Be more effective at work by being yourself, by being Authentic : Feature Article; V5 Issue 1

Kamal has a participatory style of managing his team. He likes involving his team in the decision making process. Kamal has just joined a new organization. His new manager is a ‘no nonsense’ kind of a boss and likes to act tough with his team members. As per him people need to be just told clearly what needs to be done for things to get done on time. He instructs Kamal to not follow his usual approach of discussing with team members, taking their ideas and then planning work. Eager to please his new boss he is now following this new style of managing his team. However he is constantly feeling stressed at the thought of having to just give out work instructions without any consultation with the team. He is not comfortable with this approach and is not able to focus on his work. Kamal is not being true to his natural style. He is not being authentic! And he feels drained of energy and feels really wretched. Look back and try to recall instances where you have not been authentic. How did each instance make you feel? My guess is that you must have felt the same as Kamal. What about the instances where you have been authentic? That would have been a different feeling altogether right? You felt good!

What is Authenticity?

Be more effective at work by being yourself, by being Authentic

Kamal has a participatory style of managing his team. He likes involving his team in the decision making process. Kamal has just joined a new organization. His new manager is a ‘no nonsense’ kind of a boss and likes to act tough with his team members. As per him people need to be just told clearly what needs to be done for things to get done on time. He instructs Kamal to not follow his usual approach of discussing with team members, taking their ideas and then planning work. Eager to please his new boss he is now following this new style of managing his team. However he is constantly feeling stressed at the thought of having to just give out work instructions without any consultation with the team. He is not comfortable with this approach and is not able to focus on his work. Kamal is not being true to his natural style. He is not being authentic! And he feels drained of energy and feels really wretched. Look back and try to recall instances where you have not been authentic. How did each instance make you feel? My guess is that you must have felt the same as Kamal. What about the instances where you have been authentic? That would have been a different feeling altogether right? You felt good!

What is Authenticity?

" Authenticity is a state of healthy alignment between one’s values and behaviors. "

In a study that ‘Center for Creative Leadership’ conducted on the choices and trade-offs facing high-achieving women managers and executives, it was found that authenticity has the following five defining characteristics, some of which are interrelated:

  1. Clarity about one’s values, priorities, and preferences
  2. Acceptance of the necessity for choices and trade-offs in life
  3. A strong sense of self-determination
  4. A willingness to work toward aligning one’s values and behaviors
  5. A high degree of comfort and satisfaction with decisions made earlier in life

Individuals who are authentic have a good understanding of themselves and their priorities. They know what is important to them as opposed to what might be important to other people and society. 

You spend approximately 8 to 10 hours at work Monday to Friday. If you're not being authentic while you work, then you are not being the "real you" more than half of your waking time. That is a lot of stress on you. Only when you are authentic will you be able to bring your whole self to your job and participate fully and honestly in your workplace. Being authentic is energizing and promotes growth, learning, and psychological well-being. When you behave authentically with others¸ they respond with authenticity making your interaction with them that much more effective.

Enhancing your Workplace Authenticity Quotient

There are compelling reasons to align your inner and outer self so that your work behavior becomes comfortable and natural, allowing you to be more effective at the workplace. There are several ways to increase your authenticity level at work.

  1. Self awareness: The first step to be authentic is to know who you are and what you want. A thorough understanding of yourself is important in being authentic. This can be done by the discovering the following about yourself through a process of Self Reflection.
    • Values - What do you care most about? Is it building a successful career? Is it giving back to the society? Is it spending time with your family? Is it being able to live a full life? Is it financial security? Is it following your dreams?
    • Strengths and Weaknesses - What would you consider your strengths as? What are you able to do effortlessly – number crunching or nurturing a relationship? What do your friends say about your strong points? How do you and others define your personality traits? Are you analytical, emotional, funny, creative, upbeat, warm…? What are some of the skills you wish you could be better at?
    • Interests, Likes, Dislikes, Preferences and Passion - What do you enjoy grappling with the most? Is it people, ideas, beauty or data? What work do you find meaningful? How will you know you are passionate about something? The good old definition that “you will work for free” is always there. But let’s say you can’t do that, then what? Another definition that you can refer to is “ Passion educates, sparks creative fires, innovates, motivates, improves, focuses clearly on problems and solutions, creates an inner sense of joy and well-being, transfixes permanently, increases contacts and builds networks, provides a raison d’être and is deeply rewarding.”
    • Fears - What are some of your fears? Are you afraid of losing your job? Do you fear being judged and criticized? Is there a fear of being disliked? Do you fear facing uncomfortable challenges? Because of your fears you may be reluctant to break bad news to your team or admit you are providing lousy service to your customers.
  2. Conduct an authenticity assessment: Now that you have clarity on what you are and what you want, assess how aligned are your current behaviours and choices at the workplace with your true self. If they are more or less aligned then great, if not figure out what is that you are willing to do or let go to achieve alignment. Perhaps you are now willing to speak up your mind despite your discomfort in doing so, to get your ideas accepted or you are willing to sacrifice greater financial security to work in an area of your choice. The key point here is to be clear on what is most important to you now and what you will and will not do to get there. This clarity will equip you to establish your authenticity.


  3. Take action based on the assessment: Knowing what is good for you is just the beginning; taking real action is what counts. You need not make drastic changes, but take small steps towards gradually aligning your behaviours with your most important values. Say you want to start your own Company someday, you can start by saving for the initial investment required to set up the business. You can start identifying the possible areas that you would like to do business in. You can even start training yourself in the skills required to run a business successfully.


  4. Garner support: Ever tried to accomplish something without the support of your family, friends or team? It can be tough. So share your authenticity aims with trusted colleagues and friends. They can be great a source of feedback and reinforcement making it easier for you to stay on track.
  5. Rely on yourself: While your friends and family can be supportive, there are also chances of you encountering resistance from them if the course of action you are proposing to take is unconventional. Don’t get discouraged by that and have faith in your own judgment about what is right for you.
  6. Be yourself and practice honesty with others: Don’t put on a tough act if you are gentle by nature. You will find that you can get more things done with your gentleness than your “put on” toughness.  You can’t maintain a front for long. Say the truth even if it means having a difficult conversation. No point in telling your boss that the project is progressing just fine when you know that it is likely to get delayed. He may at least be able to help you reduce the delay.
  7. Admit your mistakes: A key part of being authentic is being able to admit that you have made a mistake rather than ignore it and worse still put the blame on others. Being authentic involves being honest to yourself and others including being honest about the mistakes you make.
  8. Be open to feedback and learning: Apart from ‘Self awareness’ your openness to feedback and willingness to learn can improve your authenticity quotient. Feedback will give you a greater understanding of how you are impacting others and whether it is in line with how you actually want to impact them. Learning can equip you with the skills required to get to the place where you want to be.
  9. Be prepared for dead ends: The road to pursuing your dreams may not always end in that treasure at the end of the rainbow. It may take a couple of trials to hit the right road to success. It is important to not give up when you come across a dead end or a bump.
  10. Remember who you are even when you succeed: As you climb the ladder of success retain your “specialness”. Be true to your natural personality, likes, dislikes and priorities.

Balancing Authenticity with Workplace Boundaries

So does being authentic give you the license to behave rudely with a colleague since you felt you had to act in accordance to your true feelings at that time? Does it mean it is alright to dress up in jeans since that is what you are comfortable wearing when your organization dress code is formals. Well if your priority is (and I must say it never is) to jeopardize your relationship with your colleagues and your career prospects in the company then the answer is Yes! What I am trying to say is that there is a fine balancing act that you need to do between being true to yourself and respecting others rights / workplace boundaries. 

So then, will there be a conflict on of how you want to be and the way you are actually required to be? Will there be a conflict between you and others? Yes, but then it does not have to be this way. In the workplace, you can be honest and transparent without alienating everyone and learn skills to participate both productively and authentically. Here are some pointers for you to do this.

  1. There are some basic norms to be followed for being a responsible and civil citizen within a community. While it might feel authentic at a point in time to express yourself exactly the way you feel, your perceptions may not be correct and your urges may not be appropriate, so external norms can provide you with a reality check.
  2. Also most organizations have clear rules regarding employee behavior. Suppose your behavior which is authentic as per you crosses one of those boundaries, say in a case of sexual harassment, you will be putting your career and your reputation in jeopardy. Understand and keep in mind what the workplace boundaries are.
  3. The way we communicate can affect our level of effective authenticity. Delivering a message in a respectful way to your colleague will be far more effective than expressing it rudely.
  4. You need to strive for a state of authenticity that meets both your goals and workplace requirements.  For instance if you like being independent then let your manager know that you would be more effective if he/she gives you more freedom.
  5. Evaluate your current career choice. You may find that within the current career choice there are things you like doing more of. Seek opportunities for the same.


Are you thinking that this authenticity business is a lot of hard work? You are right! Developing authenticity is not easy. It requires being courageous and making a whole lot of effort and overcoming hurdles ranging from societal norms to organizational cultures. Also, you have to work hard to stay authentic, periodically reviewing your priorities and choosing behaviours that match those priorities as your circumstances change. But, the question you need to ask yourself is not whether you can afford to be authentic but whether you can afford to not be authentic, for the rewards are just too good for you to give it a miss.


The Craft of Connecting : Feature Article; V5 Issue 1

When you connect meaningfully with your customer or team you can satisfy your customers and ensure high team morale. Effective communication can help you connect meaningfully with people. And what is the business impact of doing this? Well, Watson Wyatt’s 2005/2006 Communication ROI Study found that between 2000 and 2004, companies with most effective communication programs returned 57% more to their shareholders than companies with the least effective communication programs. Good communication is among the top five characteristics needed by teams and leaders to succeed in a complex working environment. A key factor that emerges from studies of successful managers is that they have a regular and meaningful communication process with their staff. They connect! Let’s look at how this meaningful connection is established.

