Raj's Lab

Strategy and Entrepreneurship


Congratulations Mr Modi

Congratulations Mr Narendra Modi! You seem to be the next Prime Minister of India (in all probability). Since people have voted you to power, their wishes are going to be with you for the next 5 years. But the real test of your leadership is going to begin once you sit on the top job. The millions who have voted this time around are waiting:

  • The millions of people who have voted for you are looking to see you make changes.
  • The millions of people who voted for you are yearning for you to bring development.
  • The millions of people who voted for you are waiting to hear you make the changes that will change their lives for the better.
  • More importantly, the millions of people who did not vote for you are waiting to convince their friends (your supporters) how wrong their choice has been!
  • Every one of the millions who have voted are waiting to see India change and grow for the better

The truth is that nobody who has come to power has said the opposite! All who have come to power, came there making promises, but somehow most of those promises have not been kept. While everyone is expecting you to make changes to development and other issues, there one big change that you can usher in: Here is your chance to bring the biggest change of them all – keeping promises!

We all look forward to unblocking the potential that Indians contain. We have been restricted for too long. Will you be the change that everyone hopes?

The big lesson from your victory is that in times of crisis, people want bold, courageous leaders. They want leaders who will take decisions. They want leaders who have some stand on issues. They want leaders who will lead them from the present state, without worry about where they are headed. Whether these are the best for all of us only time will tell, but people still want a strong personality leading them.

Peter Drucker said “The future cannot be predicted, but it can be created.” Isn’t that true? To create a future we need leaders who can take decisions, follow it through to completion and live a life of character. There are a lot of hopes, possibilities and expectations. If they come true (through you) they are good for India as a whole.

Congratulations once again Mr Modi and best wishes to keep the hopes of India alive!

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Interesting Links This Week: 15-September-2013

This week’s top three links from my reading list:

We all seek “social proof” all the time – we don’t even know we do it. That’s how 541px-Sunflower_sky_backdropour minds fool us all the time. No wonder that marketers (the smart ones) are able to convince us into believing that we are choosing the best option. Interesting concept. Here are some interesting examples and some serious learning for entrepreneurs to incorporate into their sales and marketing plans. Link: http://bit.ly/15mwx2B

Leadership of any kind is power! Everyone wants it. In fact in today’s world the most powerful form sought after is ‘Thought Leadership’. But what people miss is that with power comes responsibility! But is the converse true? Some interesting though triggers. Link: http://bit.ly/17jD5n9

When Paul Graham has something to say, it is good for entrepreneurs to listen. It is good for all involved in the entrepreneurial ecosystem to listen. Read this interview and make up for not having the chance to meet him in person and listen to him. Interesting questions on identifying entrepreneurs, how to evaluate startups and where to invest? Link: http://bit.ly/18fspmD


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Shared Leadership!!

There has been very many interesting conversations that the earlier post on shared leadership elicited.  Here is fishmy take on the topic. Shared leadership in my humble opinion is not sharing of the position. It is not making smaller centers of power that operate in parallel in an organization.

To me Leadership means two things – authority and responsibility. Shared leadership then amounts to how these two variables are split amongst the leaders. Not understanding this is one of the reasons why shared leadership almost never works. The focus in shared leadership is about splitting the power, the position, culling out kingdoms, establishing governance etc. Failure to understand that the only aspect that can be shared are the activities and work – and not really the power and position, has led to a lot of chaos and confusion.

In the current context the most basic mistake in sharing leadership role is the approach to splitting authority and responsibility among two people. It defeats the purpose of sharing and creates split. It splits the role, it splits the function and eventually it splits the company or the institution.  A better way to achieve shared leadership is to share authority and responsibility equally with only boundary conditions and exception handling routines.  Have one leadership position but create pockets of defined responsibilities. This when done can result in more cohesive functioning, increased band width and growth for the individuals and as well as the enterprise.  In my humble opinion, shared leadership is all about allowing people to take charge of responsibilities. It is not creation of parallel power structures or sharing of the leadership position.

The best form of shared leadership is for people to volunteer to share responsibility.  When responsibility is fully understood and shouldered, authority literally becomes meaningless, because it is automatic. When you take up responsibility for something you make it happen – you don’t wait for permission to make it happen.  If you wait for permission to be granted or bestowed then what you are seeking to share is only authority and not responsibility.  This will result in poor leadership anyways.  In essence to lead in an area,  one needs only responsibility and not really authority.  Because to be a leader you need to look forward and lead, not look backwards to see if there are followers.  That is the true mark of a leader. And the world today needs a lot more of these!

