Humility makes CEOs from India stand out
MUMBAI: What's common between Satya Nadella, Indra Nooyi, Nitin Nohria and Rajeev Suri. Yes, they are all Indians who have made it to top global posts. But they have also brought in a new dimension to what characterizes leadership traits. The one trait that stands out among these stalwarts is humility, which increasingly is being considered an important virtue of leadership.
The era of the swashbuckling CEO whose extroverted demeanour at one point was considered to be the sole characteristic of a strong leader, is passe. As cocky arrogance gives way to humility, experts believe demand for a humble CEO is on the rise.
"Humility is the key to being a respected leader. Because that means you are receptive towards learning and professional growth," said Govind Iyer, partner, Egon Zehnder India.
Iyer, however, said humility does not mean one can't be aggressive and an extrovert. "If these qualities are displayed with positive intent (and not arrogance), then the leader is seen as inspirational and with humility. Some of the most successful organizations build these qualities in their leaders," said Iyer.
Recently, a study ranked Indra Nooyi, CEO, PepsiCo, among the top 10 humble US CEOs. Early this year, Nohria, the dean of Harvard Business School, humbly apologized for the school's past behaviour towards women, while promising to reverse the situation. Former colleagues and classmates of Nadella, the new Microsoft CEO, and Suri, the new Nokia CEO, talk about their humility and achievements in the same breath.
Can the rise of the Indian global CEO attributed to 'H' factor? Rajiv Burman, managing partner, Lighthouse Partners, an executive search firm, thinks so. "Given our strong emphasis on family and social relationships, they (Indian leaders) work very effectively in groups with humility, a lost trait these days," said Burman. It is for this reason perhaps that Indian leaders are said not to push for maximizing their financial packages unlike their western counterparts, a trait appreciated by shareholders as well.
It is now an accepted fact that leaders who develop higher self-awareness tend to be more humble. In an uncertain world, a self-aware leader creates success by working with and leveraging expertise of peers and a larger network of colleagues, according to Vivek Chachra, country manager - India, Harvard Business Publishing (HBP), which works with several clients to develop current and future leaders with one of the pillars of focus being self-awareness. "We see several leading companies in India recognizing and appreciating this approach and dedicating up to 25%-30% of development time of their leaders to build self-awareness," said Chachra.
Leading in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world requires a leader to be flexible, reactive, dynamic and able to learn from others, and to demonstrate this, said Gurprriet Siingh, director & head, YSC India, leaders need to be humble. Humility underpins curiosity and a desire to learn which "allows them to be comfortable with the vulnerability of 'not knowing' but powerful in the belief that someone else might know and as leader it is their job to find and empower that 'someone'".
Evolved organizations are learning to distinguish between individuals driven by personal ambition and individuals driven to make a difference to the greater good. "Humility and the ability to delay gratification are becoming key traits that boards, outgoing CEOs are looking for in their successors," said Siingh of YSC India, a boutique consulting firm that specializes in executive coaching, organization development and executive assessment.
In her new book, 'The Key', Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice, London Business School, has pointed out how leadership is changing. She talks about authenticity, the 'inner journey' to understand and develop a sense of moral compass, and worldview, which is the 'outer journey' and is about looking outside, understanding the challenges of the world and being able to work across stakeholders.
Harish Manwani, COO, Unilever, recently told TOI, good leaders are those who build people bigger than themselves. Nothing works better than humility to accept that others can grow bigger than the individual.
The IIT-groomed babu who said ‘no’ to Narendra Modi
Lucknow:Varanasi, Despite his clean track record since he joined the IAS, Varanasi district magistrate Pranjal Yadav's CV has one glitch he'll find difficult to explain: his affiliation with the patriarch of Uttar Pradesh's ruling clan, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav.
Ever since Pranjal, as the returning officer, delayed permission to Narendra Modi's rally in the holy city, posters have come up in many places questioning his neutrality in the electoral process.
In one such image that has gone viral on social media, Pranjal is described as the son of Mulayam's first cousin. Advising people to disseminate the details as widely as possible, the poster also said this will help build pressure on Election Commission and ensure Pranjal's quick removal. BJP has charged that elections in Varanasi won't be impartial under his watch.
However, even as BJP leaders like Arun Jaitley and Modi's aide Amit Shah have called Pranjal biased and urged the EC to removal him, many people in Varanasi appreciate him for his work.
"The DM is most impartial. He is hard working and dedicated. The BJP is unnecessary accusing him of wrong-doing for votes. Such drama by a national party should be condemned. We support our DM," said Ashok Kapoor, an industrialist and exporter.
Born in 1980, Pranjal is a 2006 batch IAS officer. He was the Azamgarh DM before he was transferred to Varanasi. A B.Tech from IIT Roorkee, Yadav earned people's appreciation for removing encroachments and widening roads. "The city needs an officer like him for development," said Dr Brijesh Pandey, a teacher at Agrasen Girls PG College.
Showing his affinity to Ganga, Pranjal undertook ambitious work of river profiling to protect its historic ghats from caving in. He formed a committee in October 2013 to assess the problems and find a solution. Besides engineers and officials of different departments including Central Water Commission, PWD, irrigation, and the municipal corporation, the committee also comprises civil engineering experts from IIT-BHU.