Crafting the connection

For communication to achieve positive results for you, it is essential to clearly establish objective of the communication, timeframe for it and how and when it is to be done. Every conversation you have, every communication you make in the work context is taking you a step closer to a goal. So it is important you craft each one of the communications with care. Here are a few practices which can help you do this.

  1. Set and manage expectations - Think of your communications as a set of requests and promises. Promise something only if you can follow through with it.Also, if the “promise” is not clearly defined and understood, the actions will not meet expectations. Eg. If there are gaps in understanding between you and your Manager, your performance will always be disappointing to your Manager. It is therefore good to clearly communicate your understanding and get agreement on it.

  2. Say the same thing to everyone - Consistency in communicating a message is important, whether within your team or across groups. Gone are the days when it was possible to develop tailor-made communications for different groups. In today's networked society where information spreads fast through blogs, social networks and other kinds of speedy media, every group can become aware of the communications to others / other groups.

  3. Say often and say it in different ways - Ever wondered why after having mentioned about a task to your subordinate it never gets done. Some messages have to be repeated to be understood and to have the desired results. So send an email, include it in the monthly goals and talk about it your team meetings.Different people absorb information in different ways. So present information in different ways. Speak, write, in small groups, individually or using pictures and diagrams.

  4. Timing is everything - Well timed communications create positive energy. Even though the communication itself may not be pleasant, timely communication prevents negative energy from being generated.  A feedback to an employee has to be given immediately after the behavior has occurred. If the company is facing some tough challenges it is better to convey the true picture as fast as possible rather than giving way to rumors about the same.

  5. Walk the talk - In any communication that requires the receiver to follow what is advocated, the communicator should take the lead. This demonstrates the communicator's commitment. So don’t just say “Cut costs” demonstrate ways in which you are cutting costs yourself.

  6. Build in transparency - Base your decisions on visible and logical factors. People want to know why they are being asked to do or not to do specific things. Such knowledge not only helps them execute their tasks more effectively but also helps them accept the instructions and decisions more willingly. Even adverse decisions like a retrenchment can be made acceptable if employees understand their rationale.

  7. Maximize openness and minimize defensiveness - Sometimes, maybe it is your communication style that generates emotional reactions instead of thoughtful responses. Try changing the questions you ask. Instead of asking “Why are we falling short of this month’s sales goal?” ask “What do you think we can do to ensure we meet our sales goal?” In the first case you make the listener feel defensive, and in the second case he/she will feel involved in the solution (versus being accused of the problem) and will be receptive to brainstorming alternatives. Take a leaf from’ Appreciative Inquiry’ here. AI is based on the premise that “organizations change in the direction in which they inquire” And if organization culture is built around “Appreciative Inquiry” – things which have gone well as against organizations which inquire into problems, some of the results are enhanced cash flows, cost reductions and increased staff morale.

  8. Get the communication tool right - Select communication methods appropriate for target audience. For instance for communicating with an employee in another location you may want to use e-mail, instant messaging, intranets, social media and other web tools. There are some very interesting possibilities in the new age communication tools. While company intranets can serve as central hubs of information about the organization for employees, teams can hold brainstorming sessions or maintain ongoing conversations with questions and answers on a blog. You can even use wikis to manage projects, share best practices and research case studies. The CEO can keep a blog or a podcast and companies can use RSS feeds to send regular news to employees. If an organization plans to use new age communication tools then it is important to effectively implement them and provide necessary training and support in the use of the same. This will ensure that employees experience higher levels of communication satisfaction.

Connecting effectively by knowing your audience

An important step in connecting to people is being aware of who you are connecting with and what essential information they need. Typically this is what will work with the four groups you regularly communicate with at the workplace.

  1. Executive level (board of directors, executive staff, your direct manager)
    • High level
    • Address their concerns in their language
    • Focus on impact on business and ROI
    • Be immediate
    • Take hierarchy into consideration (depending on the culture)
  2. Team level (your direct reports, consultants, vendors)
    • Detailed
    • Explain the technical background
    • Outline and explain requests, and justify outcomes
    • Contain clear instructions and clear conditions for satisfaction of requests


  3. Internal customers level (peers, other functional groups)
    • Be clear, concise, and simple
    • Quick and precise
    • Explain the when, where, why, and why not
    • Exhibit extreme patience
    • Repeat over and over again
    • Make it easy for recipients to access facts on their own


  4. External customers level
    • Be politically correct
    • Be aware of revenue impact
    • Be conscious of security and breach of contract issues
    • Take the lead from the marketing/sales departments as to the approved methods of communicating with outside customers


Internal Communication Best Practices

Here are some internal communication best practices that organizations, managers and individuals can follow.

  1. Two way is the best way - If you want internal communication to succeed it is essential that communication be ‘two way’ i.e., employees should not only receive communication, but always have a chance, and be encouraged to ask questions, discuss and express their ideas. Asking for feedback identifies problem areas where messages are misunderstood or not received at all. One-way communication can fail because those delivering the message are not always in a position to know whether it has been received or understood. Thus internal newsletters, is not a substitute for managers communicating directly with employees.

  2. Don’t hold back bad news - Very often good news is given, bad news is withheld. Be it feedback on individual poor performance or difficulties the company is facing, if they are not shared and discussed with the employees an important opportunity to build trust and to improve performance is lost. So don’t just share the good news, but also share bad news if any. People put in that extra "discretionary effort" when they are kept informed openly and honestly on aspects of their job and the business and they feel that they are being listened to with empathy.

  3. Make communication automatically happen, regularly - Can you do this? Oh yes, by ensuring that the necessary triggers are in place! By ensuring communication is an integral part of organization processes and systems you can ensure ongoing communication. For instance feedback mechanisms and sharing best practices internally should be an integral part of organizational performance and individual performance management system. Provide regular, on-going opportunities for employees to provide feedback to management. The opportunities can be provided through employee surveys, suggestion boxes, town hall meetings, individual or small group meeting with managers, and an organizational culture that supports open, two-way communication.

  4. Encourage communities of practice - ‘Communities of practice’ are formed by people who collaborate to share best practices around a common vocation or passion. For e.g., Researchers tapping other experts across the globe for specialized knowledge in developing new products. Invest in developing these kinds of networks and deliberately design them to foster measurable business results.

  5. Measure Improvements - The trick here is to measure improvements in your performance and not just communication since you are ultimately using communication to achieve your work goals. Have there been changes in the way your team communicate with customers? Are you getting closer to your customers? Is the perception of your department changing for the better? Is staff morale getting better? Is the team working together well? Is employee retention improving? Is good information being created and communicated throughout your department on a timely basis?


Be it giving work instructions, aligning individual goals to company goals, inspiring team members or understanding team needs, communication forms a key factor in making these connections successful. One important point to remember is that all communication should be made with genuineness and honesty to achieve the desired result. Only when your communication is sincere and conveys what you really feel, will it be really meaningful and make a connection.


Nurturing High Potential: Feature Article; 4 Issue 4

One thing was very clear to Narendra the HR head of an MNC, early in the induction training of the new batch of campus recruits. The energetic Simmy was different from the rest of her batch. Her questions to her trainers were never ending, she had a perfect score on all her training assessments and she had started quizzing Narendra on the interesting assignments that she could work on. Narendra wondered whether he had stumbled into a high potential employee and if yes how was he going to develop her talents. Today, most HR heads and CEOs are grappling with similar questions. Who are the high potentials in my organization? How do I nurture them to become the future leaders of the company? They realize that unless they answer these questions the very success of the organization in future could be at risk.

Who are High Potential Employees?

They are the “fast-track” employees, those who expect, and are expected to progress, speedily through the ranks. You would naturally assume that the high performing employees are also the high potential employees. But, an article in Harvard Business Review called “How to Keep Your Top Talent” (May 2010) states that “only about 30% of today’s high performers are, in fact, high potentials. The remaining 70% may have what it takes to win now, but lack some critical component for future success.” And the litmus tests for discerning which high performers are also your high potential employees, are as follows:

  1. Ability – They need to have the ability to not only do what they are doing now, but to take it to the next level.

  2. Engagement – They must have “commitment to the organization to be prudent bets for long-term success.”

  3. Aspiration – They must aspire to more senior-level roles and “choose to make the sacrifices required to attain and perform those high-level jobs”.

Gritzmacher (1989) outlined the following key characteristics of fast-trackers:

  1. A unique perception of their occupation: seeing their role as making their organization into a global leader in its field (and playing an active leadership role in that).

  2. A broad-thinking style: seeing wholes rather than job-bounded parts.

  3. Time-consciousness: a drive to achieve the most as soon as possible.

  4. Independence: a creative urge to add value to guidelines.

  5. High commitment: a belief that the organization would be diminished without them and a drive to enact that self-perceived importance constructively.

  6. High energy: the ability to get supranormal amounts of work done and cheerfully come back for more.

  7. A need for creativity and variety: need for new and testing challenges.

  8. A varying interest in teamwork: the labeling of fast-trackers as the favoured can make team interplay difficult; also the need to move ahead faster than the pack can make them impatient with others.

  9. Continual improvement: a hunger to challenge and improve whatever they are involved in.

Considering that the High potential employees are going to be the leaders of tomorrow, it is very important to ensure they are given effective development opportunities. 

Developing the High Potential

The process of developing high potentials in an organization starts with the identification of the high potential and then assessing them on their leadership talents. Once this is done most organizations develop their high potential employees by putting them on a development program and periodically reviewing their performance and development. Potential Development programs have a set of interventions and practices which enable organizations to identify high potential employees and help them achieve leadership positions in organizations.

