Leading Through Values, Curiosity and Accountability

Leading Through Values, Curiosity and Accountability

I gathered from one of your articles that your father was a priest in a temple. We are curious about how your values from childhood is helping you to build better leaders now?

I am, and all of us are, products of our own experiences.
Our families, schools, friends, and neighborhoods are all positive influences that inform the qualities we possess and demonstrate today as leaders. We are nothing but a testament of all these early experiences. Our traits and behaviors are shaped in these formative years, after which every experience is only an accelerator or a reinforcement of these entrenched qualities.

Morality: My childhood and upbringing have firm roots in morality – Fear of God and always choosing the right path even when no one is watching. Also, I strongly believe that the good deeds of our ancestors have a significant role in our own existence (call it Karma) but it certainly determines who we are, and who we become in our lives. Moreover, all of us have a responsibility to build enough goodwill to pass on the good karma to our future generations.

Frugality: My childhood has taught me to bucket whatever I need into three categories – Basic Needs, Unnecessary Needs and Luxury. My parents would always refuse my wants that fell under the second category and the third is anyways out of the question. This is a discipline that I have practiced in several organizations that I have been part of – GE, Toyota, Britannia, Philips Software, and others.

Authenticity: As a boy I was skinny and very introverted. However, as a leader, you should be comfortable in your skin irrespective of who you are. Be open enough to acknowledge your vulnerabilities and build your authenticity as a leader.

Relationships: Even before social media entered, I have always remained in touch with my school teachers and bosses. I believe in lifetime associations and not one-time transactional relationships.

You have worked in organizations that have scores, if not hundreds of leaders. How do you develop leaders at scale?

Culture and leadership are twins, helping each other.

Culture: I strongly believe that leadership and culture are twins, leadership being the physical twin and culture the virtual one. It is a symbiotic relationship where culture defines leadership values and behaviors, corrects it, and sets the right expectations. So, mass leadership development can happen only when there is a thriving organizational culture.

Ownership: It is yours to build, and the onus lies with the leaders themselves to build the next generation of leaders. Every leader has a responsibility to develop others and usher in more leaders for the benefit of the organization. If this is not happening, they will have to face the consequences.

Community: The concept of leading in an ecosystem is the key. This brings the 360-degree leadership concept, to becoming a good peer, subordinate, and leader. It also brings out the aspect of leadership in the context of a larger ecosystem of partners, alliances, and critical stakeholders.

Value: Valuing leadership is equally important from an organization standpoint, and they must walk the talk in this space. There must be role models and influencers across the organization for others to emulate.

All of us have a responsibility to build enough goodwill to pass on the good karma to our future generations.

With so much change happening in the environment, industry, and technology, how does a leader like you learn?

Nobody can teach anybody, we can only kindle their curiosity

Curiosity: I am a firm believer of self-directed learning and the best way to learn is by being curious and asking better questions.

Generosity: Your learning journey is never complete if it is not shared. I recall how I used to share my lesson with school mates during exam times. All my friends were appreciative of the fact that I used to share a lot of knowledge in a story format which they could easily remember.

Kolb Experiential Learning: I follow the Kolb experiential learning which has four bipolar dimensions – on the vertical axis you have concrete experiences and abstract conceptualization and on the horizontal axis there is reflective observation and active experimentation. These four dimensions are often missed out during the learning process, and I have learnt a great deal through this approach. I apply, test it, and share it with others.

Unless you push boundaries, you will never break them: In the Talent industry, I ensured that I learnt a variety of subjects such as data science, quality, six sigma, SAP and technology. This is another dimension in my learning journey.

Mental Space: While my boss delegates and gives me sufficient space to operate in, likewise I have a responsibility to provide my team with the space for them work freely and think through.

Kolb Experiential Learning
In 1984 Social Psychologist and adult educator, David Kolb published the Experiential Learning Theory which states that “learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience”

COVID has imposed several changes on individuals and organizations. From your vantage point, what are the leadership blind spots you are observing?

We may be separated physically, but connected psychologically

COVID has certainly separated us physically but has connected us psychologically. Through the multiple virtual meetings, I have had with my team, I am able to connect with their human side as they work from home. Every change presents constraints and opportunities, and it is our duty to train ourselves and our teams, to only see the opportunities and never complain. In this context of the new normal, leaders will have to accept the changing external economic climate and importantly, style their leadership persona accordingly.

The book that I read recently, The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability is a leadership book written by Roger Connors, Tom Smith, and Craig Hickman, first published in 1994. The fulcrum of the book is about driving accountability within your teams by: Seeing It, Owning It, Solving It, and Doing It. As leaders, we must help our teams to see the problem, own it, solve it and finally do it. This is especially relevant to the tough times of now, where we must rise together and make things happen.

Leaders should stop being transactional and become transformative leaders. Transactional leaders are the ones who lead not to lose, on the contrary, transformative leaders are those who lead to win. I would urge leaders never to settle down, constantly push the envelope and lead to win.

Sometimes, leaders could be ahead of their organizations in strategy and aspiration. How do smart leaders carry their organizations along?

⦁ Do not over engineer it, especially the systems and processes that organizations cannot fathom much. There should be an optimal balance between all factors to keep the organization moving forward steadily.
⦁ When you move fast, it may scare others. You must ensure as a leader you carry others along.
⦁ And never become too aggressive when you clamour for success and spotlight.

However, all this does not mean you let go of the agile mode and settle for a slower pace. Instead, prepare your organization to accelerate and function as an agile and nimble team. Importantly acknowledge that not everybody can match your velocity. You need to guide them more than you would for those who operate at a faster pace. Management tells us 80% of the employees contribute 20% and 20% of the employees contribute to 80% so pick this 20% and work with them to achieve higher order results and business outcomes.

Sreekanth Arimanithaya Sreekanth Arimanithaya

Global Talent and Enablement Services Leader
EY Global Delivery Services, EY GDS

Sreekanth Arimanithaya is the Global Talent and Enablement Services Leader at EY Global Delivery Services (EY GDS). He leads business and HR transformation programs which focus on strategic change management, people supply chain management and digitalization of Talent. He is passionate about driving Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and is part of the EY Global Diversity and Inclusiveness Steering Committee. He is also a certified Six Sigma Master Blackbelt and Agile Coach. He believes his purpose is to leave a legacy in family, community and organization.

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