professorial” to describe Obama—and perhaps Romney too—in today’s debate reinforces stereotypes that do a disservice to the great profession of teaching. In fact, more than any other profession, the teaching profession knows the value of drama and the power drama bestows on communication. As anybody who has stood in front of a class of disinterested students knows, the professor dons an acting persona that may be totally different from his or her non-teaching persona. Every professor knows that it’s not enough to know–however well or however much in detail–the intricacies of math, or the habits of societies, or the facts of history, or the nuances of poetry. To be effective, to lead students into knowledge, professors know that they need to be dramatic.

In contrast, in today’s debate, both Obama and Romney, came across as boring walking-talking-account-books–not as professors, and definitely not as leaders. Consider for a moment how Obama could have responded to the moderator Jim Lehrer’s question of how, going forward, he would work toward resolving the stalemate with the Congress in Washington. In boring tones, Obama declared that leadership is about knowing what you want to achieve and saying “No!” to people sometimes in order to achieve that goal.  What if instead, Obama had waved his hand in the air vigorously for a moment and then turned to Jim Lehrer and asked him if he had heard a clap? He could have then said that it takes two hands to clap and that the Republican Congress was the other hand. He could have remarked somewhere that Romney was lucky that for him, working across the aisle as Governor in Massachusetts meant that he was negotiating with Democrats. He could have then gone on to say that would continue to work vigorously on negotiating with the Republicans and at the same time would continue to hope that the people of America would send more people to Congress who didn’t think that negotiation always compromises principles. That would have been a leader using the power of drama to persuade.


Followers are leaders too!

We have all heard of people stating that they have to somehow create an impact in the society. Needless to say, there will be many futile attempts before something concrete emerges out. We know for sure that there will be hurdles/disappointments to face and when the candle of hope diminishes we have to cling to the last ray of light. Finally, one other person gets convinced about the idea and voila! the magic happens. After which, the entire scenario changes, there is new strength, new vigour, replenished hope and finally the idea starts propagating. Momentum is attained and there is a new beginning.


What is necessary to identify here is the trust the “first follower of the idea” attaches to the idea. Had (s)he not be convinced, there could not have been the start of a great movement. It is important to understand that the first follower or “second leader” is quintessential for the propagation of any movement.


Below is an interesting video where Derek Siver explains how “movements” are started.

Having the Right Steam Team: Is Your Team Providing You the Right Support?

Reading Vijeeta’s article on her cricketer husband Rahul Dravid made me realize a very key aspect of leadership excellence – having the right team working for you. Imagine Dravid to be the CEO of a company and Vijeeta a key member in his team. Dravid’s excellence at what he did was influenced by Vijeeta’s understanding of his cricketing greatness and what was required for him to focus and nurture it. This coming from someone who may have never played cricket shows tremendous maturity as his support team. The hallmark of a great organization not only depends on how well a leader carries his team but also on how well a team can carry its leader. A Steve Jobs or a Bill Gates was/is successful at what he did/does because his team understood the greatness of his vision. For a majority of the world, this team was invisible until Steve/Gates decided to step down. Playing this support cast effectively and consistently is not easy since at times it can involve sacrificing some of your own ideas/ aspirations and aligning yourself to a greater cause. It is in such situations that the mentoring role of the leader is vital to understanding them and providing an ethical solution. Case in point here is Dravid’s clarity on when to remove his cricketing cap and play the role of the husband who accepts the lead role his wife plays in matters of his family.

Appreciation of the excellence from your team alone is not enough since a leader also needs to be constantly challenged to improve further. Externally, this comes from the business environment they operate in; their team acts as internal challengers of the solutions/models that they come up with. This provides them with a broader perspective to improve and refine their solutions/models. When Mr. Narayanamurthy was the CEO of Infosys, I remember reading an interview where he was asked about India’s younger generation. He mentioned that what excited him about the generation was their ability to challenge the norms. He drew inspiration from some of the young members in his own team who challenged him and were always up for a challenge from him. While there may not be a direct link to this aspect in Vijeeta’s article, it is interesting to note that although she finds Rahul’s methods of preparation for a game quirky, she understands the importance of it and ensures that he gets his space by not allowing their children to disturb him. It reflects her willingness to support him in his quest for bettering his performance.