Some Examples of Potential Development programs

The Tata Administrative Services (TAS)

To build a cadre of future leaders, Tata Sons, the group holding company has institutionalized The Tata Administrative Service program. TAS selects and trains talented postgraduates from India’s leading business schools and institutions to grow leaders who can lead the various group companies in the future. TAS trainees grow through a rigorous process of learning across group companies and have individual career maps charted out. The first year is dedicated towards group orientation and learning, termed as “GOAL”. It includes two weeks of intensive orientation about the group and opportunities to interact with the senior management of the Tata Group. Training provides exposure to various initiatives, various facilities and future plans of TATA. Challenging projects are assigned to each Trainee. Exceptional candidates are recognized for merit. After completing the GOAL, the recruit is given a posting which matches his/her choice and organizational requirements. TAS gives the recruits exposure across various functions, group companies and responsibilities. Management expects the TAS recruit to be in a senior management position within 10 to 12 years, where he/she will be having a strategic role and considerable external contacts.

Infosys Technologies Ltd

Infosys has set up the Infosys Leadership Institute (ILI) for identifying high performers and giving them opportunity in improving the performance of the organization as potential leaders of the organization. Candidates for the 3 year leadership program are chosen based on past performance and assessment of leadership potential. ILI interventions are based on a “Nine Pillar” leadership development model. The Nine interventions are as follows:-

  1. 360 degree feedbacks: Aligned towards leadership competencies, they help to evaluate employee on critical leadership competencies and in making the personal developmental plan.
  2. Developmental assignments: They help in gaining cross functional experience and developing practical leadership skills.
  3. Culture workshops: They make sure that the culture and values of the organization is well ingrained in the developing leaders.
  4. Developmental relationships: These are basically mentoring programs, which provide the candidate with a mentor viz., a leader of the organization. This helps in gaining considerable knowledge and experience sharing.
  5. Leadership skills training: This focuses on imparting organizationally relevant leadership skills by veteran leaders of the organization. This also ensures top management commitment for developing future leaders.
  6. Feedback intensive programs: They are behavioural interventions based on informal and formal feedbacks from the experiences that the candidate has from the individuals with whom he/she interfaces.
  7. System process learning: This aims at giving a holistic picture about the organization as one system and sensitises about improving the system as a whole.
  8. Action learning: This provides opportunities for hands on experience in improving relevant and live organizational problems.
  9. Community empathy: In tune with the basic organizational value of giving it’s due to the society, the leadership program needs candidates to enroll for community development programs.


In Wipro’s “Life Cycle Stage Development Program” employees identified as potential leaders are given training according to their level in the organization.

  1. The Entry level program aims at building leadership capabilities in entry level employees with high potential.
  2. The New Leader’s program is for building young professionals into people leaders of the future.
  3. Wipro Leaders program targets high performers in the middle level of the organization. They also have the added responsibility of building leaders from the bottom.
  4. The Business Leader’s program aims at building competencies of the employees who have potential of building/ managing business units. Here the impetus is on providing competencies for revenue generation and business management.
  5. The Strategic Leader’s program’ aims at building top management leaders for future.

Wipro ties up with best known business schools to impart some of the critical skills. The focus is on strategic thinking, global focus, vision and building star performers. Wipro’s leadership development is based on their vision of having leadership in terms of business, customer, people and brand. Wipro has identified competency based leadership qualities. The critical competencies have been identified based on rigorous interviews, focused groups and critical incidents. The competencies required for top management, senior management and middle management are continuously identified and assessed across teams. 360 degree feedback is used to assess the leaders on the basis of Wipro Leadership Qualities. Based on the feedback, Wipro identifies the areas for development in each of the individuals. Training programs are organized and the leader is asked to formulate his/her plan for development. Leadership development at Wipro has high degree of support from the top management. Even the CEO, Mr Azim Premji participates in the leadership development activities.

Features of Potential Development Programs

There are some common features of organizations with best practices in nurturing high potential employees. They are listed below.

  1. Top management support: At ‘best practices’ organizations namely General Electric, Motorola, Pepsico, Federal Express and Johnson & Johnson, there is high degree of top management commitment especially the CEO, for leadership development.

  2. Linkage with the strategic necessity of the company: This factor determines how much leadership development is in tune with the organizational needs.

  3. Established processes for selecting the best talent as future leaders: A combination of past performance, credentials in terms of qualification and assessment of competencies through various methods like 360 degree feedback or assessment centers are used for a fair selection of high potential team members.

  4. Regular Talent Reviews are conducted: CEOs drive Talent reviews with the same rigour as Business reviews. In Talent reviews high potential performers are tracked and succession plans built around them. CEOs consider this as their key responsibility and personally execute the plans.

  5. Direct linkage of Leadership development with the values and culture of the organization: Leadership development programs consider the imbibing of culture and value as an important element.

  6. Use of internal resources: For instance senior leaders of the organization participate as mentors/coaches for the new candidates.

  7. Periodic educational experiences for candidates: There is institutionalization of a program of educational courses through colleges, management institutes and trade organizations. The chosen candidates for leadership development are given higher developmental opportunities and career enhancement advice. Executive coaching has proven to be a powerful tool in developing leadership competencies for the future. Recent studies indicate an ROI on executive coaching to be six times the cost of the coaching costs.

  8. Defined leadership competencies: Organizations have their own established leadership competencies which are linked to the culture and business environment. For example, the competencies identified for top management at Wipro are customer orientation, strategic thinking, problem solving, self confidence, global thinking and acting, commitment to excellence, aggressive commitments and building star performers and teams.

  9. Establishment of corporate universities (CUs) or leadership institutes: CUs like the Crontonville of GE have institutionalized processes which help in identifying the organizational leadership talent, which conforms to the needs and culture of the organization. CUs deliver training and interventions, which align leadership talent closely with the organizational strategic initiatives. CUs are utilized to have a focused approached towards identifying leaders and giving them specialized and customized training.

  10. Personalized and formal development plans and defined career paths for the candidates: Specific strengths and weaknesses of each of the candidates are identified and development plans are made. Identified high performers are tracked and reviewed even after the specific programs to understand their advancement in terms of career. Candidates typically are provided with a career path which include:-
    1. Exposure to experiential learning: This teaches them the much needed organizationally relevant business skills.

    2. Cross functional Training: Experience in more than one specialization is ensured through job rotation etc.

    3. Opportunities to take significant risks and full responsibility: Many organizations test their high potentials by identifying risky and challenging positions and putting their rising stars in these positions to see who can meet the challenge. Candidates are given real opportunities to contribute to the really significant heartbeat issues of the organization including the opportunity to make mistakes and learn from them.



One of the challenges that have to be dealt with while managing the development of future leaders is the possible dip in motivation of employees who are not high potential employees. While some of them may leave on account of this, most can be retained by ensuring fairness. Transparency in the process of identification of high potentials and communication of the same is essential for establishing this fairness. It is also important that there are adequate development opportunities for all employees so that every employee can develop and reach their potential.


Unraveling and Practicing Employee Engagement: Feature Article; V4 Issue 3

Understanding Employee Engagement

Does Employee Engagement seem like another buzz word to you? And yet you must be experiencing the presence or absence of it every day at your workplace. Employee Engagement is nothing but involving an employee’s mind and heart completely when he/she is at work which in turn enriches the employee and the organization. It is about an employee experiencing high job satisfaction while contributing effectively to the organization. Employee Engagement has been defined differently by different organizations doing research in this area as given below.

I personally like the definition provided by Tim Rutledge, owner and publisher of Mattanie Press and author of ‘Getting Engaged: The New Workplace Loyalty’. He says‘truly engaged employees are: attracted to and inspired by their work (‘I want to do this’), committed (‘I am dedicated to the success of what I am doing’), and fascinated (‘I love what I am doing’).’

Levels of Employee Engagement: 

In a study conducted by Towers Perrin in 2003 representing the views of more than 35,000 employees in U.S companies it was found that there are following types of employees. 

  • Highly engaged: A small percentage of employees freely give extra effort on an ongoing basis. The opportunity for an organization lies with this small group of people, who can become role models for their peers, helping build the kind of environment and work experience that does engage greater numbers of people.

  • Disengaged: An equally small percentage of employees who have “checked out” from their work constitute this group.

  • “Moderately” engaged: The remainder of the employees ie, roughly two-thirds forms this group. The challenge lies with this group. Left to their own, these employees could easily become disengaged, causing a dramatic fall in productivity and morale. Strengthening this group’s level of engagement is the most critical task virtually every employer faces.


Benefits of Employee Engagement and its evolution

Hewitt has been conducting Best Employers studies around the world. Their research shows that Best Employers excel at employee engagement. As a result they enjoy a bigger pool of talent from which to select employees, lower employee turnover, lower absenteeism rate, increased customer satisfaction, higher economic returns, and greater sustainability in the face of business challenge. And Best Employers are better positioned to take advantage of business opportunities and weather business cycles effectively.

Prior to the 1990’s ‘employee surveys’ were focused on employee satisfaction. However it was found that there was no guarantee that satisfied employees would contribute more to the organization. The concept of employee engagement was developed in response to increasing globalization. Global competition forced businesses to become more flexible in responding to employee needs. There was also a rising interest in employee engagement due to the dotcom bubble burst in 2000 which caused the economy to dip and created unemployment. Then came the Millennials, a new generation of workers who demanded more from their employer than just pay. During the recent recession many organizations have had to cut costs, lose staff and demand more from their remaining employees. Technology continues to revolutionize not only how work gets done, but also how people access their work and each other. As the economy changes and employee needs evolve, employee engagement becomes more and more essential in increasing productivity while satisfying employee needs. 

What drives Employee Engagement and how can you drive it?

