These are rather sweaty times, despite the good weather, for the suits and white-collared lot in India. At least that’s what the hundreds, nay thousands, of public relations emails that clog up the inboxes of unsuspecting journalists would have us believe. The hyperactive PR machinery is quickly reducing “active leader" to a cliché. But even this cloud has a silver lining, after all there is no smoke without fire. The reason for this “active leader" overdrive is that a large number of top bosses, in an inspired state, are adopting an active lifestyle.
Running and cycling are the most widely indulged-in sports in India Inc.’s corridors of power. The reasons are simple: neither requires the learning of a new skill, they are not as hard on the body as football or tennis and are accessible, says Rajan Handa, Oakley India’s brand business manager. This has made managements more open to extending support to sports and fitness activities within their organizations. “India Infoline has a fair number of runners, including some partners and founders, in its leadership team. It has a domino effect on other sports. Recently, some employees wanted to have a cricket tournament and their initiative was also supported," says Sumit Bali, CEO and executive director, India Infoline Finance Ltd.
Before the Edelweiss Group expanded its management committee, or Man Co., as chairman and CEO Rashesh Shah describes it, last year, 60% of the members were runners. Today, with the inclusion of a number of non-runners, 40% of the members are runners . This small fact explains a lot about Edelweiss’ organizational culture, the attitude of its leadership team, and the sports partnerships the company has entered into. “We organize a run for the entire Edelweiss family during the monsoon but also extend support to all other sports and fitness activities that our employees want to indulge in," says Shah, a marathoner.
When a large chunk of the leadership team is into a demanding sport that demands fitness, it sends out a strong message and influences the conversations related to work. “At Man Co. meetings, many leaders often use running analogies while discussing business plans and issues," adds Shah. “This piques the interest of others and encourages them. Many give running a try. If it works for them, they stick to it, otherwise they pick up some other activity that they like." Edelweiss Asset Management’s chief investment officer for alternative equity, Nalin Moniz, took to running two years ago and now runs half marathons regularly.
An organization’s senior personnel already have a lot in common in terms of work and organizational goals, regardless of their roles. Playing the same sport, however, makes it easier to break the ice and leads to smoother communication, says Bali. And effective communication is great for corporate efficiency.
The benefits of a lively leadership team extend beyond individual lives. They influence an organization’s culture. “When your leadership is involved in a healthy activity, it sends out a strong message to the rest of the team that work-life balance is important. An active leader also brings positive energy and an aura to the workplace that is infectious," says Vivek Singh, joint managing director of Procam International, promoters of some of India’s biggest running events. The presence of these leaders on a grand platform like the Tata Mumbai Marathon also turns media attention to the sport, which helps the sport grow.
An employee’s approach to a recreational sport also gives a leader valuable insight into attitude and character. The way people plan, train and overcome challenges in a sport mimics their approach to work. “Whether it is running or any sport, my colleague’s preparation and dedication for it tells a lot about how they would function in a professional set-up," says Bali.
Clearly, an active leadership team does a lot of good company-wide— but such leaders also need to stay alert to the possibility of sports being used as a means to further one’s agenda. “Any sport should not be perceived as an entry ticket to hang out with the senior management," warns Shah. Echoing this, Bali says, “One needs to be careful to not let employees use sports like running to gain access and win favours with the bosses." That explains why leaders take the field with their employees only at annual events. After all, fair play is the most vital lesson in sport.
The Running Company is a column that explores how sporting events impact brands.
Shrenik Avlani is co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.