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Environment Scanning

Entrepreneurs and CEOs have to learn to see beyond their existing business. Not just to grow but even to stay afloat. The rate at 800px-Binoculars_(PSF)which the socio-economic forces keep changing is making the ride of entrepreneurship more a matter of managing risks than managing opportunities.

To ensure tbat an enterprise stays relevant and thrives in such turbulent environments, fresh skill sets are being explored for leadership. Specifically the aspects of agility and resilience are being discussed more frequently than others. All this is leading to the base assumption that leaders will constantly scan the environment for changes.

From my limited exposure of working with small and medium enterprises and the larger entrepreneurship ecosystem, one thing that I am fairly sure about is that most of the leaders at these companies don’t have any formal and organized approaches to scanning the environment. While agility and resilience are useful skills to develop, without a sound scanning mechanism the intelligence of the response will always be a question. With the information revolution strongly in place and innumerable tools available for free,  the function of scanning should be fairly easy to put in place.  This will throw open early indicators not only for opportunities but for threats as well!


Vedantic Wednesday: The trade of duties and rights!

The concepts of rights and duties are heavily discussed and debated. This is particularly misunderstood and misused in the 800px-Balancebarea of leadership and governance.  What are rights and what are duties?

Rights are those we feel morally and legally entitled to by some unknown decree. Duties are those that we ought to do.  The beauty of the relationship between these two concepts is that they are not equal and opposite forces. Infact one is the cause and the other the effect.

If one does his duties that which he ought to do, he enables or bestows the right that is due on another person. Doing one’s duty does not earn or bestow any rights for the doer, as is understood in general. On the contrary doing one’s duty bestows rights on another. Following are some examples that clarify this concept:

  • When the king does his duties, the subject enjoys their rights
  • When the husband does his duties, the family enjoys their rights
  • When the citizens do their duties, the government enjoys its rights
  • When government does its duties, the citizens enjoy their rights

The misunderstanding of the above concept has led people to attempt doing duties to trade rights for themselves. Infact in recent times the degradation is so sharp that people are demanding their rights and trading duties.  It is difficult to teach this to others. That is why Vedanta insists that knowledge is for oneself to change.  And this is why Vedanta talks about one’s duties and not one’s right!

Think about it!


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What do you base your decision on?

A good entrepreneur, owner, CEO, manager becomes great because they take decisions on time, and they take decisions that decision_makingwork for the overall good.

I am not talking about moments in life where you make choices where the outcome was predefined. I am talking about decisive and high impact decisions which can make or break your career and the careers of many behind you. Based on what do you make these decisions?

The wise words of an aged successful entrepreneur rang a bell. During our conversations, when I asked him how he made those important decisions, he thought for a while and remarked “base your decisions on data NOT opinion” if we observe closely very often we make decisions based on the opinions of others.  Very often we ask the question ‘What do you think?’ and seldom follow it with ‘Why do you think so?’. It is our hope (another assumption) that they have done their homework of studying their data before making the suggestion.

While I am not questioning the trust that you place on your lieutenants and advisors  there are two reasons why I strongly urge my CEO clients to look at the data before we have discussions on the decision points:

1)     As you look through the data you will see patterns that no one else can see because every pair of eyes are different

2)     It makes you more objective about the situation, for opinions most often are shaded with a tinge of emotions and an amount of past baggage

Therefore the next time when you face a decision point, especially a strategic one, check if you have seen the data before signing the decision off…


Being Positive over Being Neutral

The concept of thinking positive and looking positive, as a way to attract positive aspects into life is not a new phenomenon.800px-Bachalpsee_Schreckhorn But every time there is an attempt at re-positioning this old secret desire of human beings it gains world-wide recognition and acknowledgement. I know the power that “the law of attraction” holds on to the lives of so many people. “The Secret” book and DVD became a sensation. Why won’t it? It caters directly to one of the fundamental desires of the human mind – addressing wants! But one of the fundamental things that these books, tapes, videos and trainings do is ask you to maintain a positive look. According to these, if one manages to maintain a positive look, one is bound to attract more positive aspects onto himself  / herself.

NOTE: Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m not against being positive and I am definitely not promoting being negative as an alternative. But I am only using it to highlight how this is affecting decision making.

When this “positive thinking” school of living is borrowed by leaders in businesses and other institutions, the first thing that happens is that they don’t want to acknowledge challenges, problems, issues, etc. Because a positive person is always positive, speaks positive things, thinks positive things and acts positively.  Your product is not selling? -Be positive, push harder it will sell. Productivity is a creeping issue? – Be positive, talk to your team, motivate them for all is well.  Rosy picture indeed! But the downside of this is that challenges are constantly subdued without objective analysis. While they can be suppressed for a while, over time they come back in a different form and in a much stronger manner. Often by the time the institution is forced to acknowledge the problem, it is too late.

