|Know the gap and bridge it|
Kamran Rizvi, Navitus
Bridge the gap you have discovered with greater Confidence; tempered by Humility; enriched by Awareness; anchored by Responsibility for actions and outcomes; and sustained by Tenacity.
It is your business to know how to get from ‘here’ to ‘there’. This is the stuff of strategic thinking and planning. However, without knowing where you are, you cannot measure the distance to your destination. Neither can you plan your route to get ‘there’ without a map or a chart. We need a ‘chart’ or a map to facilitate any journey. I have deliberately chosen the word ‘Chart’ as it serves a convenient way for me to share essential leadership traits with you.
‘Chart’ is an acronym for:
I’ll expand on each idea in turn.
Confidence: Confidence is the soul of action. With confidence you can turn around a business or rescue a child from drowning in the sea. Confidence is your capacity to do things, which stems from self-assurance and a belief you have in your ability to succeed. Confidence is what makes you decisive and helps you take risks by making bold decisions – a key for unleashing creativity and innovation or achieving breakthroughs.
Confidence also creates value. The pull of brands is an example, which comes from consumer confidence. Here are some top-of-the-mind responses from a majority of my participants in leadership workshops I have conducted over the years: “Think of a pen.” I asked. They said, “Parker!” Think of a car. “Toyota!” Think of an airline. “Etihad!” Think of shaving. “Gillette!” Think of a business school. “IBA!” Think of a bank. “HSBC!” Think of a credit card. “Citibank!” Think of soap. “Lux!” This clearly showed how our choices our governed by the values these brands represent. We need reliability. We need performance. We look for economy. Above all, we want value. We need comfort. We believe, rightly or wrongly, that these brands deliver on their promises and thus win our confidence.
The strength of any bank is the confidence customers have in it. The credibility of a leader is enhanced by the confidence people have in him/her. While this may hold true for effective leaders, unfortunately, there are many examples of corporate heads who do not command respect and confidence, which has resulted in their companies meandering in the market place. Their shameful subservience to their board of directors makes a mockery of what it means to be at the helm of affairs in an organization. They offer no ideas of value for fear of being shot down in public. Under-confidence causes inaction, stemming from apprehensions of weak leaders.
On the other hand, confident leaders stand tall, and encourage others to shine. They don’t shy away from listening to contrary perspectives and from making timely decisions. They empower their colleagues by giving them the space they need to perform at their best. They build trusting relationships founded on mutual confidence. I urge you to create a climate in your organizations that rewards and encourages people for being confident in what they do and say. But in most cases, this would mean first building the necessary capacity in your managers to shoulder bigger responsibilities. And this requires investment of time and patience. Short-term thinkers avoid this painful, yet vital step, at their own peril.
While the virtues of confidence are self-evident, whether on a personal or a corporate level, it can conveniently lead to arrogance, if not checked. To quote Virginia Woolf, “Without self-confidence we are as babes in the cradle. And how can we generate this imponderable quality, which is yet so invaluable, most quickly? By thinking that other people are inferior to oneself.” It is plain to see how such thinking can lead to over-confidence - a weakness which results in rash decisions and blindness to feedback.
Humility: Humility is a powerful remedy for over-confidence. Humility is the quality of being modest and respectful. It’s a state of mind that acknowledges that there is a power greater than you. The more knowledge you acquire, the more you realize how little you know, in relation to what there is to know. In short, with humility we gain an open and receptive mind. Sadly, this quality is often seen as a sign of meekness. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Konosuke Matsushita was a great example of humility. He was the founder of one of Japan’s greatest corporations, Matsushita Electric Industrial, where he implemented management practices that were far ahead of their time. By the time of his death, at the age of 94, he had created a $42 billion revenue business from nothing, established one of the world’s best-known and most successful brands, Panasonic, and amassed a personal fortune of $3 billion.
Matsushita’s humble beginnings inspire. At the tender age of nine, he was asked by his father to go to Osaka to work in a charcoal brazier shop, followed by spells at a bicycle shop, and as a coal worker. In 1910 Matsushita was taken on as a wiring assistant at the Osaka Electric Light Company (OELC). He was a quick learner and despite his age—just 16—his skill at wiring earned him rapid promotion. But in 1917 he decided to leave OELC, partly due to his health. Matsushita suffered from a debilitating lung condition and frequently took days off work to rest. Despite his limitations, he went on to achieving greatness on the wings of humility.
Humility lends a silent grace to an individual. Talent is drawn to such people. Managers with humility are mindful of the complexities in the competitive and challenging environment they operate in. They have a habit of consulting their colleagues and if deemed necessary, do not hesitate making a ‘U’ turn. Ego doesn’t cloud judgment of such people. In the words of Mohandas K Gandhi, “It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.”
