Business Today
The Wisdom of Leaders
As we get ready to welcome 2018, we are passing through an era of unprecedented disruption at every level - technology, business, society, politics and globalisation.
The Wisdom of Leaders

As we get ready to welcome 2018, we are passing through an era of unprecedented disruption at every level - technology, business, society, politics and globalisation. We are also welcoming a new generation of future leaders in our workforce. What can this new generation do to better navigate the challenges of today and tomorrow.

I believe that while we are going through unprecedented change, the essential leadership challenges have not changed. Leaders of this generation - and future generations - will still need to develop and articulate a clear vision, manage people in rough times, and build institutional systems and processes that pass the test of time.

And while it is true that leadership cannot be taught in the classroom and that you have to be born with some qualities that help you lead people and organisations, it is also true that no one becomes a leader without learning crucial lessons. Whether these lessons come from events in one's life, challenges faced during specific situations, or exceptional mentors that one is lucky to get, no man or woman becomes a complete leader without picking up these life lessons.

For our anniversary issue this year, we asked 29 leaders the best management lesson they ever learnt in their lives - and how it helped them in managing and building organisations. Without exception, they shared their insights, their stories and their wisdom. They talked about the seminal events that shaped their thinking, the challenges that honed their strategies, and the mentors who guided their lives.

This issue is packed with stories that have over 1,000 years of experience of managing corporations, building institutions and managing people backing them.

But while each story, experience and lesson learnt is unique, there are a few common lessons as well that the leaders reiterate time and again.

The first is that there is no substitute for hard work and persistence and leading by example. A.M. Naik, Chairman of Larsen & Toubro, and a few of his colleagues worked till the wee hours of the morning once to fix a particular machinery problem in their Powai workshop. The next morning, Naik was back at work at 8.20 a.m. to punch his card.

The second important lesson is about values and building trust. Ajay Piramal did not export generics to the US market even when he could have made enormous profits doing so - simply because he had committed to his multinational partner whose Indian subsidiaries he had acquired that he would not step into their territory. It led to short-term foregoing of profits, but paid off in the long run.

There are multiple other lessons. N.R. Narayana Murthy talks about the importance of Walking the Talk, Omkar Kanwar on the need to set a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal (BHAG) to align your organisation, R.S. Sodhi of Amul and Amit Agarwal of Amazon India write about how being completely focussed on the customer pays off all the time and Harsh Goenka talks of the need to create processes, while Tarun Rai of J Walter Thomson (South Asia), Keshav Murugesh of WNS Global Services and Rajiv Lall of IDFC Bank talk about creating teams, people leadership and developing talent.

For me, I never got any advice but learnt by example from my father to never compromise on integrity and to never look back in regret.

The best way to learn is from other people's experiences specially from the successful ones. Hopefully, you will pick up some management lessons from these leaders. Sometimes good advice can change your life.

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