The above mentioned points are among the many important facets that make a great leader. What is remarkable though, is that such instances happen to all of us in our everyday lives in different forms and we fail to notice the significance of it. Identifying and understanding them not only makes for a good leader at work but also a good role model in life.

Gratitude and leadership

A TEDxSF talk by Louie Schwartzberg titled Nature. Beauty. Gratitude offers much to think about for all of us in how we can and should lead. Humility is perhaps the most important characteristic of leadership. And at the heart of humility is gratitude. Intelligence makes us aware; awareness makes us recognize all there is to be thankful for and thus generates gratitude; and gratitude makes us humble.

Enjoy the video:


How to measure a leader’s capacity to adapt

The leadership guru Warren Bennis says that the key competence of a leader is “adaptive capacity”–the ability to deal with change. Adaptability is also at the core of innovation. Vivekin’s Leadership Intelligences Framework (LIF) is centrally concerned with measuring and developing a person’s ability to adapt. It does this comprehensively using 5 different intelligences: analytical, operational, inventive, communicative, and most importantly, ethical intelligence. Vivekin’s LIF is comprehensive in another way too: it measures both one’s aptitude to adapt and one’s ability to adapt.
We’re trying to benchmark LIF against other measures of adaptability. One such metric is Lumina Learning Inc.’s Spark–which uses a Jungian approach . Do you know of any other framework or system that measures the adaptive capacity of an individual? Do you use any such system in your organization?

A Funny Thing Happened In The CEO’s Office: Meg Whitman at HP

From my “A Funny Thing Happened In The CEO’s Office” Collection
“I have run a large company — not obviously as large as HP, but I have run a very large company,” she said. “While I don’t have years of experience in an enterprise business, I bought a lot of software. I was one of the largest enterprise customers in Silicon Valley.”
—Meg Whitman, Former CEO E-Bay, Incoming CEO of HP

“That’s like saying, ‘I’ve bought an iPhone, so I can run Apple Inc.’”
—Chris Whitmore, an analyst at Deutsche Bank AG.
Quotes From a Bloomberg BusinessWeek article

Micro-Leadership Before Macro

The buzz about Anna Hazare is still ringing in our ears here in monsoon-soaked Hyderabad, even after he has settled back in his village in Maharashtra. Throughout his Delhi fast—which ironically provided prime fodder for primetime TV—we saw people wearing caps that said “I am Anna.” Many friends on Facebook have a badge that says “I am Anna.”

Really? Am I Anna? Are you Anna? What does it take to be “Anna”? What does it take to be a leader?

If you want to be a leader, please emblazon this on your soul: “The first person I should lead is myself.” There is no new truth in this. Great leaders and wise men have always demonstrated it. Let me use an Indian example since the setting is Indian. About a year ago, my taxi driver in Hyderabad told me the following story about Gandhi. A woman approached Gandhi at a public meeting, and requested him to tell her grandson to not eat sugar. “Coming from you, that request will be definitely heeded by my grandson,” she said. Gandhi pondered for a moment and asked her to come back after a few weeks bringing the boy again. She came back—as asked—a few weeks later with the boy. And this time, Gandhi called the boy close and said, “Don’t eat sugar.” The boy nodded vigorously and the woman and her grandson went away. An associate asked Gandhi, “But Gandhiji, you could have told him the same thing some weeks ago. Why did you make her come back?” Gandhi replied, “I had to stop eating sugar before I could ask him to do so.”

Stories such as these permeate the fabric of Indian society. And yet, we do not make them our own. We let them float in and out of social consciousness, making no attempt to ground the stories in ourselves.