Why not on the contrary be neutral? Neutral to the changes that happen, neutral to challenges that crop up, neutral to positive and negative results with equal poise. This will enable a leader look at issues objectively and make the best use of resources at large. This kind of leadership will make the greatest impact on society. Think!

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On Leadership: A Pope’s Historic Exit

Pope Benedict XVI was whisked away in a white helicopter that flew over St Peter’s Basilica on the last day of February 2013.450px-Basilique_Saint-Pierre_Vatican_dome But not even this was more dramatic than the decision of his to resign from the papacy. The exit, the upcoming election for the office, the process and the other paraphernalia are being discussed and followed up with great vigour.

Of all these what caught my attention was the action of the85-year old leader, defying hundreds of years of tradition. It is always difficult to take a path breaking decisions, especially if you are the leader whose actions are being watched, emulated and followed by millions.  The reason for pope’s decision to resign was based on the practical consideration of his body and mind not being able to keep pace with the demands of this highest office. While on one side this looks like an admission of frailty, the objective view would indicate mark of tremendous courage. The ability to put the cause ahead of one’s self. The ability to recognise and implement, what one firmly believes is right for the larger ecosystem. The courage to walk the path.

As officials sealed the papal apartments and the elevator, the world began its wait for the successor. And the man who moved out by his own choice, in all humility promised to ‘obey’ the new elect!

Here lies in this whole act a message not just for leaders but the multitudes, who hold some responsibility or other towards the larger community!

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On Leadership: Go for the Moon

I had the opportunity to interact with some students last week. The conversation post class got onto goal settings. A youngstar one remarked as his argument towards setting high goals ‘One should aim for the stars; you may not get them but you will atleast not come down with handful of sand’ An often heard statement so I was least prepared when I heard a vociferous counter to this. Another student vehemently said this statement was one that reflected a very sub average goal setting mindset.

Surprised we listened on as he explained:  ‘The statement is asking you to reach out for some stars from the millions available. So once you manage to stretch your hand; your options are actually limitless; but the goal statement limits it to just a handful. Also the second half of the statement makes it look like you have already built in a certain acceptable level for failure. The reason for setting this goal does not seem to be to encourage the doer to grab the stars – but to tell him it is okay if he fail!!’ In a normal situation I would have dismissed this as a typical cynical reaction by a Gen-Y to something that is so established. But on my way back to office; I could not help being bothered by this. Do we have leadership lessons here?

How do we set our goals? Whenever we start something new, what is our approach? Does it define success and achievement in Boolean or does it allow a permissible error? How often do we make statements similar to ‘Let us attempt for 120 so at least we will achieve 100’..Very often our goals have certain negotiable factor to success. Then is this the right way? When you set goals like this could you be countering your own intent?

Instead of aiming for just a handful of stars from the millions that are available – should we not aim for the singular Moon? Then like the archer who is focused not on the parrot as a whole but its ‘eye’ – all our efforts would then be on the single success criteria. In today’s highly competitive environment apart from redefining our outlook; we may even need to reframe the existing sayings and quotes to be more aligned to our current context!

How we set our goals for ourselves and our team, how we communicate them and how we lead to achieve these are important. As leaders it is important that are thoughts, actions and attitude align themselves without any margin of mis-interpretation or error. Tough task – but who said being a leader is easy?

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Books and Me: The Truth About Leadership

Title: The Truth About LeadershipThe truth about

Authors: James M. Kousez & Barry Z. Posner

Kousez and Posner are leading thinkers on the subject of leadership. If you are even remotely interested in the subject it is very unlikely that you have not yet read a book of theirs. The duo have produced many classics on leadership over the past decades.

In today’s turbulent world, even established organizations, are being tested for their stability and sustainability.  Small emerging enterprises are facing enormous challenges with respect to managing people. The overarching trend towards knowledge and information is also increasing the need for leading over managing. Leadership as a subject is probably the most written about in business and management. Right from identifying traits, behaviours and approaches, to suggesting systems and techniques – this body of literature seems swelling by the day. This trend only indicates the acute demand for thoughts on this subject. The authors themselves have some of the highest selling books to their credit in the genre.

This little book that can probably be completed in just a couple of hours has the essence of the subject that has lasted probably a generation. The authors have taken effort in identifying those aspects of leadership that have remained unchanged through the history of the subject.  While at the first glance the ten truths listed by the authors seem obvious, it is only when we immerse in their detailing that we get to understand their deeper connotations. The book is not a quick fix to any leadership problems, but a reassurance on the importance of leading and the responsibility that leaders must take on for the sake of the larger good.


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