As an individual, I am totally committed to lifelong learning. This, I believe, not only provides an open mind for gaining tremendous knowledge and expertise, but more importantly, inculcates the right values that make learning a life skill. And so, to someone who is convinced that management lessons can be learnt during all stages of one's personal and professional life, the theme of this article is an interesting point of reflection. I find a flood of insights pinging my mind as I look back on my 28 years in corporate life.
The best management lessons I have imbibed through the years are compatible with the type of leader I am intrinsically - collegial, democratic and transparent. And that is perhaps why one core characteristic envelops the many lessons I have benefitted from. At the end of the day, it is all about culture. For when a manager or a leader makes culture his lodestar, he gives his people a proud identity and values to live by. Culture also adds to the brand identity and creates a happy chemistry of engagement across an organisation. Here are the top lessons I have learnt that have been centered around culture.
Carry Your People With You: This is the first lesson that has been deeply ingrained in me and continues to resonate is that one must align people to a common purpose - be it a vision or strategy and its execution. By finding strong threads of a common cause, you can inspire your teams to collaborate and drive results. Personally, it has helped me immensely. You see, I think extensively but take decisions very quickly. This has helped me bring clarity to how I communicate my decisions across people in the organisation. It has helped me balance democracy with decisiveness, and wear the responsibility of accountability with purpose and pride.
Don't Look to Fix, Look to Understand: This is the next attribute that I have been grateful to learn as early as my student days in chartered accountancy. It has trained my focus on understanding businesses. I helped create two new businesses by understanding what a customer really wants. 'Understanding' helps me focus on the impact of value-driven business centered on differentiation and outcomes. The translation of my individual understanding to a collective credo has helped me leverage the strengths of the right in any value system. This has enabled me to drive performance in my teams by creating an understanding on what they are working towards - improved top line, bottom line and market impact.
Surround yourself with people smarter than you: This calls for honesty, courage and initiative. Honesty to admit that you are not the smartest, courage to acknowledge smarter traits in others and initiative to actually set out to find such people. Over the years, I have learnt that we all have the potential for honesty and courage. The more I acknowledged this, the better I became in harnessing it to motivate and inspire the people I worked alongside. Into this journey of working with smarter people, I found myself widening my horizons, actively listening to others, understanding better and drawing upon greater confidence to carry people with me. It helped me set a personal example of a culture of willingness to learn and openness to feedback.
Aim to Overachieve : What I learnt about overachieving goes beyond mere performance and growth figures. I am talking about the passion to do better and better, and to set higher benchmarks. I do believe that growth, revenue and profits will naturally follow. It is, as Tony Hsieh, Founder of Zappos, says about doing "the things you would do even if you weren't getting paid."
It again boils down to culture - a culture of being positive in setting higher benchmarks and expectations, for oneself and for one's team. I have seen it create the happiness of excitement in doing both routine tasks and innovative initiatives. I have seen people respond to this passion, and it goes a long way in building an engaging culture of achievement. It creates what Howard Schulz, the founder of Starbucks, so famously referred to as the 'soul' of an organisation.
Think like a CEO: I believe that the future will be driven by people who can interact with industry leaders with ease. I have understood that a CEO needs to know about business domains and technology. I have learnt that this calls for skills of articulation, including the capability to make an elevator pitch in three minutes with canny commercial acumen. In short, this has been a lesson in creating value for anything that I do, so that the leaders at the receiving end actually experience it.
This lesson has made me a resilient professional who can gently but firmly adapt to changes. Even before I became a CEO, it helped me think like an entrepreneurial leader. And I am pretty certain it will continue to do so. Thinking like a CEO has helped me access my inner strengths of wisdom, inspired intuition and resilience to become a more authentic person.
As I said in the beginning, culture has been the bedrock of my most important lessons. These lessons have enabled me to build teams and lead successful organisations, and to create a strong culture that people want to belong to. It has made me believe that authenticity and earning trust is what matters. Above all, it has kept me grounded with the humbling learning that it is always work in progress. I am deeply aware that I have to diligently reinvent for tomorrow from what I learnt yesterday.
By Keshav Murugesh, Group CEO, WNS Global Services