in association with

Article

THE ESSENCE OF SURVIVAL: THE SUCCESSFUL MANAGER LEADER

Raj Kamal Gupta

I am grateful to other thinkers who have provided me with my theme for this article.

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. Instinctively, it knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.

Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. Instinctively, it knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you’d better be running.

Vultures watch the race. They have to be in the right place at the right time. The race is fuelled by hunger.

Businesses in an open economy reflect the African survival story; they run a race every day. Managers, or even better, leaders, are in the race. The race is fuelled by money.

In the race, it is most important that you know who you are. You may believe that lions are stronger than gazelles. The predator is stronger than the prey. But without the gazelle, the lion will not---cannot---survive. And remember; lions do not kill for pleasure. They do not exercise power on a whim; they kill when they must.

What are the necessary qualities of a manager, a leader? What is the difference between a manager and a leader? Is Barack Obama? Is Bill Gates a leader? A better leader than say…..Mother Teresa? Is a leader wealthy? Think of the Mahatma. Does he command armies? Think of many religious leaders.

A leader is a man, or woman, with an idea that he is not afraid to teach, practice and promote. A leader is a person with vision and necessarily, charisma. The skills of management enable him to be influential, to guide others, to mould circumstance to fit the need. Leaders don’t necessarily do different things, but it is true that they do things differently. They are not mysterious people.

Well, leaders lead by example, inspiration, ability, effort, and more often than not, charisma. Managers oversee, direct and coordinate others so that an end goal is reached.

Leadership and Management are two distinctive and complementary courses of action. Each has its own function and characteristic activities, and both are necessary for success in an increasingly complex and rapidly changing business environment. The trick for you is to synthesize both sets of skills; if management is about coping with complexity, leadership is about coping with change.

Where leadership begins by setting a direction, management sets about realizing that direction firstly by formulating plans and budgets, setting goals for the future. These Management then develops the capacity to achieve its plan by organization and staffing, to create a corporate structure. The equivalent leadership activity is aligning people---communicating the new direction to those who can understand the vision and are committed to its achievement.

Finally, management ensures plan accomplishment by controlling and problem solving, monitoring results through observation, accounting procedures, reports, effective meetings and devising strategies to solve problems. But for leadership, achieving a vision requires motivating and inspiring, keeping people moving in synchronization despite major obstacles, by appealing to basic but often untapped human needs, values and emotions.

You must marry leadership skills with management skills. You must lead people into new territory with managerial ability as your compass.

Management is a Science, and Leadership is an Art. Both involve skills. Leaving aside geniuses, for there is no accounting for genius, skills can be taught. Skills can be learned. Clearly, the leader must have the knowledge and background that enable him to manage, and the manager must have the necessary ‘people skills’, acumen and foresight to lead a team, perhaps into uncharted territory. The manager/leader must know his people and know the task, and first she must know herself. Leaders do the right things; managers do things right. Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.

Too often, business magnates are seen as heroes. A leader may behave heroically from time to time, but heroism cannot be equated with leadership. It is often said that no-one knows how a soldier will behave until he comes under enemy fire. Then the strongest often shies away from valour, while the weakest shows great courage in the face of adversity, even to the point of risking…sacrificing…his life for what he may believe is a better cause, and certainly believes is his duty. Although good management is necessary for an army to function effectively, no-one has yet worked out how to manage people into battle; they must be led. Generally, people who accumulate wealth are not heroes, but they are hard-working, focused, clever opportunists. They are not afraid to take a calculated risk.

Some people believe that those in positions of power had ‘had a lucky break’. This may be true in many cases, but let us be honest here. It is a privilege to be here, right here, right now. The majority of people in this amazing country of extremes will not have the chance to even look inside here. So let us not look for lady luck to be on our side. She already is. Now we must learn the skills of management, of leadership, and must know who you are.

Maybe you think you are a lion; clever, strong, stealthy, ruthless when you have to be. Do check it out, though. You will face difficult decisions that involve not only money, contracts and progress, but also the livelihoods of others.

Maybe you are a gazelle, who is nimble and has the support of his peer group, who must always be alert and ready to run the race, whatever his state of well-being, whatever the terrain.

Maybe you are a vulture, dependent on others, always maneuvering to be in that right place at the right time.

Once you know yourself, you must learn how to run. These are the skills we learn. When you are learning, do set yourself ‘smart-targets’; it does help! To run means to take one stride at a time. To learn means to acquire knowledge and skills one level at a time. Set yourself ‘Smart’ Targets that are :

S: Specific, so you know, in concrete terms, what you have to do;

M: Measurable, so you know that you have met that target before setting another;

A: Achievable, so that your work is challenging but not defeating;

R : Repeatable, so that your success is not a one-off wonder;

T: Time-Framed, so that you fulfill your task in an allotted time.

‘SMART’ targets really do work; they will enhance your self-confidence levels.

I have mentioned before that in an open economy, money fuels the race. It is a sad fact that in India, perhaps more than any other country, money has to be paid to just get things done. This is ‘the system’; and working in business for yourself or in a managerial capacity for a company can be heart-breaking. Wheels grind along slowly, if at all, unless you ‘grease’ them, and often, no-one you are dealing with is in a rush. No one but you.