Frederick Herzberg observed over 40 years ago that the same employees who complained about poor working conditions, such as cold, dirt and dim lighting were quite happy to work on their cars in a dingy, dusty garage at home. So there was something else which was driving engagement. In fact there are several factors which drive employee engagement. Let us look at how as a manager you can help in creating employee engagement in your team by doing your bit in each of these factors, which come to think of it is quite a bit.

  1. Relationship with manager and Managerial support: Very often when employees leave an organization, they are leaving their manager. It is not dissatisfaction with the company but dissatisfaction with the manager that causes them to resign. So it is important that you develop a strong and positive relationship with your team members to ensure high levels of engagement in your team. Which means you need to be engaged yourself to engage others. If you are highly stretched at work and don’t energize yourself, you will not have the energy to initiate or sustain engagement efforts. As manager you need to provide your team with required direction and resources to support work processes and activities. Ensure employees balance between work and home life. Be supportive of the engagement initiative while monitoring the work-life balance of employees. Highly engaged people run the risk of burnout by becoming too eager and too passionate about their work.
  2. Role clarity: This factor refers to whether employees know what is expected from them. As their manager you are the best person to provide this clarity by defining clear and specific goals. Also make them understand how their goals relate to company goals and make them understand how their unit/department contributes to company success. This line of sight between individual actions on the job and broader company objectives is important for engaging an employee. Helping employees clearly understand the mutual responsibility and accountability is at the heart of an effective employer/employee relationship.
  3. Challenging work: Being able to do something interesting and meaningful helps create a sense of personal inspiration and accomplishment, leading to pride in one’s work and one’s company. There are certain things you can do to help promote a more stimulating and challenging environment for your subordinates. Encourage people to take initiative, be open to change, tolerate uncertainty. Coach and develop people’s skills, and hold people accountable for their performance. These become even more important where the work itself is relatively routine work.
  4. Performance feedback and recognition: Regular, specific performance feedback is a powerful tool to engage people. When one knows where one can improve one is more actively involved in doing something about it and reaches ones’ goals. As important as pay and benefits are in attracting and retaining people, they are less important in engaging people in their work. Though pay does not drive engagement, any form of recognition for good work does. So, offer recognition for employees who excel or who demonstrate a strong passion for their work and organization.
  5. Career development opportunities: Employees look at their jobs and careers as more than a means to gain money. By working they hope to gain both professional and personal skills. Training and coaching is important to achieve this. Get to know your employees as well as their goals and aspirations, so that together you can develop a clear path for advancement and opportunities for growth. Ensure that high performers in your team advance in the organization.
    Not everybody speaks well and not everybody can put people at ease. These are talents unique to individuals. Identify the talents of your team members and provide them with work opportunities where they get to use these talents. Being good at a job bolsters confidence and ensures both the organization and the employee achieves individual and collective goals.
  6. A sense of ‘team’: This refers to the camaraderie, intimacy and the ability to be oneself that one experiences at work. Have a friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Foster a sense of community and team work. People’s positive emotions are strongly influenced by the people they work with day to day, by collaboration, teamwork and shared goals, and by a sense of a purpose in work. Emphasizing team goals can be of help here.
  7. Communication: Effective communication is not just about disseminating basic information. Rather it is providing context, commentary and ensuring a two-way dialogue. Employees want to know what management thinks and believes and how it plans to act. And they also want forums to give their input. Communication means not only articulating a vision for the future but also being honest and forthright in dealings with the workforce. Its part of creating the environment of mutual trust, accountability and responsibility that’s important in engaging people and winning discretionary effort. Engage employees through direct communication by involving them in important decisions and keeping them informed of new developments or changes within the company. According to the Institute of Employment Studies (IES), the main driver of engagement is a sense of feeling valued and involved. Listen to employees and act on their suggestions. Just listening and not acknowledging, responding or acting on what is being heard can damage credibility and engagement.
  8. Control: This refers to the freedom to make decisions relating to one’s job. Employees should have appropriate decision-making authority and appropriate decision-making input to be truly engaged. People are much more willing to accept increased risk if they perceive they also have control over decisions relating to that risk as well as relevant information and tools to make good decisions. If you consistently keep your team members fully informed, you are providing them the necessary foundation for them to behave responsibly and accept accountability for making their own decisions. Even when workloads are heavy, being able to control the flow and pace of their work can relieve pressure on employees. So can a feeling that they can turn to managers for resources and support when they need it.
  9. Leadership: A clear vision from senior management about future success and senior management taking steps to ensure company’s long-term success are important in driving engagement. You need to understand and share this vision and action plan with your team. Leadership’s interest in employee well-being also helps increase employee engagement. As a manager you can keep your team updated on what the leadership team is doing to take care of employees. Also don’t miss conveying their message if they specifically ask about a person’s well being. I know every time the MD asks about my team member and I tell her about it how thrilled she looks.
  10. Company credibility: The reputation of a company as an employer, as a corporate citizen and as an industry leader also creates engagement. This determines whether employees take pride in working for the company. Organizations that proactively manage their reputations also enjoy higher levels of employee engagement. Employees distance themselves from the business when they believe their company does not have a good reputation. By talking positively about the company and its practices and by correcting any wrong negative perceptions that employees have about the company, you can contribute to employee engagement.

    Fairness is also important in creating credibility. This refers to acting with equity in sharing rewards, being impartial while hiring and promoting people, being fair in people practices and policies and how well employees are treated in terms of pay and benefits compared to similar organizations. You can ensure fairness in your areas of accountability ie, while making hiring, promotion, performance rating decisions.


You must have figured out by now that building employee engagement is a process that never ends and is a lot of hard work. All the employee engagement drivers are related to the kind of culture and work environment a company creates and nourishes over time. It takes commitment, consistency, trust in employees’ judgment, strong leadership practices and programs that align with and support the desired culture create to create a meaningful and emotionally enriching work experience. Most importantly it takes strong day-to-day management. Yes you, as a manger, are an important factor. You will be the one who will set the tone for your team, taking cues from leadership and the prevailing culture. So, understand employee engagement and practice employee engagement for the risks of not doing so are very high.


  1. ‘Motivating and Retaining Top Talent through Employee Engagement’ August 05, 2008
  2. 'Becoming a Best Employer'
  3. 'Working Today : Understanding What Drives Employee Engagement. The 2003 Towers Perrin Talent Report’

Getting Value from Training Investments : Feature Article; V4 Issue 2

My friend attended an offsite training program. On his return he raved about the food, the hotel he stayed in, the nice break he got from work and the interesting people he had met! Sure, these are some of the things we look forward to in a training program. Hey but there was something missing from his conversations. What about the learning? What about his increased ability/skills to contribute to the organization? I am sure you agree with me that a training program should give us value apart from the good feel factor. Unfortunately this does not happen every time. However, there are ways to ensure that individuals and companies get value for the time and money spent on training programs. While getting value from a training program is a shared responsibility between the individual and his/her manager, this article will look at what the manager can do to ensure his team gets value from training . There are three stages in training as illustrated below.

Training gives value when adequate steps are taken at all the three stages of training ie., the planning stage, the training stage and the follow-up or the post training stage.

Ensuring value from training for your team members

As a manager you can play a critical role in helping create the conditions during the planning and post training stages of training, under which training will create value for your team members.


There is a lot of planning to be done to ensure training gives benefit to your team. The actions to be undertaken during the planning stage are listed below.

  • Integrate training with other people management systems: : Training should never be considered in isolation. Be sure it integrates with the performance management system and career development initiatives. It should address the needs of the organization and each individual. On a regular basis identify development needs of your team.
  • Exploit any training opportunity that comes your way: If you want your team members to gain from training you need to grab all possible training opportunities for them. There’s more than one method and one skill to learn. Each training will help them build a specific skill and together they will help them develop in their profession. Also each method will build on the others and reinforce what they are learning. So do incorporate different methods in their training.
  • Ask yourself is training required: Training typically can add value when it helps address a problem. But all problems cannot be solved through training, other solutions to the problem could be more appropriate. Training can help people learn skills, but is not that effective at changing attitudes, and will have minimal effect if the problem is related to other workplace factors. For instance a lack of understanding of your sales team of the CRM implemented can be solved by imparting training on the software. But resistance to using the software by them cannot be addressed through classroom training.
  • Ensure training is matched to jobs: Any training must be planned, and clearly linked to workplace outcomes. Just because a training program is happening and it sounds good don’t nominate team members for the same. See if it is related to their job requirements and will help enhance skills needed in their jobs. A training program that will teach employees skills that are in demand in their profession or that they will utilize within one to two months of taking the class, is sure to prove valuable. Say the company is planning to use psychometric tests during recruitment, training your HR team on the same is beneficial.
  • Understand the objective of the program and define expectations: Whether you have recommended your team member for a training program or your team member has chosen it, be clear on the objective of attending the program and provide this clarity to your team member so that he/she works towards achieving that objective. Also defining expectations clearly at the outset can really help. The expectations can be related to how you expect your team member to apply what he/she has learned and to share what has been learned with other team members. The expectation can also be in terms of what the trainee needs from you so that learning can be applied effectively at the workplace.
  • Get team members to do some preparation in advance: Just sending the person for a training program will not help the person to get full benefit of the program. Make sure he/she meets any prerequisites for the training like completing the pre readings, assignments etc. He/she should know the objective of the program and how it is going to help him/her. He/she should also know enough about the subject to actively participate. It will be futile if the training is not appropriate for employees’ level of expertise, or if they lack enough experience and background knowledge.
  • Choose the right program:
    • Choose a program that fits in with the learning style of the participant: The VAK learning styles model suggests that most people have one of three preferred styles of learning. When one knows one’s preferred learning style(s) one understands the type of learning that best suits oneself. This enables one to choose the types of learning that work best for oneself. The three styles are as follows, (and there is no right or wrong learning style):
  • Choose training that includes job simulations: Why is your team getting trained , not just to just pass an exam but to learn how to do their job well right? In that case it makes sense to choose a training that will provide them real work life experience. Find training that combines this hands-on experience with practice exams, expert video instruction, and written reference material for maximum benefit.

