While there is tonnes of literature on how to be a good leader, the flip side—of how to be a good subordinate—is rarely discussed. Yet a partnership with your direct boss is key to how you will rise up the ladder.
In his new book, What the CEO ‘Really’ Wants From You, author and director of Tata Sons Ltd, R. Gopalakrishnan, tells the story of deserving before desiring. What the CEO ‘Really’ Wants From You is a book of pragmatic solutions culled from a vast experience of 45 years—31 at Hindustan Unilever Ltd and 14 at Tata.
Gopalakrishnan talks about balancing self-interest with the company’s interests, explains the attributes of a high-potential manager, suggests ways of disagreeing without becoming disagreeable and, most importantly, provides a refreshing view of what the CEO truly cares about.
To understand a manager’s practical intelligence or personal development, Gopalakrishnan has created the 4As model—accomplishment, affability, advocacy and authenticity. According to him, accomplishment refers to the attribute of delivering results reliably. It has to be learnt like all skills and practised. Affability is the attribute of developing agreeable relationships and getting things done in an appropriate manner. Advocacy is the skill of envisioning new ideas and persuading others to debate those new ideas. Authenticity is the perception others develop about you, especially subordinates, and about who they think you are.
These four attributes vary in importance at each stage of one’s career journey and Gopalakrishnan has mapped these stages of evolution for a manager—from managing tasks to managing relationships and managing thoughts and, eventually, from thoughts to self-awareness.
In addition to Gopalakrishnan’s ideas, CEOs spell out what their colleagues and teams can do to make their work life simpler and more effective:
Look at the bigger picture
“When it comes to my immediate team, I look for a clear, strong orientation towards results, as opposed to short-term processes. It’s not enough to just mark things off a checklist. If those processes don’t result in anything, then what’s the point? There’s a tendency to get too involved in your particular role. But sometimes looking at things from a distance can reveal gaps to you. Apart from your particular responsibility, if you can have a wider perspective of things and keep the larger goal of the company in mind, it’s very good for someone in my position.”
— Pranay Chulet, CEO, Quikr.com
Mentor your teams
“What I fundamentally expect from my immediate team is that they mentor their own consequent teams and share goals and responsibilities. It’s what most teams lag: Your company may have a great vision but there are always barriers in delivery and execution, because there’s no shared sense of accountability. The power of a team is phenomenal if you are able to channelize it, if there’s sharing of credit, if you’re helping and guiding your peers. There’s a fine line between delegation and abdication. In the latter, you expect someone with lesser experience and resources than you to do your work, but you take credit for it. You need to partner with your one-downs, with peers, take away barriers for them. If you don’t, you’re not doing your complete job. You can’t ask people to run and run faster. You need to equip them correctly.”
—Colvyn Harris, CEO, J Walter Thompson, South Asia.
Voice your opinion
“I’ve always been vocal about my opinions no matter how my boss was. When I was general manager at the Bank of India, during meetings the chairman would say something and then invariably look towards me. That meant a great deal. I think it was because he knew that I wasn’t a sycophant. We had our differences as well. It wasn’t always a cordial relationship. But he would listen carefully when I spoke. I think the man on top needs support and encouragement too. He’s at the helm of affairs and shoulders a lot of responsibility. Before a big day or big decision, I used to phone my boss and wish him luck, or ask if he needed any help. Over time I realized he used to wait for my phone call. Also, the No. 2 level of executives is a very crucial set of people. But it’s imperative that they are chasing institutional goals and not personal goals always. I understand ambition at that level, because you’ve almost reached the top, but pursuit for personal glory is unhealthy for the culture of the organization. It’s a culture in India: The individual becomes bigger than the institution, or the team.”
—S. Raman, former chairman and managing director, Canara Bank, currently a Sebi member.
Live the shared vision
“In smaller organizations people work very closely together. Everyone’s driven by passion and a shared vision. It matters that the people running the show share the same passion for not only business but the values that the brand is built on. If we’re built on values of ecology and cutting-edge design, I expect that the top leadership feels strongly about it, because it’s a top-down effect. One man on the top cannot drive everyone else. I depend on my team to do that. In time it becomes a culture. People don’t have to come back to me with every small thing because they know what my say in it is likely to be. Several times a year, we gather at a beautiful beach in Pondicherry (Puducherry). People gather, discuss, talk and it helps us pull together as a group.”
—Dilip Kapur, founder and president, Hidesign.