I would therefore, give this piece of advice in all your future dealings: be ethical. For while money can buy lots of things, it is said that money cannot buy happiness. I used to challenge this because I quite like the idea of a large house---no, three large houses, a swimming pool, fantastic holidays and all the friends that money can buy! But I now believe that money can’t buy happiness, simply because it cannot buy peace of mind. If you live ethically and deal with others….all others..…with respect and consideration, then you get peace of mind. Sure, you can look for the edge; competition is necessary. But let your ambition not become egotistical pride. Let it be healthy. It is possible to take tough decisions and still be a very warm person. Know yourself. Be ethical. And don’t forget that if ethics are poor at the top, then that behaviour is copied right down through the organization. Your profits will drop, your reputation, your image will all suffer. People at the top have certain rights, but every right implies a responsibility. Ever use, or misuse, of power, implies accountability.

Strive for quality. A story is told of a little boy, about ten years old who goes to the ISD booth and phones up a number. The following conversation takes place:

Excuse me, Ma’am’ Can I mow your lawn for you?

‘No thanks, I already got someone who does that’.

‘I’ll do it cheaper!’

‘No thanks, sonny.’

‘I’ll do it for half the price that the other guy charges!’

‘OK Ma’am; you sure? I’ll wash your car as well!’

‘No, It’s OK, but thank you very much’.

The boy put the phone down and a man who had been listening said: ‘Hey, you can mow my lawn if you’re doing it that cheap?’

The boy said ’No, mister; actually, I am the boy who regularly mows that lady’s lawn; I was just checking that she was happy with my work.

So you ensure that you do quality work. The marketplace won’t accept anything less from the young executive who wants to get on in life.

Wherever you work , I guarantee you several things:

Number 1: You will work very hard; extremely hard; sometimes you will work harder than you ever thought possible. But make space for important people in your life. Try and do so regularly. Try and do so now, even if your work is demanding. Don’t neglect those who love you. If you turn you back for too long they might not be there when you look around.

Number 2: Do not fear failure. The best managers just make less mistakes than anyone else. If you can look back and say you got less things wrong last quarter than you did in the one previous, then you are improving and on a good learning curve. And the learning curve never stops. But sadly, no-one is perfect and somewhere along the line you will fail. The mark of the real man or woman is not that they fall six times, but that they stand up seven.

Do you know that many of the most important things you learned was through doing something wrong. I didn’t learn that smoking cigarettes was harmful because someone told me so; I learned from waking up one morning with a bad cough and a throat as dry as dust. I truly learned that it was terrible to really wound someone with my attitude and words---or lack of words---only when I had been truly hurt myself. Do not be afraid to fail; do not be afraid to take a risk. Only fear being beaten. Never be beaten. Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm. Never, never, never, never give in.

Number 3: India is in a constant state of flux. You had better discriminate between what is good in Western culture and what is bad. The equation ‘West equals Good is not true. So have an international outlook; that is necessary. Welcome people of different cultures and backgrounds as friends, but be true to your own upbringing and the best of your own traditions. And in this India, this soon-to-be economic powerhouse, be assured that one tradition will change: ‘Respect of Position’ will give place to ‘Respect of Ability’. No longer will a person command the attention and service of people because ‘he’s the boss’;. You will have to earn the respect of your colleagues, right down to the most menial of workers. You will not be able to rule by fear, and I hope that you do not want to. You are going to have to show them that you do a good job, that you can do their job well. You will have to build a team, and tread the narrow line between the friendly professional and the disciplinarian who is not afraid to make the tough choice. That’s a hard skill to learn.

Number 4: You will be constantly challenged…new circumstances, new competition. Younger lions, faster gazelles, craftier vultures. For this reason, I believe that one skill you must learn is the ability to unlearn and relearn.

I was not brought up with computers; I have had to learn it as an adult.

You were not brought up with mobile phones. You have had to learn how to use it. The mobile phone companies have tried really hard to market this learning experience as an enjoyable one. By and large, they have succeeded.

And often I tell a story of the teacher who was on a panel show with a slick, smooth-talking entrepreneur who said to the teacher: ‘What do you do. My bank balance is much bigger than yours.’

After a while, the teacher said to him: ‘What do you do?’

‘I make ice-cream, he said; the best. Lots of different flavours from lots of different fruit.’

She then inquired ‘And what do you do if you get a bad batch of fruit?’

‘I send it back, he said; we only use top-quality ingredients’

‘I can’t send back a bad batch of children,’, said the teacher. ‘You know what I do? I make a difference. A real difference’.

That’s another piece of advice: Don’t try and keep your prospective bank balance too much in the forefront of your mind. Don’t just try and make money. Try and make a difference. If we all made a difference, there would be no hardship, no cruelty, no poverty. Don’t be selfish, and then you can make a difference. There was no more hard-bitten, ruthless businessman than the man who pioneered the mass production of the automobile, Henry Ford, and he said ‘A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business’.

On a very basic level of operation, I advise to write and speak English well. It is a skill in short supply in the corporate world. Dialogue and conversation are sharpest and best when you use the correct word in the exact place at the right time. Use accurate English, not fashionable idioms that are ‘cool’ yet mindless. When the chances come, read as often as you can, but don’t read junk. Good manager-leaders are marred by an inability to write, because they have never practiced, and an inability to speak, because they speak the lazy man’s limited English. Be sharp, clear, concise. Productivity and technical skills in India are on a par with the rest of the world, but Indians lag behind in their language proficiency and Corporate etiquette – soft skills required to be an “anywhere” worker in the new global economy. Sadly our education system fails to equip us as far as this is concerned. Grammar can be taught, what I can’t be taught is vivacity, empathy, charisma and the ability to get people exited and enthused.

Neither lions, nor gazelles, nor vultures sleep for very long stretches. Even at night, their naps are interspersed with time of wakefulness. They are always on the watch, ready for the opportunity. Like them, be sure that when the sun comes up, you are ready to run.