  • Opt for self-paced training for greater flexibility for the team: There are some self-paced training like elearning modules that allows one to review the instruction until one has mastered it. And the best part is when the training is online; one can take it wherever one goes. This lets one work on one’s own schedule, pause to take breaks, and resume right where one has left off.


While as a manager you cannot make much contribution here, you can encourage the participants to do the following.

  • Value the content of the courses more than the entertainment factor: Just because the trainer does not crack jokes does not mean that what he is saying is not useful. So, for starters the participants can value the content of the course more than whether it is engaging or not.

  • Take a leaf from good students/learners: Have you observed what people who are fast learners do. They ask questions even if they think others might consider it as silly doubts. They participate actively and contribute. They are open to changing their past views on the subject being taught. They come with an attitude of ‘I am here to learn everything that you will teach me.’ instead of an attitude of ‘Let me see if you can teach me anything new.’ Discuss these points with your team before they attend any training program.


This is an essential stage where one tends to miss on taking action. It is important to take post training actions to ensure skills are absorbed. Also skills learnt need to be consolidated not through just formal training methods but more with post training actions .

  • Assess Infrastructure: Prior to training, make sure that the infrastructure required to apply what your team members have learned is in place. Suppose if people attend a workshop on the use of a software, training will only add value if the software is available and in place when the person returns from training. Infrastructure need not be just things; it can also refer to time. Remove all barriers to the person applying what has been learned.

  • Ensure practice of and application of what has been learnt in the classroom on the job: Now, this is the key to ensuring you actually benefit from training. Once the team member is back from the training, ensure he/she starts applying that has been learnt wherever he/she can. You must have discussions with your team members to ensure there is implementation of what has been learned in the training program. Get him/her to teach others. Get him/her to further build on the learning had through training. If you don’t ensure this the training would be a complete waste of your time and company’s money.

  • Recognise efforts towards applying what has been learnt in training: A true test of the effectiveness of a training program is whether post training there is a positive change in an employee’s job performance. You must make it a point to monitor this change. And when he/she does apply what has been learnt, you must reinforce of his/her efforts. So if a person who has attended a program on quality makes effort to implement the leanings in his/her function, recognize his efforts and encourage him/her to do so.

  • Conduct Training effectiveness evaluation: Apart from having taken training feedback from the participant the manager must ensure that he/she evaluates the training effectiveness after a defined period of say 3 to 6 months. This could be in the form of a written test or filling up a checklist based on your observation of the person.


Training is just a tool and it is the person using the tool that determines the effectiveness of the tool. Hence, before stating that a training program is ineffective do check whether you followed the steps given in this article. And next time there is a training opportunity for your team you know what to do. Simply PLAN! TRAIN! and FOLLOW UP!


  Whitnah,D,‘10 ways to get the most out of your IT training’, April 26th, 2010

  Walsh, K, ‘Time in Training Often Wasted’, March 15, 2006

  T. Daich, G , Software Technology Support Center/Science Applications International Corporation, ‘Overcoming     Training Dilemmas Brings Greater Training Value’

  Getting Value From Training - Get Some ROI (Return On Investment)

Being a Star at the Workplace : Feature Article; V4 Issue 1

I think we all want to be stars and enjoy the limelight. One place we can be a star is at our workplace. I watched a movie last week and was in no doubt that what I had witnessed was some exemplary performance by the lead actor. I did not need a film critic or my friends who had also seen the movie to tell me that. That’s how superb acting is - easy to tell. How about superb performance at the workplace? Do we know when we see it? Perhaps, not so easily!

Signs of star performance

Who is a star performer at the workplace? Is it the person who contributes the most in a team or the person team members turn to for help? Let’s look at some tests we can run to find out.

Once I had a consultant, let’s call him Suhas, whose work I was very happy with. When I mentioned this to Suhas’ manager he said it was only expected because Suhas was a high performer. Later when I had some other consultants from the same firm working for us, they mentioned how much they admired Suhas and his work. I did not know it then, but what I had experienced was a star performer in action at the workplace. So, the first test is whether you are considered an excellent performer not only by your manager, but also by your peers and customers. I like to call this the ‘Acceptance by all test’. This test’s beauty is that it rules out those high producers whose tactics are such that while producing they harm the organization/team, thus negating any positive contribution that they make.

The second test is whether the person consistently exceeds expectations ie., not only exceeds expectations in one project or in a quarter but in all projects and in every quarter. This is the ‘Consistency test'. It helps rule out people who hit a century in a match but fail to accumulate a high average of runs. Indications? - Numerous and not one off awards, honors, performance bonuses, patents, publication credits etc.

The final test is the ‘Productivity test’. It is not about whether he/she dreams, talks or plans well but whether he/she actually produces a lot compared to his peers. Is his/her contribution towards the organization and team’s success substantial? Simply put, does he/she make a mark?

I think we can safely say that if a person passes all of the above tests he/she be considered a star. However what makes stars shine brighter than others. Are they smarter? Do they relate to people better? Apparently it’s none of these.

Strategies for consistently delivering a stellar performance

Robert Kelley, a Carnegie Mellon professor has written a book called ‘How to be a Star at Work: Nine Breakthrough Strategies You Need to Succeed’. It is the result of 10 years of scientific investigation at companies like 3M and AT&T. Kelley examined how stars operate, searching for some differentiating factor between the ‘average’ worker and the ‘star’. His surprising conclusion was that there is no difference with regard to cognitive factors (IQ, creativity), personality (self-confidence, ambition) and social factors (interpersonal skills, leadership). Stars are just like you or me, but they use certain work strategies that can be learned.

Here are the strategies that Kelley identified. While at a glance some of the strategies may seem commonplace, a star’s approach to them is different.

In addition to these I would say the following strategies will also help.

  1. Initiative: Average performers think initiative is doing one’s job well by figuring out better ways to do it, like using a tape recorder to take down a meeting’s minutes. For stars however that is not initiative but doing one’s job. For them Kelley says initiative means doing something above and beyond your job description, helping other people, taking some amount of calculated risks and seeing an activity through to completion. So, before you take on anything new, make sure that you're doing your assigned job well. Social initiatives like organizing the company picnic cannot be considered initiative. The initiatives that matter to your career are those that promote the company's core mission.
  2. Networking: Stars use networks to multiply their productivity. They figure out who can supply what ‘they don't know but need to know’ and cultivate relationships with those people. Stars’ approach to networking is different from average performers. They don’t consider the help their network can extend as their right and call someone they don't know well and simply demand help. Instead they help out a lot of people before asking anyone for help in return. For this you have to have expertise that people need but don't already have and be patient.
  3. Self Management: While average performers see self-management as time management, stars see it as managing not only one’s work but also one’s relationships with people and ones’ career over time. The average performer after finishing a project go to the boss and ask, "What do you want me to do next?" .The star starts looking around six months before a project is done and asks, " What assignment should I tackle next that would make me more valuable for the company/in the marketplace?" Stars select their next project before they finish the current one and then try to bag the ‘identified’ assignment. To manage yourself better, understand the company goals and align yourself with its core business, so that you contribute more directly to its larger purpose. You can’t become a star by changing who you are. So turn ‘how you work’ into an advantage. Continuously learn and never think you ‘know it all’. Stars recognize the value of seeking out strong mentors and peers. They are not afraid to ask for help and guidance.
  4. Organisation savvy: This means knowing whom to trust, whom to avoid, who make things happen in the organization and knowing how to navigate all of the competing interests within the organization. It means paying attention to conflicts. You can develop organization savvy by keeping your eyes open to what goes on in the organisation. Observe the stars and learn what works and what doesn't work in your environment.
  5. Getting the big picture: Average performers see the world only from their viewpoint. Star performers see things in a much bigger way. They adopt different perspectives that of competitors, customers, colleagues and boss etc. Though perspective comes partly from experience, it's something you can work on. After each project, ask yourself “What did I learn?” .Then seek out an assignment that will give you a different kind of experience - even if conventional wisdom says it's not a high profile job. Take process administration. People don't like to do it, because it's kind of boring. You are maintaining existing processes and not creating anything new. Most average performers think of it as drudgery that won't help them get ahead. But lots of stars do their time in process administration. It gives them a chance to see a lot of processes. They can apply the learning to create new and improved processes in the future.
  6. Followership: Followership means knowing that everyone can't always lead and that one has to help those in charge to do the best they can. If they think the leader is going off in the wrong direction, they know how to disagree without being disagreeable and without undermining the leader's authority with the team. To be a good follower, focus on the project's needs and on the leader's needs. Don't try to score a brownie point for yourself, instead try to make wins happen for the team. Also, being a good follower means figuring out what to do before being told, finding out how to do as much as you can without bothering your boss etc.
  7. Small ‘l’ leadership: This type of leadership is not about having a big vision or a charismatic personality but about the ability to bring people together to get things done. They do this by being knowledgeable, creating momentum, bringing energy to the job, creating energy in other people and paying attention to everyone who's involved. To be a small-l leader, start by understanding the people who are following you. Then do everything possible to build momentum. Make sure that meetings get called, that the agenda gets set, and that things don't slip through the cracks.
  8. Communication: Stars don’t over communicate, they communicate thoughtfully. They understand how powerful words can be. They know how to use the right message with the right audience at the right time. They do this by understanding the audience and using the language which will move them. Average performers don't listen well. As a result, they miss necessary insights on the business and about their own effectiveness which stars don’t.
  9. Team work: Stars look at teams differently from others. They say, "I've got only so much time. Do I absolutely need this team - or does this team absolutely need me - to make something important happen?" And once stars are on a team, they become very good team players- making sure that everyone on the team knows and buys into its goals, that the work gets distributed in a way that makes sense and that's fair to everyone, that the team actually gets the job done.
  10. Doing what you love: You can do a job well when you like what you are doing. Of course it may not be always possible due to economic considerations. How about then taking up something close to what you would love to do. Say you love to paint, but can’t make enough money out of it. Then try finding a job which gives you an opportunity to be creative.
  11. Putting in10,000 hours: Malcom Gladwell in his book ‘Outliers, The story of Success’ examined what the stars in business, science , sports and music have in common. His discovery? Every one of them had put in 10,000 hours of practice as compared to their peers who had the same talent as them. This means the more you do something, the better the chances of achieving extraordinary results in it.