So, to come back, what do we mean when we say, “I am Anna”? It is very easy to say “That official is corrupt,” or “This politician is even more corrupt.” Have we noticed how corrupt we are? What do we do to get things moving in a government office? Are we willing to say, “Even if my file does not move, I will not pay a bribe?” Let us begin the anti-corruption campaign there. Let us first remove the corruption within ourselves.

And a closing thought: The corruption that involves money is bad, but the corruption that concerns the soul is worse. Are we handling either in our personal lives? True leadership should be rooted in the micro for it to rise to the macro.

India-Pakistan Cricket Match: A Leadership Lesson

In India, the tension is very tangible and the air has a prickly feeling to it on the day of the India-Pakistan 2011 World Cup semi-final cricket match. The match has been called many things from the worn-out cliché “mother of all battles” to Sir Viv Richards’ expression “war without weapons.” The analogy of war is not even sub-cutaneous leave alone subliminal. But in some ways this is worse than war—there can be uneasy truces that can stop a war and long spells of cold tension that threaten but never erupt. In this semifinal match, there is no such comfort—one team has to win and the other has to lose. This is the knockout stage. In a game like cricket, there in never a guarantee of who will win and who will lose. What is guaranteed is that one team stays and the other goes.This brings me to the issue of leadership. First, though, a story of two great kings from almost two thousand years ago. Many of us heard it as a folktale when we were growing up in India, but it has been recently recounted by Guy Maclean Rogers in Alexander: The Ambiguity of Greatness (New York: Random House, 2004). The story is told that when Alexander of Greece invaded India in 326 BCE, he came up against the mighty army of the Indian king, Puru. On the banks of the Jhelum, a fierce battle took place—Greek historians later called it the Battle of Hydaspes, the Greek name for Jhelum. Alexander’s fast and fierce cavalry were pitted against Puru’s mighty elephant brigades. Alexander won the bloody battle, suffering considerable losses himself, and the vanquished Puru was brought to him. It is said that Alexander asked Puru how he would like to be treated, and the defeated King Puru, standing tall, replied, “Like a king.” Impressed by Puru’s leadership and courage even in defeat, Alexander made him an ally, returned his kingdom to him, and even gave him with some additional regions to rule.All too often, we measure leadership by the yardstick of success. Yes, success is important, but it is in the face of loss, that the quality of leadership is most demonstrated. Great leaders show courage, valor, and grit during a battle, but whether they win or lose, they demonstrate dignity and honor. Above all, however, when the battle is over, whether they have won or lost, great leaders have the humility to deeply acknowledge that all of humankind is fragile and that we always live in the shadow of this knowledge. The captains of the two teams—but more importantly, the people of both Pakistan and India—should remember this lesson of leadership after their semi-final match in the 2011 Cricket World Cup. They should play, and win or lose with dignity and honor and act with the knowledge that the result of the match only proves that cricket—like life—is an uncertain game.Baba Prasad

How Leadership Begins in the Family

Often, leadership development seems to begin and end in the corporate environment. How do we take the lessons learned during corporate training to environments beyond the company, and on the other hand how do we bring leadership lessons from the outside world into the company? Excellent leadership training will actually make the environments inside and outside the work-place seamless. The focus of good leadership development should be to make leadership an everyday habit.In this context, the key thing to recognize is that our families are both sources of leadership lessons, and also sites in which to practice leadership. For a child, a parent is a role model and leadership qualities displayed by the parent become lessons for the child. Remember Harper Lee’s characterization of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mocking Bird?

As parents we are leaders to our children, and the family becomes a laboratory in which we try to teach leadership and learn from the feedback. Listen to this 5-minute extract from Sidney Poitier’s speech at Guilford College, NC in 2003. It is a superb illustration of how our leadership abilities develop within the family and why we need to show leadership qualities in the family. The scene begins with Poitier as a 15-year old kid having been arrested for stealing and roasting corn in a cornfield. Listen:

[audio:http://vivekingroup.com/audio/SidneyPoitier_Leadership.mp3|bg=0x0000ff|righticon=0xff0000] Sidney Poitier on Leadership Lessons in the Family
The full speech can be found here