What are your experiences that could help leaders manage the current crisis better?
Pause and Reset are two words that resonate with a crisis. These are unprecedented times for growth and there is tremendous amount of discontinuity and one needs to adapt.
The world has seen a change both at a collective and individual level. At a collective level it has affected livelihoods but at an individual level each one has experienced a journey. A journey that is either tending towards being reflective or reactive.
“Leadership does not show in good times for any leader”. Leaders showcase their mettle when they are up against adversity. If they slip and let adversity take over, their leadership capability is questionable.
As leaders you need to accept the psychological churn internally in a positive manner and become more resolute and re-work on yourself.
“These are definitely unprecedented times, but I look at it differently. Time spent on meeting and socializing has been reduced and it has moved electronically. With a click of a button I can connect with anyone and this has saved a lot of time.
Personally, I have utilized this time to start sharing stories and writing blogs and columns in magazines which otherwise I have not been able to invest time in. In the last 90 days I have written 5 columns in Business World. Times can be tough be it is how we react to it matters and these can be great times to bring about changes in oneself”
Leadership does not show in good times for any leader. Leaders showcase their mettle when they are up against adversity.
What can the world learn from the Tatas on how not to waste a crisis?
Looking at the TATA’s archives one can understand many stories and instances. “The problem of humanity or management theory is that we only study management subjects and do not read history”. History sheds light on how human beings have managed stress and similar crisis.
In the 152 years of TATA’s history, the corporation has faced 3 pandemics (1889 Russia Pandemic, 1980- Spanish Pandemic, 1957- Hong Kong Flu). Reflecting based on the history it is evident that human memories are short and gets back to the comfort zone post a crisis.
The TATA’s strategies have remained the same for the last 100 years. Their priority has always revolved around
⦁ Save lives and livelihoods
⦁ Save community
⦁ Support Science
Be it in the capability front or the business front, the three core priorities have always taken the limelight. On the capability front the TATA’s have expanded their hospital capacity, started the online doctor facility, and invested in science and education. On the business aspects, though there are challenges globally, the TATA’s ideology of conserving cash, running operations with care, taking care of the employees and pruning cost in a sensible manner has only given them success and transformation in multiple folds.
It is evident that the TATA’s are an open corporation and they leave no gap between thought and action.
“The TATA is a corporation that behaves in a way it thinks and I am proud to be part of this DNA. We as a corporation are very strong in the IT space and help companies in their digital transformation and this time has proved magical for us. What we could not have/ could have achieved in 4 years; we have achieved in 3 to 4months in the digital journeys. There are lot of good that has happened”- KV Rao
You are on the boards of several companies, what does it take for leaders to get invited to the board?
Honestly, there are no known tricks to get on boards. There still exists fixes in boards where they associate grey hair with wisdom and experience with capability. To summarize “Conventional companies have a lot of conventions” and these boards can be boring.
Getting invited to boards can be based on 1. Networking and 2. Basis of merit or skills that you possess that is dissimilar. Many boards are running on the belief that they can resolve issues with numbers. This is based on predictable and rigid left brain thinking. To find a richer texture of decision making we need a fine balance of right brainers and left brainers and invite more of dissimilar people in varies fields and diversities including women on boards.
Boards must also realize that they cannot run on the concept of “risk never”, rather they need to foster the members to take measurable risks to see growth.
Board composition depends on the board’s leadership (chairman) and it will be the duty of the chairman to showcase progressiveness that will bring out phenomenal perspectives and see transformation.
“I am a great proponent that part of the board composition should be people who are extremely dissimilar. In one of the talks that I gave as a keynote speaker in the Institute of Directors of India, I proposed getting an artist, musician, chef or even a sportsman to sit in as boards today are getting more of the same. In boards that I am part of there are many women and they definitely bring phenomenal perspectives” – KV Rao
There have always been numerous debates surrounding the masculine and feminine. The symbol or terminology given to the masculine and feminine when it comes to the Indian spiritual side is- Purusha and Prakriti. If you notice Prakriti is given all the importance as it defines everything including creation. Purusha is only part of the whole.
The modern world constantly revolves around the debate between man versus woman. The moment we get out of the rhetoric of the debate, everything falls into place and makes us realize that it should be referred as “man and woman”. This is applicable even in the context of leadership.
Women in leadership must think that “I am an individual who is capable of the task at hand irrespective of gender”, this confidence will render them to be where they are.
There are societal issues when it comes to gender and this evolutionary part of the society treats a woman differently. But the moment you start believing in yourself the world will accept you.
“I have been part of many debates when it comes to masculine and feminine diversity. I come from a family of women who are professionals. Many a time, I feel women are partially responsible for what they get on to themselves as they have hesitation and do not render the confidence required. But it partly lies in the society. We raise the boy child differently from the girl child and lay barriers when it comes to woman entering certain professions. It is my belief that only when the lady resolves and is certain to say NO and move on with confidence the whole perspective will change” – KV Rao
What stories from South East Asia have influenced you the most?
Culture is an interesting area to explore. To put it simply, culture is a function of history, history is a function of belief structures and belief structures are a function of religious tendencies.
