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Business News/ Opinion / Online-views/  Haresh Chawla | Who wants to be a CEO?

Haresh Chawla | Who wants to be a CEO?

If you don't want be a middle manager for the rest of your life, start behaving like an owner

The successful professional entrepreneur combines curiosity, humility and passion, and a willingness to try harder than the next guy. Photo: iStockPremium
The successful professional entrepreneur combines curiosity, humility and passion, and a willingness to try harder than the next guy. Photo: iStock

What does being entrepreneurial in a professional environment really mean? Why is it important for your employer and you? Bluntly put, the professional versus entrepreneur as a leader debate is over. Companies need people with entrepreneurial instinct.

Many examples exist of transformations that leaders with this instinct have unleashed. ICICI Bank Ltd transitioned from a semi-public sector bank into one of India’s most powerful financial institutions. The same can be said of Mahindra and Mahinndra Ltd and Tata group. They got in young people, and walked away from the age-old Indian Administrative Service promotions-based-on-tenure mindset. They created professional entrepreneurs.

You too can be a professional entrepreneur. Allow me to share a few things I learnt in my career as one.

This is the simplest, but biggest shift you need to make. Irrespective of your title or position in the hierarchy, act and behave as if you own the business. Start thinking like the owner. Nobody promotes a manager who does a good job. Don’t be a manager of resources; be resourceful.

It doesn’t matter whether you work for a multinational, an Indian corporate entity or a family-driven business. Your approach and commitment will be visible to stakeholders, and they will trust you when times get tough. That’s where your journey to the top starts.

You don’t go to work any more. Remember that. You are there to commandeer resources and build something bigger than you. So forget your peeves about peers, whether you are being paid the market salary, whether your cabin is big enough or whether you ought to be promoted early.

Winning professionals go to the front, grab tough assignments with both hands and build a venture out of a project. Don’t treat your next assignment as a task. See whether you make it something that has a far-reaching impact on the organization. The results will follow.

Alert, aware, always on. That’s the mantra for entrepreneurial leaders. They don’t work 9am to 5pm. They are always aware of every nuance of what’s happening in the business. They spot inconsistencies, are constantly curious about competition, customers, regulators, trends and always trying to smell an opportunity or spot a crisis before it comes. They don’t have a set formula. Instead, they are always ready to pivot and rework strategy to get ahead. Let’s call this external awareness. Now you need to think how to develop this muscle.

Most of us settle into a nice title and cubicle. I built external awareness by cultivating unrest, of being uncomfortable, until I learnt more; until I knew more about what competitors were doing; until I knew what consumers were consuming; until I figured what is happening in the industry globally. Always watching, always learning.

Operate at all levels. Cut through the chain of command. An entrepreneur knows that to effectively steer his business, he needs to have his finger on the pulse of the business. He’s not constrained by his cabin, but is on the shop floor. No job is too small or too big for him. He aims to inspire people he works with, not manage them. It sounds clichéd, but the entrepreneur sees people as force multipliers. He empowers them to win.

Outcome, outcome, outcome. Entrepreneurs don’t care much about activity. They don’t get lulled into thinking they had a productive day because they shuffled a few mails and attended a few meetings. They are their worst critics and ensure they do everything to move the needle. Think about yesterday—and examine harshly if you did something that actually moved needle for your firm and for you.

Entrepreneurs structure their businesses and teams around the problem. They refuse to live with hierarchy. Roles and responsibilities are assigned based on the demands of the business, where situations dictate the structure. But to solve a business problem, the organization needs to align itself around it. I call this internal awareness, where resources adapt to external realities.

Again, you will find your organization has built a method of approaching a problem. Sooner or later, these methods get out of sync with market realities and nobody notices. You need to be the one who watches out for myopia that’s creeping into the place you work.

Develop your self-awareness muscle. All battles are first fought in the head. Take ownership of managing yourself, and only then try to manage others. The successful professional entrepreneur combines curiosity, humility and passion, and a willingness to try harder than the next guy.

If you don’t want be a middle manager for the rest of your life, start behaving like an owner. Every company today wants people who can command their ships, and create a new future. But if you’re stuck in a company that doesn’t value these qualities, quit now and find one that does.

A longer version of this story is available on

Haresh Chawla was founding chief executive of Network18. He joined the firm in 1999 when it had revenue of 15 crore. When he moved out in 2012, he had built it into a 3,000 crore media conglomerate. He is now partner at India Value Fund, and mentors several start-ups.

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Updated: 23 Mar 2015, 08:05 PM IST
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