Dr Sujaya Banerjee

Dr Sujaya Banerjee is the Chief Talent Officer - Essar Group, Founder of L&OD Roundtable and Women Leadership Forum of Asia (wlfa.in).

Leadership is about Viewing the World Through a New Lens!

Dr Sujaya Banerjee

Cover - Web

The financial meltdown, and the subsequent economic recession of the late 2000s is often attributed to being an ‘outcome of market failure’. At a macro-level, the meltdown had widespread implications on organisational leadership and emerged as a powerful catalyst for channelising synergies around driving transformational efforts. The traditional paradigm of driving economic welfare through demand-driven strategies was questioned, and the need for leaders to be aware of the external environment to sustain business excellence emerged as key lessons learnt. In recent years, the paradigm for leaders has shifted from ‘an excessive focus on maximising overall profitability’ to ‘analysing and interpreting information from macro trends to leverage new opportunities and avenues for growth’. This change is possibly a function of the external economic environment which has seen the collapse of century old institutions and the rise of new businesses, who have expanded their global reach by deploying technology. Viewing the world with a different lens is, therefore, imperative for sustaining excellence, and is no longer a ‘good to have’ but a critical need among leadership/ CXO teams.

Evolution of the Concept of Leadership

The prevalent leadership style in the two decades ranging from the early eighties to the early years of new millennium was to perceive the ‘leader as a hero’. The prevailing philosophy was that a competent and action-oriented leadership would help negate the adverse impact of bureaucratic mindsets and create value for the organisation. Leaders like Welch, Branson and Jobs emerged as poster boys of this school of thought. They were featured on covers of leading publications and magazines, lauded for being ‘path-breaking’ and influenced the business/ talent management practices of thousands of organisations across the globe.

Around the turn of the century, the theory of perceiving ‘the leader as a hero’ was increasingly questioned first among members of the academic fraternity and then among social scientists and thought leaders. The collective belief which emerged subsequently stated that an individualistic model of leadership was an ineffective model for driving transformational efforts in the new millennium. The spectacular decline of global institutions including Enron, Lehmann Brothers and Tyco seemed to re-affirm the overall sentiments associated with this belief and a need was felt to redefine what constituted effective leadership.

What Research Tells Us

A recent research by Ashridge Business School in the UK on causes of leadership failure indicate that leaders are often emotionally connected to particular solutions and tend to ignore other ones. They are often influenced by self-interest even if they perceive themselves to be incorruptible. Groupthink also emerged as a recurring phenomenon contributing to leadership failure. The researchers from Ashridge believed that good people often made bad decisions because they were part of an ineffective collective process of decision making. They opined that when a team becomes a chorus by working for a consensus to realise individual outcomes, it becomes counter-productive for the aggregate institution.

Leadership of Purpose: The Emergence of the Servant Leadership Model

2 - WebThe words servant and leader are conventionally considered to be opposites. By deliberately bringing both together, Robert Greenleaf gave birth to a dynamic new theory of leadership which has ever since emerged as an effective leadership paradigm in the post-recessionary economic and industrial environment.

Servant leadership in its truest sense can be looked upon as both a philosophy and a set of practices. While traditional leadership focused on accumulation and exercise of power by the top leadership team the servant-leader shared power, understood the needs of other stakeholders, and invested efforts in actualising the potential of his own self and his team.

Leadership of purpose is primarily associated with the participative style of leadership. They create an incubating environment which allows team members to unfold their full potential and abilities. The concept of leadership with a purpose goes much beyond the traditional manager-reportee relationship and calls for a rethinking of hierarchical relationships. The focus of this style of leadership is, therefore, on expanding one’s outlook by viewing the world with a new lens and leveraging the potential of teams through participative leadership so craved by Gen Y.

The following are distinguishing characteristics that separate leadership of purpose from traditional leadership:

Empathetic Listening: Leaders have traditionally been valued for their communication and decision-making skills. While these are important skill sets for leaders with a purpose, the focus is on empathetic listening to understand and appreciate the diverse perspectives of internal and external stakeholders. Leaders with a purpose identify and clarify the will of their teams by intently listening on what is said and unsaid. Listening coupled with periods of reflection are viewed as essential traits of effective leaders.

Empathy: Leaders with a purpose strive to understand and empathise with others. They value discordant information, and do not attempt to over-ride others by unilaterally enforcing their decisions over them. In line with the principles of appreciative inquiry, they focus on positives or what is going well in their respective organisations and offer constructive feedback to facilitate course corrections.

Influencing Ability: A distinguishing characteristic of servant leaders is reliance on persuasion, rather than on one’s positional authority, while making decisions. Effective leaders adapt a rationality based style of influencing rather than focusing on a retribution style. This is one of the primary distinctions between the traditional authoritarian model of leadership (where leaders were considered to be iconic and heroic) and servant leadership.

Foresight – the ability to view the world through a different lens: Effective leaders are able to draw inferences from seemingly unrelated events to understand the lessons from the past, the realities of the present, and the likely consequences for inaction in the future. Leaders with purpose are able to channelise the collective energies of their employees towards a common purpose. They embody hope and are able to synergise collective beliefs and create value for all stakeholders.

Leadership of the Future

Human resource management in the future will involve managing a diverse multi-cultural and multi-generational workforce with technology rapidly disrupting how business is usually transacted. Leadership with purpose involves tapping skills anywhere, anytime, and continuously ensuring organisations are able to spot future opportunities of value creation. These leaders treat employees as a ‘workforce of one’ and not as heterogeneous independent entities and focus on offering customised solutions to create value for the business. They leverage the power of the extended workforce to maximise strategic value for their enterprise.

Transformational leaders of the future will leverage technology, including social learning, gamification, cloud technology, mobile technology, big data, and implement customised consumer applications to positively impact how people carry out their work. They will adapt new talent sourcing strategies by effectively using social media to match talent and tasks all at a click of a button.

1 - WebTransformational leaders will positively impact the community by making a difference through their thoughts and action. They will unlock the creative potential within employees to view the volatile business environment not as a challenge but as ‘opportunities to be tapped’ .They will adapt a rationality based approach for influencing stakeholders and focus on developing capability among self and teams with the objective of actualising their potential.

The new norm of effective leadership in the future will require a shift in conventional management thinking. Leaders of the future will recognise that over-arching bureaucratic mechanisms will adversely impact achievement of organisational outcomes and instead unleash human potential by building an incubating culture through authenticity, greater purpose, and continuous learning. Leaders with a purpose seek ‘personal mastery’ while remaining connected to the collective whole. Leaders of the future are one who will be self-aware, committed towards the welfare of the community, and inspire greatness among others by acting as a teacher. They will have the inherent ability to balance personal mastery with a deep sense of building capability among a diverse community of stakeholders. They will engage employees towards a greater purpose and create value for their respective enterprises.

Above all they will make employees become socially conscious, so they can influence the creation of a better world.


Leadership Lessons and the Economic Crisis – Booz and Company

Character and Servant Leadership- Larry Spears

The Future of HR- Accenture


Tall Leaders – Part II
Leading in Times of Adversity: Passing on the Baton of Leadership
Counter to the Grand Narrative of Indian Corporate Sector
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