If you travel across India from any direction, you will notice that the culture, language, accent, and food change every 100 kms. The same applies to South East Asia, not just the cultural tenets but even the business philosophies vary. Nowhere in the world can you notice such profusion of rich culture and colour.
There are confusion philosophies that rain in all South East Asia and this tenet is the governing philosophy on how you do business. Be it anywhere from India to Japan, each part is very similar yet dissimilar. So when you have a business transaction with someone, the level of cultural sensitivity that you develop and the antenna that picks up many signals become the person who you are and it indeed is a rich experience.
Stories narrated by KV Rao
“You might pick up an MBA class in Asian Institute of Management, SMU or NUS. Each student comes from a different upbringing, yet they study the same subject. When they actually become managers there is little bit of them which will distinguish one from the other based on how their personalities have been developed”.
“Cultural appreciation and cross-cultural acknowledgement are not a theoretical subject. You can be conceptually clear but practically miserable”. One must be careful trying to be cross-cultural and not make it counterproductive. Training skill, adaptability and commitment are the key to understanding and behaving in culturally sensitive manner.
“I have seen people trying to be cross cultural by reading 15 days and 30 days books picking up few words, but it tends to be counter-productive. 30 years back, when American companies went into China the cultural coaches were the best paid and it was the Japanese who were coaching.
In my days in the International marketing there was a company in Germany who wanted to open an office in Mexico. All they did was, sent a guy there, gave him a one-way ticket, house, money for travel, food, and an interpreter. The next 90 to 100 days, this guy was not allowed to make any phone calls to his family except messages and was only taught to speak the language, behave in the same mannerism, and eat the same food. Post this he started speaking Spanish and became localized. All this was possible only due to the commitment”.
You are quite active on social media, what are your tips for increasing engagement?
Curiosity leads to high engagement. Any interest (social media or any hobby) must evoke energies of positivity and creativity to be groomed well. Jack Ma once said that “I am going to open schools and music and art will be the main subjects taught as music talks to the soul and art opens the creative umbrella”. It is indeed true that we do not need intelligent people but people with wisdom and that comes with the opening up of right brain. You become a holistic person only when you tap into your curiosity and get socially engaged.
You have a diverse range of interests, how has your leadership evolved in this process?
Leadership is a practice and hence it is difficult to define it. An exceptional leader is not just a task master but one who is empathetic, develops and gets the best out of you and inspires you overall. He/she can find the light in you and ignite it to the right extent.
A good leader is one whose mind is in the right place and can connect with people and use the 5 senses well. To give an understanding on the 5 senses in terms of leadership-
1. Ability to HEAR what other’s do not hear.
2. Ability to SMELL the problem or opportunity
3. Ability to SEE what other’s do not see
4. Ability to COMMUNICATE in a manner that is inspirational and empathetic
5. Ability to TOUCH lives.
Being AUTHENTIC and HUMBLE are pillars on which good leadership lies and unless you evolve as an individual you cannot be a leader. “Your leadership style is shaped by your personal experiences as a manager” and this happens when you work with exceptional leaders and start igniting the fire within you.
What are your thoughts on spirituality and leadership?
Before we look at the concept of spirituality and leadership, we need to understand the concept of life. “Life in itself is always a complete whole and you cannot keep some parts in and some parts out”. Whether you are a leader or any worker, all you do is lead life and spend your energy gainfully to lead life. Spirituality is part of the complete whole called life.
Each of us come with an expiry date that has a cryptic code which cannot be read. We may not be conscious of it. As a believer and looking at the Hindu way from the scriptures, life means “Jeevatma”.
In simple philosophy, “the one that gives you life is spirit and that is where the spirituality begins”.
If you delve further, you may be amazed that the one who created the entire universe is a permanent resident inside us. We may be living unaware as we tend to look only at the externalities of life, and we do not spend even 5 minutes to look within.
As an individual or leader if there is peace within you and all your elements are balanced, then no amount of tornado can affect. This can be achieved by pausing and being silent just like how rishis did living in the mountains.
What is the future as we all traverse the global pandemic?
Business will never be the usual.
In the past companies have never measured the quantum of work delivered by the employees, but now, effective measurable output will become more important than the time spent”. In simple terms there will be a huge shift from time to output.
Number of roles and jobs will disappear. We need to discover ourselves in terms of retooling, learning new skills and expanding. The one who is the fastest and quickest to learn will shine.
We will witness huge transformations in terms of business adjustments and compensations, and we need to be willing to come back to basics.
Organizational structures will have a shift and many companies may opt out of superficial layers of hierarchy.
We need to understand that, “Job losses are not life loses and we need to be happy that we are breathing and alive given the current crisis and place our hope to a better future”.
K V Rao
Senior Business Leader
Distinguished Alumnus of Indian Institute of Foreign Trade India and specialized in International Business, K V Rao has led enterprises across industry sectors, worked with the Singapore Civil Service and ran a Consulting Business. He has a wide global experience of working across cultures, and network in over 45 countries. He is also a key note speaker, blogger and columnist.