BT MindRush 2021: From compassion to sense-making, HUL's Sanjiv Mehta shares 7 mantras of effective leader

BT MindRush 2021: Sanjiv Mehta, who joined the HUL in 2013 stated one must put 'compassion' at the centre of the leadership. He also said that a leader must spot the crisis and immediately take action

Sanjiv Mehta, Chairman and Managing Director of HUL Sanjiv Mehta, Chairman and Managing Director of HUL

Sanjiv Mehta, Chairman and Managing Director of Hindustan Unilever Limited described seven mantras for leaders to survive the toughest crisis and to remain effective in a 'chaotic' and 'ambiguous' world.  Mehta at BT Mindrush 2021, with the theme "Post-Pandemic Paradigm", argued that the year 2020 has made it clear that leaders must look beyond the organisation, taking a true stakeholder view to "help address and not overlook economic,  healthcare, justice, and other inequities that underline the fragility of the current problem".

"We are stakeholders not in our company but in the health happiness and prosperity of the planet," the HUL Chairman said.

Mehta listed the seven mantras which every leader must adopt to navigate their businesses through chaos and confusion. They are: to be compassionate, sense-making, brutal optimist, adaptive, resilient, spotting the crisis, and living your purpose in value.

Mehta, who joined the HUL in 2013 stated one must put 'compassion' at the centre of the leadership. "2020 has shown us that it is urgent and necessary to humanise leadership. The way we are portraying promoting and practicing leadership for decades makes leaders many times ill-prepared to recognise elevating suffering. It is time for those who care for good leadership to put compassion in the centre of the leadership," Mehta said during the event.

Further, he said that the job of a leader is to provide brutal optimism to clear the challenges and collectively design a strategy to overcome the crises. According to Mehta, a leader must play two roles - front stage and backstage. "In the front stage, leaders must inspire, send a message of hope and share the vision with the organisation.  All of this quality must be combined with a backstage role...and a leader should gather information and expertise, share facts and dive deeply into the processes with a financial, technological aspect".

Third, he said was to reorient the path with sense-making. Mehta said: "The challenges of 2020 highlight the importance of sense-making coming up with effective ways to make sense of the complex external world that we are living in". He added that "managers need to make sure that they update the understanding of shifts in technology, change in customers and competitors move".

Citing organisational theorist Karl E. Weick, Mehta said, sense-making is considered essential for innovation, crucial to the development of the organisation.  "A team trying to create more innovative products in the  FMCG industry needs to be aware of shifts in scientific knowledge, new ways companies are collaborating with each other, the changing of consumer behavior and the impact of emerging channels and a new regulatory regime," Mehta explained.

He further said that a leader must spot the crisis and immediately take action.  "Speed is an organisational capability that requires an organisational approach to overcome the crisis".  Speed is dependent upon three-interconnected capabilities--recognition speed (how quickly external stimuli are recognised as an opportunity or threat); decision speed (How quickly decisions are made) and  Execution speed (how quickly resources are mobilised to support the action).

Sixth, be adaptive and resilient. "We have realised that even with the best prediction model we cannot predict the way the world works, therefore, we should be compound and adaptive. During the crisis, many organisation driven by low cost and high efficiency and capacity utilisation were caught on the wrong note.  These businesses need to determine those gaps so that it is resilient to shocks," Mehta stated.

The seventh and the last mantra was "to live your purpose in value". "The exigency of a crisis should not lead to comprising our values," Mehta said.

The common characteristic of a great crisis leader is robust stress management, abundance resilience, vast social capital, a cool head, a strong commitment to inclusivity, he said. "Great crisis leaders live the value of organisation, inspire loyalty, and generate the best ideas," Mehta concluded.

(Edited by: Mansi Jaswal)

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