At the launch of columnist Aparna Piramal Raje’s book, Working Out Of The Box: 40 Stories Of Leading CEOs, four chief executive officers (CEOs) came together to discuss their working styles, how they maintain workspaces that reflect the values they believe in and how they have evolved as leaders.

The book, which was released on Tuesday, is a compilation of Raje’s columns published in Mint. It contains 40 profiles of CEOs and their workspaces.

According to Raje, little things like how desktop positions or how technologies are used can actually tell how CEOs do things every day that makes them successful. All those little things they do are actually in the DNA of the bigger success stories, she said.

How they evolved in terms of working style and leadership

N. Chandrasekaran, managing director and chief executive officer, Tata Consultancy Services Ltd

We are always influenced by people. Leadership style is something we evolve. It is very difficult to point out and say this is it. We learn every day. I don’t know how I will do things a few years from now.

Ajay Piramal, chairman, Piramal group

It is very difficult to say this is the eureka moment. It really evolves over time. You see what’s happening around you. It is difficult to say this one or this incident has made a difference.

Shikha Sharma, managing director and chief executive officer, Axis Bank Ltd

Leadership styles evolve as you go through more experiences. I have always been someone who is emotional. I’m supposed to be a tough manager. One of the feedbacks I was given as a middle-level manager was that I was emotional. However, I made my choices that if I change that I’m not going to be effective. So I thought I’m not going to change because my workplace demands it and I will take the consequences. So I chose to stay emotional and I chose to stay transparent, but learnt to be in control.

Amar Goel, chief executive officer, Komli Media

Things like transparency, accountability and honesty are all important. But more important is to work in a way that you believe in and it has to be authentic. I think it’s hard to change those principles but the tactics you adopt will definitely change over time.

How leaders handle the situation when things don’t work out

Chandrasekaran: You have your ups and downs but the whole game is to continue to do what you do best rather than worrying if it will work out or not. Without losing the intensity, I have become more observant and have become a better listener.

Piramal: We talk a lot about values and how we need to practice our values. One of the values is humility, the ability to listen, the ability to respect others’ opinions. Everybody seems to think that we have been good with mergers and acquisitions and we have got the best value. But we have missed out on deals because of arrogance rather than being humble. Other times we have made the wrong acquisition because we again think we are the best and we should get it. If we had stuck to essentially the values we talked about—humility—we wouldn’t have made the mistakes.

Goel: Over the years, what I have learnt is that I have become more plainspoken and a lot more direct. We need to be direct but not rude, obviously. Make sure that the message comes across nicely even if it’s a tough message.

Sharma: Trying to bring about organizational change, one thing I have learnt is to prioritize change. If you try to change too much too quickly it will end up causing massive chaos. Sometimes you may think that taking a certain course is not the right path but you have to figure out whether changing a particular system is that important or it can wait.

How well do you know what’s going on in your business, structures, processes?

Chandrasekaran: Fundamentally you have structures and processes but I’m extremely committed...to the team...because I’m travelling all the time, I keep myself informed through whatever tools I have.

Piramal: There are some formal processes that help us in knowing what’s happening—whether it’s the customer or whether it’s the employee engagement service. Besides the formal processes, people must also realize that there is a culture that people are heard, if they are saying something, they are heard. And sometimes when you know people well, you can watch them, understand their body language, the way they talk and that itself is good enough.

Sharma: There are a lot of things happening in a large organization. In all the businesses I have been in, I spent a couple of years developing the dashboards and improving the dashboards. That way you make sure you get the information you want and in the way you want. So I watch the pattern and I know when something is going out of the pattern. So I use the dashboard a lot.

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