Awareness: Ask a friend, “Do you know yourself?” And you will often hear, “Of course, I do!” This is the first sign of delusion. A person who says this, also knows that to know self is to know God!
Managers, who have worked together for decades, often have no idea of each others strengths and talents. However, when given the opportunity to engage in meaningful interactions, they discover within an hour of focused conversation, that this one hour served for them as an eye-opener about each others qualities and potentials! This one hour transcended a decade! Like with most things, we take relationships for granted. This happens with internal or external customers. “Know your customer!” is a popular creed. But how many of us truly care to implement this idea as it was intended? We are truly not aware enough about most things, most of the time.
The journey of awareness begins by acknowledging that ‘I don’t know that I don’t know’. We can experience this only in a state of humility. This is when true learning begins – acknowledging that there is much we need to learn, and that too, at all times – whether as a head of state or a departmental manager.
INSEAD, a well-known business school, based in Fontainebleau, France, developed and ran a 5 days program for global business executives called, “AVIRA”, some years ago. This program was conceived after considerable research. AVIRA is an acronym for: Awareness, Vision, Inspiration, Responsibility and Action. In this program, a day was devoted to each word. Participants engaged in intense discussion and explored the depths of the meaning of the word of the day. The aim of the exercise is to practically relate their expanded understanding of the words to themselves, their colleagues, their business, their stakeholders and their business environment – both local and global. How often do we stop to think, individually and collectively as a team, to give closer attention to what lies within and around us?
Henry Miller, a well-respected American writer advises us to reflect. He says, “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.”
Responsibility: With greater awareness comes commensurate responsibility. If a person is deemed responsible, it would imply that s/he is dependable, conscientious, trustworthy and reliable! Wouldn’t it be nice to have team members who are responsible? Alas, this simple, yet profound accolade doesn’t fit all who work with you. Responsibility needs to be inculcated.
Ever since I found out that assigning blame was a sign of abrogating responsibility, I changed as a person. As a result, I grew in my personal and professional life. I saw bigger consulting assignments coming my way and possibilities expanded.
Promotions in organizations are essentially a function of rising responsibility levels. Regrettably it’s not usually seen this way by most managers. They are often found seeking a pay increase or better career prospects, without expressing any real desire to take on greater challenges or making a bigger contribution to the mission of the enterprise.
Your business may be growing at a satisfactory rate in relation to the market you are in. But consider how much better your company will perform when everyone in your organization, at every level and in every function, takes personal responsibility for the outcomes their jobs are meant to deliver.
The blame game is all too common in most cultures, whether in the East or in the West. The way to step out of the habit of blaming others or circumstances is to take responsibility. Late Peter Drucker, a leading management guru, succinctly amplifies the meaning of responsibility: “Management means, in the last analysis, the substitution of thought for brawn and muscle, of knowledge for folkways and superstition, and of cooperation for force. It means the substitution of responsibility for obedience to rank, and of authority of performance for the authority of rank.”
Tenacity: No matter how demanding or arduous our journey, we need constancy of purpose to achieve our vision and goals. This comes from tenacity. Louis Pasteur, a French microbiologist and chemist enlightens us thus: “Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal: my strength lies solely in tenacity”.
Tenacity is an unusual term as it hosts two very different ideas, flexibility and firmness. While both words convey an opposite sense, they reside comfortably in one powerful concept contained in this gem.
Tenacity in action is best illustrated in the saying: “Carve your goals in stone, and your plans in sand.” This idea suggests that we ought never to compromise on goals. However, since conditions change, our plans need to be flexible. Hence a number of contingencies need to be built into our plans and strategies to ensure that the goals we have set are met, one way or the other. The only caveat is this: Compromising on strategies is fine. But never compromise on ethical principles.
While “Carving goals in stone…” may sound like a great concept to you, don’t be surprised when you see it played out in reverse, i.e., plans carved in stone, while goals are compromised repeatedly. This was quite evident in one of my recent visits to a large multinational company in Islamabad. I observed six functional heads in their meeting room, engaged in a heated debate. They were busy revising their numbers downwards to show to their seniors that their region had achieved 100% of the budget! Wouldn’t it have been wiser for them to be looking for creative solutions for achieving their earlier commitments? Adamantly holding on to ill-conceived plans when market realities have changed is a recipe for disaster.
Now that you have the ‘chart’, bridge the gap you have discovered by achieving newer heights of corporate performance with greater Confidence; tempered by Humility; enriched by Awareness; anchored by Responsibility for actions and outcomes; and sustained by Tenacity.