And if you think implementing all the above strategies requires too much effort, then just consider the rewards enjoyed typically by star performers in organizations.

  • Others’ admiration: While the pride of doing a job well and better than others is rewarding in itself admiration from others is always welcome. Family is proud of the ‘Well done’ plaque displayed at home. Friends rejoice at your achievements.
  • Job security: Research shows that people at the top of any profession will always have a well-paying, secure job.
  • Monetary benefits: Stars get rewarded with higher performance bonus, higher salary increments associated with increase in responsibility levels etc.
  • Self confidence: Being patted on the back increases one’s confidence in one’s abilities. Ever felt self confident about something and experienced a sense of well being. Imagine feeling that most of the times at the workplace.
  • High work engagement: You won’t hear an “I don’t know what I am doing with my life,” complaint from stars. While they may not have a plan for the future, the stars usually feel they are in the right place just now.
  • More control: The stars enjoy more discretion in choosing their work. They get to pick the best projects, locations, departments and team members.


Now tell me who doesn’t want to be a star performer at the workplace? There is a star in each one of you. Make it shine!


  Kelley , R. E, ‘How to Be a Star at Work: Nine Breakthrough Strategies You Need to Succeed’,Times Books, 1998

  Webber, A, M, ‘Are You a Star at Work?’, Dec 18, 2007

  Raffoni ,M,‘Three Questions Executives Should Ask for the New Year’, January 4, 2010

  Gladwell , M,‘Outliers: The story of success’,2008,Penguin Group

Building Great Business Relationships for Business Success : Feature Article; V3 Issue 4

Your customer, your supplier, your strategic partner, your vendor, your banker and others who help you execute your role responsibilities and do your job smoothly are all people that you have a business relationship with. Apart from delivering quality service or making timely payments ever thought about how your business relationships can be strengthened. Why? Well, look at the benefits of building a strong business relationship and see if you can think of any reason why you shouldn’t.

The benefits of building strong business relationships

The benefits of building a strong business relationship can be best illustrated with some examples. The benefits are also indicators of a great business relationship.

Ok so there are plenty of reasons why you should be forging strong business relationships. Now how did Raj, Sameena, Gautam and Shibu build these relationships? Is there a formula? Perhaps yes. 

Building business relationships

Talk to a few people who have built great business relationships and this is what you will discover. While depending on one’s’ personality and creativity there are umpteen styles one can adopt, from enquiring about family to playing golf, to build a relationship, there are still some fundamental rules which apply. These tried and tested rules for building and sustaining a good business relationship are:-


  • Learn as much as you can about them: What is their business strategy? What are their short term and long term goals? What are their company values? What is their internal structure and practices? Who do we need to know at the organization to build the relationship? Don’t just learn about them, act on that knowledge. When their needs change, be there to provide them with what they need to stay happy with your business. Knowing the client/vendor partner/ service provider in and out will help you extract better value over time from them.
  • Set clear expectations and provide support: Tell your clients what you can and cannot do. Tell your vendors how they can assist you. Give them all the information and support they need to serve you. Suppose your six sigma consultant wants all key stakeholders to be there in the kick off meeting, ensure they are there.
  • Strive for mutual benefits: If you want them to work for the success of your business, you need to also do the same for them. When you renew that contract with your supplier don’t just work out the savings you will make but also the value of additional business the supplier will enjoy. Highlight to your partners, the additional benefits they get from working with you – they will value your business more.
  • Enjoy equal relationships: Interact with your clients / vendor partners on a platform of equality. Drive them to respect you for your intellectual contributions to their business. Look for these opportunities and play an ‘Advisory’ role to all. Once your intellectual contribution to their business creates value for them they are hooked to you - provided you keep following up with more intellectual contributions!
  • Communicate: Inform them about changes that take place. Acknowledge mistakes and keep them informed of the corrective actions being undertaken. In difficult situations avoiding phone calls and emails simply because you do not know what to say or are afraid of saying the wrong thing will lead your client thinking the worst. If your business partner or client knows and understands your situation, they are much more likely to accommodate any inconveniences caused.
  • Stay connected: Find ways to remain connected through phone calls, personal visits etc with people you want to further business with in future even if today they are not doing business with you.
  • Connect emotionally: A 2003 Gallup study suggested that no matter how high a company's customer satisfaction levels may appear to be, "satisfying customers without creating an emotional connection with them has no real value.” Some of the ways you can connect emotionally with people you want to build business relationships with are by…

    • Listening: Listen carefully to what they have to say, to their opinions and feelings. This way you will be able to empathize with them and understand their needs well.
    • Telling stories: Sharing with your customers, stories of challenges you have encountered in business in the past is a way of humanizing who you are. These stories remind them that you are not all that different in terms of your aspirations, goals, as well as in terms of what you worry about. This increases their feeling of connectedness to you.
    • Being thankful: Take every opportunity you can to demonstrate how thankful you are of them associating with you in business. It can take the form of thank-you cards, festival greetings, spending time with them over lunch etc.
    • Being thoughtful: This requires knowing the different needs of different people. So while one business partner may value a book, another may value tickets to a cricket match and another an interesting article on the internet related to their business.
  • Show appreciation: Always recognize a job well done. Everyone likes to be told they've done a good job. Give a ‘Best vendor’ award. Call your banker to tell him/her how much you appreciate him/her for doing a good job of managing your funds. Include your business associates in your company’s celebrations of business success.
  • Act with integrity: A key component of having a successful business relationship is integrity ie., honesty, truthfulness, honour, veracity, reliability and uprightness. It is the quality of possessing and steadfastly adhering to high moral principles or professional standards. This means you honour your commitments be it making payment to a supplier or meeting your client delivery schedule. They will trust you because they know they can accept your words as honorable, without any hidden meaning or agenda.
  • Refer business to them: Refer business whenever you can to a person you are in business with. Rest assured you will have earned a well-wisher for your company.
  • Be responsive and punctual: Return all phone calls and emails as soon as possible. Your delay in response will be considered a sign of not caring enough for the relationship. Value their time. Be on time for your appointments with them.
  • Be flexible: Being flexible when say a vendor cannot supply the required material, but is providing an alternate material, is important for strengthening the relationship. Instead of getting annoyed, try and understand the problem the vendor is having and how you can minimize the impact on your business.
  • Don’t be rude: This is an obvious but important rule. If you don’t’ like the design options given to you by your website designer, there is no need to be rude about it. Give him/her feedback about what you like and want different in a nice way. Be pleasant and respectful at all times.


The Relationship strategy


Now is it possible and is it required that you build enduring business relationships with every person you interact with at work. No, that would take up too much of your time and energy. Everybody need not be rewarded with your loyalty. You should instead follow a relationship strategy that allows you to focus 80% of your time on 20% of the relationships that can help you reach 80% of your business goals. A core relationship strategy has five steps:


1. Develop criteria for ideal and nightmare business relationships: For instance some common criteria for ideal client relationships are:- 

  • Long-term revenue and profit potential (beyond one year)
  • Fit with your personality style
  • Fit with your target market
  • A budget for your services, and willingness to pay
  • Fit of their needs with your skills and capabilities
  • Visibility of the client and their projects
  • Opportunity for you to develop new skills, a new marketable product or service

You must choose criteria that are most suitable for you and make them as specific as possible. For instance it could be ‘The client will challenge me to remain on the leading edge of software design techniques and tools’.


2. Rank your relationships: Once you have a good list of criteria for each kind of relationship, you should list all your clients, vendors etc and rank them in terms of the criteria.


3. Focus on the top ones: Develop a plan to reach out to, and build your relationship with the top 20% on each of your list i.e., client, vendor etc. Most likely these 20% will turn out to be completely different from the ones you are today spending a lot of time on. Don’t worry about it.


4. Do away with the bottom ones: You should discontinue relationships that are a nightmare. That way you no longer have to tolerate poor service and serve clients who are unwilling to pay you adequately for your work. Part company gracefully and gradually. Explain diplomatically why you need to move on. Suggest to them some other resources that can help them.


 5. Watch the middle ones: These are neither your best nor worst relationships. Relationships in this category are to be watched. Serve them well, and see if you can convert them to meet more of your ideal criteria. Focus your attention on your top relationships, but do not abandon the revenue and goodwill that comes from the middle of the pack.




If after having followed the relationship building rules and strategy you find you are still not benefitting, just give it time. It is going to bear fruit one way or the other. Take for instance what happened with us. We send our newsletter Prerana to all our existing and potential clients. A company we have been sending the newsletter for two years contacted us recently and we have signed a long term contract with them.


  10 Ways To Strengthen Your Business Relationships, December 7, 2007

  Pedro, O, Building Customer Relationships as a Critical Part of Selling July, 2006

  The Key Component To Having A Successful Business Relationship, July 15, 2008

  Francis,C, Connecting Emotionally: a Vital Way to Build Deeper, Meaningful Business Relationships January 15, 2009

  Neitlich, A, ‘How a Core Relationship Strategy Can Help You Increase Profits’, January 4, 2005

Managing to Leading : Feature Article; V3 Issue 3

Are you currently leading your team members or managing them? Should you lead them or manage them? I think before we attempt to answer all these questions we need to understand the difference between leading and managing. The debate on whether there is a difference between being a leader and manager has been raging for years now. Most agree that there is definitely a difference.

