Business Today

Benevolent negligence

Print Edition: Sep 16, 2012

Building a company from scratch, one brick at a time is a challenging task. You start small with a few people, roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty and work shoulder-to-shoulder with them.

The trouble is, the same people who bring you from Chapter 1 to Chapter 2 in one's story sometimes don't elevate their own game for what is required to get you through to the next chapter. They get comfortable, become fat cats quickly, and don't seem to want to change.

It seems that they needed me to ratify everything. I needed to be everywhere and personally supervise everything. I worked 18 hours a day. And couldn't do enough. It was frustrating and heartbreaking. I loved my people but I just couldn't get them to take full ownership.

As usual, I took my troubles to Tariq Ansari of Mid-Day, who had very kindly and patiently agreed to be my friend, guide and mentor. Anyone who knows Tariq knows what a cool customer he is. Unflappable, relaxed and calm, he always seems to have time for life and his friends, and is always on top of the affairs of his company.

So during one of our sessions, I told him how I wished my people would take on larger ownership, how I wanted to take this venture from being a mom-and-pop outfit and to a lean, mean professional company, and I didn't see a way out without having to fire them and get a new team. He calmly smiled and simply said: "Go on a two-month holiday."

As soon as I began to protest, he explained: "It's a concept called 'benevolent negligence'." Leave. Go away. Take your hands off, and your people will be forced to sink or swim. Give them control. Tell them you don't want to be bothered.

And when you come back, don't take back their responsibilities. Tell them they did good. And tell them that you are going away for another month, and that they shouldn't bother you for what's urgent, only for what's important.

It worked. I realised the ownership they take is the ownership you give. Thank you, my zen master, Tariq.

 WORDS OF WISDOM: Personal accounts by 50 of India's corporate leaders
 Schauna ChauhanDhruv Shringi
 Deep Kalra
Sachin Bansal

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