The five hats next-gen Indian business leaders need to wear
Leaders need to be comfortable with discomfort, build meaningful relationships within and outside the company, adapt authentically, and aspire to be on a global career path
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Indian organizations are struggling to find the right leadership talent. But what does right talent need to look like? Are we able to engage and retain them? Do we understand their challenges?
A new research report by US-based leadership development organization, the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) and Indian School of Business, Developing Next-Generation Indian Business Leaders: The Keys to Success, captures how organizations in India can develop a robust leadership pipeline with a global mindset, while honouring what is best and unique about India. The report was released in New Delhi by CCL chief executive officer and president John Ryan, who is a retired US Navy Vice Admiral. Ryan was superintendent (president) of the US Naval Academy. Prior to that he was a former pilot in the navy where he commanded squadrons, wings and forces in Asia, Europe and the Middle East during a 35-year career in the military. Ryan believes that India stands out in terms of its leaders as they are versatile, adaptable and “persist like the dickens”.
According to him, “there is no one India and there is no one Indian leader”. The next-generation Indian leaders need to move away from hierarchical structures and wear five “hats” to overcome challenges the context or environment presents. According to the report, the five hats describe leadership capabilities needed to execute current strategies and drive future success.
Cultivators of self
Next-gen Indian leaders need to develop their ability to energize, and to unlearn and relearn. Being a senior leader means having the passion for work, people and the organization. Next-gen Indian leaders will not only need to generate positive energy within themselves, they will also need to be “energy multipliers”, generating positive energy in and among their colleagues, customers and stakeholders.
Next-gen Indian leaders will need to unlearn certain beliefs, skills, or knowledge that is no longer helpful. They will also need to relearn based on new information, emerging trends and personal experiences. Relearning will require these leaders to demonstrate a willingness to take risks and move out of their comfort zone. Having and displaying confidence is a critical factor in the ability to unlearn and relearn. A senior Indian business leader, who wasn’t named, explained in the report, “I think there will be a complete change in whatever learning that I have just gone through in the next 10 years, so I will have to unlearn and relearn again.”
Galvanizers of individuals and teams
In addition to cultivating self, next-gen Indian leaders must draw out talent in others by connecting effectively with stakeholders, delegating judiciously to teams and developing their direct reports with intensity. Connecting with others at an interpersonal level has always been important to leading others more effectively; however, what may be unique for next-gen leaders in India is how they need to connect. Current senior leaders believe building connections with others requires respect and humility. A current senior leader pointed out, “humility in leadership is very important”. He added, “In a future leader, people handling capability and respect to individuals is of paramount importance over everything else.The fine balance between humility, assertiveness and fresh thinking is an important consideration. The balance among the three will test the leaders’ ability to appropriately gauge the situation, be self-aware and select the right approach to solve the problem.”
Indian leaders must be willing to relinquish some control to others, as well as tolerate a certain level of risk in the decisions and outcomes. The challenges are too complex not to empower and delegate to others. An incumbent leader explained, “Because our business is so diversified, a leader’s existence in the immediate short term would be at risk if she doesn’t delegate strongly.”
Stewards of organizational growth
Next-gen Indian leaders who will build successful organizations will need to see situations through different contexts, simplify complexity, and nurture connections and relationships. The business environment in India and around the globe is constantly changing. Next-gen leaders must decipher innumerable bits and bytes of data to determine what will be enduring trends versus short-term fads. This ability will require leaders to see the internal and external environment from multiple lenses and adopt inclusive “both/and” thinking as opposed to “either/or” thinking. They must also be able to simplify the complexity that exists inside and outside of the organization. Even when decisions are taken by making sense of complex information, the explanation for how those decisions will work in practice must be made simple and actionable. A senior incumbent leader elaborated, “Managing external environment is getting very, very important. You have got to influence policy positively and practically. Senior leaders who are good at that will be the most successful. That includes building networks, for example, with the government agencies.”
Builders of society
Incumbent leaders opine that successful next-gen Indian leaders will need to align their personal and organizational values to the broader purpose of serving the society. The leaders we interviewed described this “hat” of “builders of society” as more aspirational—a capability that will be better defined by the next generation. They explained that it will require a shift in seeing the business not only addressing the bottom line (financial results), but the triple bottom line (of people and planet).
Citizens of the world
As Indian businesses transcend geographical boundaries, it is imperative that Indian next-gen leaders are capable of operating in global roles with responsibilities cutting across different countries and cultures. To lead and manage multicultural teams, or to operate successfully in a global environment, the next-generation Indian leader needs to be comfortable with discomfort, build meaningful relationships within and outside the organization, adapt authentically, and most critically, have the aspiration for global career paths.
The report is based on senior leader interviews from six large companies in India—Bharti Airtel Ltd, Dr Reddy’s Laboratories Ltd, Infosys Ltd, JK Lakshmi Cement Ltd, Mahindra and Mahindra Financial Services Ltd, and Murugappa Group.