Difference between a Leader and a Manager

In ‘What Leaders Really Do’, John P. Kotter states, "Management and leadership both involve deciding what needs to be done, creating networks of people to accomplish the agenda, and ensuring that the work actually gets done. Their work is complementary, but each system of action goes about the tasks in different ways."

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An important distinction is that while people are required to follow managers, they choose to follow leaders. So while people work for managers because they are supposed to as part of their job description, people work for leaders because he or she inspires them. The life of Alexander the Great illustrates this difference. Though he was a great leader, Alexander was a lousy manager. His hatred of bureaucracy and his need for excitement prevented him from building a governmental machine of systems, accountabilities, and procedures. Consequently, his legendary empire disintegrated immediately upon his death. Not once in the following fifteen hundred years did the Romans have a leader who could fill the shadow of Alexander the Great. Yet their system for management held the Roman Empire together decade after decade, century after century, even when some incompetent leaders imposed stupid decisions on their people. Marcus Buckingham, in ‘The One Thing You Need to Know About Great Managing, Great Leading, and Sustained Individual Success’, defines leadership as follows: "… is that ability to form a vision of a better future and then to explain that vision so effectively that the leader is followed." 

Warren Bennis, in his book ‘On Becoming a Leader’ … describes his view of the differences between managers and leaders as “To manage means to bring about, to accomplish, to have charge of or responsibility for, to conduct. Leading is influencing, guiding in a direction, course, action, opinion.” Richard Daft added a few more to the first 12 differences mentioned by Warren Bennis in the following table.

As you can see it is more difficult to play the role of a leader than a manager. So what should one be? Should one be a Leader or a Manager?

There was a time when managing and leading could be separated. But in the knowledge economy, where value comes increasingly from the knowledge of people, management and leadership cannot be easily separated. People expect their managers to define for them a purpose and not just to assign them a task. And managers must manage employees, not just to maximize efficiency, but to nurture skills, develop talent and inspire results. With the rise of the knowledge worker, “one does not ‘manage’ people,” Peter Drucker wrote. “The task is to lead people. And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual". I suggest you work on becoming a good manager first. Most leaders evolve after being managers; they start by being good managers and work towards being good leaders. That is what you should also be doing.


Transitioning from being a Manager to being a Leader

Now comes the tough part of actually becoming a good leader. Here are some tips to help you make that transition from being a manager to a leader.

 Know and formally learn what a leader does: Understanding the difference between being an effective manager and an effective leader will help you understand what you must focus on doing. Attend leadership workshops and classes. They can give you new ideas or help you develop specific skills. Pick classes that add tangible value to you. Sometimes the value could be the relationships you establish with other participants. Read history and the biographies of leaders to see how they did things. Read relevant business magazines and books to know what your industry leaders are doing differently that you can emulate.


   Leave the management to others: Ensure managing is done by others so that you are free to spend time leading. You can divide the management responsibility among different team members. So while you make one person in charge of the planning and budgeting, another could be made in charge of monitoring quality etc. This also means that you will have to coach your team members to be good managers. Though you need not now control everything, be prepared to still do some amount of managing when the need arises.


   Learn from others: If so far you have been emulating role models who are great mangers, then it’s time for you to find good role models in leadership. When faced with a leadership problem, ask yourself how your role models would handle the situation. Discuss your leadership problems with them. People who have been bosses for a while have had to deal with many leadership situations. Adapt their advice to your situation and your personal style. Also find a good mentor who can guide you in sorting out your leadership challenges.


   Develop the key characteristics of true leader: Everything else will fall in place. Work towards becoming….


      A visionary: While managers handle the day-to-day activities of a business, leaders have a bird's-eye view on industry indicators and market trends to see where their businesses are going in the next six months to one year.

      A planner:Leaders are able to take what they see from that bird's-eye view and translate it into a business plan that reflects market conditions and gets results.

      A collaborator: Leaders know they need help, and they cannot do everything alone. And really good leaders are able to identify, recruit and collaborate with people and other organizations that can add value to their business.

      An enabler:Great leaders enable their employees to reach and achieve more by getting them what they need to do their jobs.

      A motivator:When your team members feel they own their job, they reach new heights of achievement and motivation. And leaders are able to get everyone to accept personal responsibility to get their jobs done well.


   Seek feedback on how you are doing as a leader: Develop a plan on what leadership skills you intend to develop and by when. Review your progress against this plan. Good feedback is essential to efficient and effective growth. Ask your boss, your peers and your team how you're doing and how you can do better. Critique your own performance every time you take a significant leadership action. Ask yourself what you wanted to accomplish, what you did, and how things came out. Determine what you will repeat and what you will do differently next time.


While you can learn 20 percent about leadership in the classroom and from books, the rest 80 percent, you need to learn on the job. So it is important that you volunteer for assignments that give you opportunities to lead. Or start leading in your current role as a manager. Mr. Buckingham states that "The starting points are different. The talents required to excel at each are different." When you want to manage, begin with the person. When you want to lead, begin with the picture of where you are headed. Managing is about coping with complexity. Leadership, by contrast, is about coping with change. Leaders aren't made or born. Leadership is a choice and a belief. Choose to be a leader and believe you can be one.




   ‘Leader V/S Manager’, Wednesday, March 28, 2007

   What is the Difference Between Management and Leadership?

   Geno, ‘20 Differences Between Management & Leadership

   Sterling, W.A, ‘Leader-Manager: Is there a difference?

   Corcoran ,B, ‘Shed the Manager Role and Become a Leader’, Aug. 10, 2009,

   Bock,W, ‘Leadership Tips’

Walking the Talk – Leaders demonstrating Team Work: Feature Article; V3 Issue 2


In the words of one highly successful plant manager, "My biggest challenge is not getting our employees to work together because they will if we lead them that way... The biggest issue is getting all our managers to work together and cooperate, which can be a daunting task." Why is walking the talk in team work so difficult for leaders. Let’s see an example.

Brijesh Kumar, the Sales and Marketing Manager of a product company was at his wits end. His company had not met the commitments made to one of his biggest customers for the third time in a row this quarter. He would surely lose this customer to his competition. What was happening? Had he not done his best in providing leadership to his team he thought? Brijesh may have led his team well. But there is something else amiss. On all the three occasions Brijesh had faced problems from the production and supply chain side. The Production Head had delayed the product manufacture citing reasons like unavailability of raw material, unrealistic delivery goals committed by sales and lack of machine capacity. The Supply Chain Head had on the other hand had argued that there was no proper forecast of the requirement, vendors had defaulted and that raw material rejection had taken place. Clearly there is limited collaboration among the team making Brijesh and his peers viz., the operational leadership team in the company ineffective.

Leadership team is a group of managers at the same organizational level who need to collaborate together to meet organizational goals. Small enterprises may have only one leadership team, while large organizations have several teams at each layer of their hierarchy. For a member of a leadership team to be effective he/she should not only be a good team leader but also a good team member– a good team member for his peers. But often this is not easy because the team sometimes work at cross purposes as seen in the case of Brijesh. In fact there are significant challenges to getting the leadership team to function as a good team, despite the obvious benefits to the organization.


Why team work in a leadership team is difficult

All leadership team members need to successfully wear two hats, that of functional leaders and organizational leaders. Selected for their knowledge and expertise, they own functional responsibilities. At the same time they have an organizational leadership responsibility which may supersede their functional responsibility. For example, the Sales and Marketing Head, has a primary responsibility for the Sales function of the organization and as a member of the leadership team also carries a responsibility towards organizational success. So to be an effective team member he/she must understand the difference between these two roles and play both the roles. Since the primary purpose of management team members is to make decisions, they must regularly try to reach agreement on critical issues.  Conflicting interests can make this process difficult.

A research survey conducted on manufacturing managers identified factors preventing managers from working together and the problems created when managers in a manufacturing operation do not work together. The survey results were as follows:-

To summarize, ineffective team work between the managers led to loss of employee morale, decrease in productivity and adverse impact on customers and profitability of the company. The factors preventing the managers from cooperating were not only on account of differences in individual personalities and aspirations, but also on account of organization systems and top leadership not effectively supporting team work

Having understood the challenges of working as an effective leadership team now let’s look at the ways in which we can improve the team work among leadership team members.


Building leadership team cohesion and synergy

An individual manager might struggle with a problem with his/her limited view of the problem. If the manager tables this problem in a meeting with other managers, he will have different views of the problem and someone might have an answer right away. He/she would be experiencing the rewards of collaboration. A significant advantage of a team is the power of collaboration. When people work together on problems, the different views and interpretations of the problem, plus the different facts and knowledge people in the team bring with them, create better solutions. Also, the solution identified would have support across functions, and likelihood of successful implementation increases exponentially. So you can contribute to better team effectiveness of the leadership team you belong to by following the principles of collaboration.

Principles of Collaboration

  • Understand and call upon the specific skills, strengths or knowledge of each team member
  • Listen with open-minds and open the minds of others to different ideas
  • Relentlessly look for ways to make things better
  • Confidently and constructively speak your mind - Freely speak your mind without fear at crucial points during important meetings, rather than later at the water cooler and listen to feedback without hesitation

  • Passionately debate ideas without getting defensive
  • Don't hoard knowledge and business expertise
  • Debate with a higher level of intensity and diversity of thought
  • Structure discussions that lead to action, not endless meetings and conversation
  • Adapt effectively and creatively to corporate and economic change
  • Balance free-thinking and creativity with business discipline
  • Remove politics from conversations
  • Create an environment where ideas are encouraged from and by everyone, without threat of embarrassment or disapproval. When collaboration is working really well, team members listen closely to each other, build on each other’s ideas, amend them, drop them, pick them up again, and come up with new ones.

The research survey conducted on manufacturing managers also identified the following top ten factors for getting managers to cooperate with each other and to function as a team:-

  1. Develop unifying super-ordinate goals that focus on needed outcomes
  2. Top management must demonstrate and foster cooperation
  3. Provide team-based rewards or incentives for desired behaviors and outcomes
  4. Identify and resolve management problems and conflicts in a timely fashion
  5. Team-based performance measurement and feedback devices
  6. Team-building activities; teaming skills development
  7. Create management team ownership of decision processes and outcomes
  8. Integrate planning, problem-solving, and communication processes
  9. Clarify each manager's roles and goals to every other manager
  10. Build understanding and consensus around production processes and systems



Individual members of leadership teams at all levels need to work together better to be more effective in their individual roles and for being more effective as a leadership team as a whole. Improved team cohesion makes working a more positive experience for both the team members as well as for the people the team members lead. In the wise words of a manager from the study on manufacturing managers, "When we [managers] work together, it is amazing how much better things run and how much easier it is to come to work."



  • McIntyre M G., Ph.D., ‘Building an Effective management Team’,
  • Longenecker, Clinton O, ‘Building High Performance Management Teams’,
  • ‘Team Collaboration at Work’,
  • ‘Team Collaboration’,

Leading in Tough Times – Some Perspectives : Feature Article; V3 Issue 1

In easy times resources are relatively abundant and the environment is relatively stable. Employees are excited, committed and eager to contribute. Potential customers are cash rich and are willing and able to buy your product. You can reasonably assume what works today will work tomorrow.  In difficult times the opposite is true and the business is challenged on multiple dimensions. What this essentially means is that in tough times leaders need to review and re-calibrate their leadership stance to sustain energy in their companies and to ensure their companies continue thriving.


Sustaining the energy

Let’s begin with the balance required between optimism and critical skepticism. In easy times, it is the leader’s responsibility to be skeptical when everyone around is getting excited and thinking everything will work. Being skeptical enough to ensure that passion and drive find effective and productive channels, works in good times. In difficult times, you need to lean towards the other end ie., keeping hope alive and reminding everyone about the numerous possibilities. Grounded optimism, reinforced with data keeps team energies buoyant. It’s a delicate balance to strike – grounded optimism which convinces the team, not exaggerated optimism that makes the rest of the organization skeptical. Stay credible enough to persuade. And also be inspiring.

I like this example of inspiration. At the end of World War II, Japanese business leader Matsushita stood before a gathering of his dejected, demoralized workforce, in an occupied country, with all the company’s inventory taken by the occupying power. He spoke about how taking the lead in quality and innovation and low prices would force competitors to do the same and “in 250 years would eliminate poverty in Japan.” He sat down to silence. Then, one by one his employees stood up, some with tears in their eyes, and said “I think I could dedicate my life to this.” Much of Japan’s progress can be traced back to moments like this in its history. As a leader you must also leverage the power of a shared purpose in these tough times.  Focus energy on long-term goals, especially stretch ones. Goals set a direction. Every day, people will think of that goal and how to move towards it. A stretch goal is like the Star. If you keep your eye fixed on the Star, you aim high and challenge your abilities - you may not reach the Star. But you will also go farther up than someone who is looking only at the apple on a tree. In difficult times, stretch goals look even more unattainable than they do in easy times. You will find people throwing up their hands, saying “That’s impossible! I’m just going to stay focused on the apple.”  As a leader, watch out for this tendency and help them deal with it.

Now in the process of reaching for the Stars there are bound to be mistakes. Adding to that, the cautious sentiment slows responses to changing environmental conditions, stress levels are higher and mistakes tend to get magnified. Also mistakes are more often visible since the world is less forgiving, now. Make your people realize how in such times, it is even more important that we handle mistakes and disappointments well. Mistakes are part of learning how to be effective in the current context.   If we handle a mistake well, the penalty is small. If we mishandle it say by covering it up etc then the penalty can be severe. Honest mistakes are not avoidable and rarely will they destroy a company. But not dealing with them in an honest and straightforward manner can have far reaching negative consequences for the company. Feeling less valuable, less knowledgeable, and less effective are likely outcomes of making more mistakes.  And this can sap productivity. As a leader, you can help ensure that those perfectly normal feelings do not interfere with your team members’ ability to contribute. Ensure your people retain confidence in themselves.

Another thing that can happen is infighting. When budgets are tighter, it is quite common to see employees becoming defensive, territorial, and competitive. Intensified negative politics at all levels can sap valuable energy and focus, causing a failure in meeting the challenges of facing external threats from competitors, customers, and suppliers. So, create more opportunities to bring your people together, encouraging questions and healthy discussions.

When the going is good there is money to spend on training and benefits, career growth opportunities exist, monetary rewards are strong. Limited business growth impacts all of them and employees may feel financially challenged.   Let people know that "we are in this together." You must also make sacrifices if you are asking or expecting your people to do so. Consider the example of Delta Airlines. While the senior people at most airlines took bonuses amidst record losses, the CEO of Delta Airlines turned down his yearly salary. This prompted a business column to say that Delta was "least likely" to go out of business of all major U.S. airlines. So, say a big ‘NO’ to any management bonuses while initiating layoffs.

Talking of layoffs, in tough times, employees get nervous about job security, career progress and sustainability of company operations. When things are going good, employees hearing about them through newspapers is fine. But bad news should always be conveyed by insiders first. Leaders should keep the channels of communication wide open, keeping people informed about what is happening and how the company is responding. When rumors do emerge, respond promptly. Communicate more than usual and more than you think you need to. During tough times employees need to see more of you. Taking regular rounds and chatting up with employees is essential in such times to be more visible and accessible. There is the story of Xenophon, a Greek military leader in 400 B.C.E., who believed in the value of making himself accessible to even the lowest ranks of his men. With the Athenian army in danger of imminent attack and its back to a raging river two of Xenophon’s foot soldiers managed to locate a river crossing that would allow the army to escape. Because of the trust between the leader and his followers they went directly to Xenophon with their discovery. Xenophon took immediate action, and the army succeeded in escaping.

Now I know I have not touched upon the business aspects in our discussion. I leave that to the management strategist. But a clear opportunity exists to align the entire organization for efficiency. Improve the coordination and alignment of departments, strengthen performance tracking and review mechanisms, focus on waste management, lean principles etc.   Leaders should frame an agenda and meet with key stakeholders to gain support and build commitment to efficiency goals.

More than ever be curious, become aware - to understand and deal with your company’s situation better.  You need fresh ideas to help you respond to the new challenges and opportunities effectively. Read more broadly than before. Be alert for trends, ideas and approaches that you have never explored before. Question your assumptions. Always ask yourself: “What if…” and explore possibilities.  Connect with leading thinkers in your industry.  

Lastly a word on values and culture, Ok maybe more than a word. Under tough conditions, typically rational people can start to act in ways that are self-destructive and dangerous for the organization. In such scenarios organization’s values and culture can protect against this. A person previously good with maintaining client relationships may now start focusing more on squeezing the client rather than considering the best interests of the client. But a company that values client progress will be able to discourage such behaviour. In difficult times leaders have to pay even more attention to the values and culture of their organization. One way to do this is by a leader personally responding to changes effectively.


Personally responding to changes effectively

Your assumptions dictate your personal response to changes. Personal responses predispose you to certain behaviors or practices. Your behavior sets the tone for the behaviors of other people in the organization. This is how your company’s culture is formed. Hence responding effectively to any change be it recession or some other crisis is essential. Lee J. Colan, Ph.D. in his article ‘Here We Go Again Leading in Tough Times’ describes the following three common personal responses of a leader to change, with corresponding alternate and effective responses for each one.

Exemplary leadership
The most striking leadership we have seen in recent times has been the way Barack Obama ran his election campaign despite being faced with many challenges. Business leaders can draw lots of lessons from the way he organized and led his campaign team.

  • Obama created a grassroots movement by building an ever expanding organization of empowered leaders, who in turn engaged people from their social networks like Facebook.

  • The entire organization was aligned around a single goal of electing Obama as President, a reaching for the Stars goal.

  • Everybody operated with common values - "Offer messages of hope, don't denigrate our opponents, refuse to make deals".

  • Campaign leaders subordinated their egos and personal ambitions to the greater goal. Those who deviated quickly exited.

  • Obama set a clear, consistent tone from the top and never wavered, even when things weren't going well.

  • Obama's greater mission transcended internal goals, such as fundraising, endorsements, and campaign events. Each of these areas had goals tied to the greater mission.

  • The campaign team used the most modern Internet tools to communicate, motivate and inspire people and to guide their actions. Each day, 5 million people received personal messages from campaign headquarters or even Obama himself. This organization collaborated across a wide range of geographies and campaign functions, all tightly integrated nationally and executed locally.



There are several ways to lead differently in tough times. The ones I have listed are only a few among them. But what is important for you as a leader is to reflect. Reflect on every aspect of your leadership, on what you normally do and then see what you need to do differently. Some actions may have to be done a little differently and, others quite differently. This approach will see you providing effective leadership for your people, in good times as well as bad.



  • Lehman, J, ‘Leadership in difficult times is different’, Jan 13 2009,
  • Dr. Izzo, J, ‘Leading in Tough Times’, September 2008, %202008%20Dr.%20John%20Izzo.pdf.
  • Colan,L.,J, ‘Here We Go Again Leading in Tough Times’,
  • ‘How to inspire people in tough times - Kotter on Matsushita’,
  • George,B, ‘Obama: A leader for the ‘we’ generation’, Jan. 19, 2009,
  • Slack,K, ‘Leading During a Recession’,