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Case Analysis: Attentive Leadership

While it is human to make errors in judgement, Kashyap has erred in passing public judgement on Varun, writes Anu Oza

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Let us begin with what raghav kashyap needs to do. Kashyap has a leadership style that looks at “pushing the work back”, thus expecting his managers to be able to make decisions. This is a laudable style and is at the heart of true people development, confidence building, empowerment and coaching. It gives freedom but sets direction. It empowers but holds people accountable. However, now, the conflict has become corrosive. Kashyap has pitted one side against the other.
There are two possible scenarios now.

Scenario One: Kashyap revisits his style and he calls in Varun Singh (Sales) and Jimmy Dubhash (Commercial) to have a conversation on the immediate issue. Leadership demands that the leader works to provide “direction, protection and order”, else the group will disintegrate. Currently, this group is nowhere near being a team, when even the group is on the verge of breaking up. Kashyap needs to be able to separate the people from the problem, which is a challenge in almost all human disagreements. He will need to set the stage for the common task, and ensure that the discussions are objective, fact-based and that they serve the cause of the business. His strength is that since he is capable of empowering people, he can anchor this discussion and can still encourage both parties to find a creative solution to the problem which can address such disagreements at least in the short term.

Managerial and leadership tensions
On the surface, the underlying managerial tension is that of short term cash flow versus long term customer relationships. However, the deeper leadership tensions are between how people view their roles in the organisation, the energy they put into their roles, the empowerment and respect they feel and the possible disenfranchisement they are vulnerable to. At this point, Kashyap will certainly be able to address the managerial tension. And, at the very least, he should be able to address the leadership tension and actively empathise with both points of view.

If Kasyhap does not take corrective measures, victory will be declared by one party over the other. Seasoned negotiators know that when stakes are very high, one tactic used is to allow each side to feel they have won. While it is human to make these errors in judgement or say harsh and hurtful things in the heat of the moment, Kashyap has erred in passing public judgement on Varun, and especially on such deeply held values like trustworthiness and competence.

Scenario Two would be where Kashyap stays away from addressing the two men. If that situation pans out, then the situation gets resolved the way Kashyap has decreed that it should be.

Regardless, human resources and senior management now have to intervene at various levels and in various ways. This is a situation which is ripe for discussion, dialogue and for setting the stage for integration. Both HR and senior management need to understand that this conflict is also reflective of deeper managerial and leadership tensions in the organisation, and not “demonise” individuals. Just as people have the capacity to feel “opposite” emotions , (love-hate, anger-joy) organisations too are built for tension, in fact they need to have these “tensions” and the choices need to be made about which tensions to manage and when. Tensions are healthy when productively managed. For example, there will always be functional silos, there will be trade-offs between short-term and long-term goals, there will be challenges on cost, quality, budget and balancing the three.

The crossroads
It would be wise for HR and senior management not to take drastic action but rather to caution Kashyap that he has an even larger job on his hands in the form of the merger and its own dynamics, which are going to challenge him on the same lines as the clash between Jimmy and Varun in terms of values, expected behaviours and non-negotiables. These are the real tensions of leadership. Most mergers fail not because of financial due diligence but because of real or perceived power imbalances and most importantly, the differences in the way of doing things between the two entities.

Disenfranchisement and alienation can result in the battle for the right culture. These leadership challenges are waiting round the corner and the quicker Kashyap gets the support of both Jimmy and Varun, the better. It does seem like he has not foreseen this.

Battles for power and the thrust and parry of organisational silos are not going to go away. But what needs to be done here is to establish what the new relationships and responsibilities that the merger will entail for the Southern region in terms of “culture”. Has Kashyap thought about how the new scenario will pan out with the two warring senior managers? He will also need to suggest that they think of a course of action for the path ahead.

He could enlist both men to take the lead in building a competency framework for post-merger responsibilities. Competencies are meant to look at attitudes, skills and behaviours that are necessary to achieve an organisation’s vision. May be good callisthenics for the two managers! Additionally, since this work will need to be done for the larger organisation anyway, Kashyap could consider that this work be a good “pilot” for the larger “culture work” that needs to be done for the entire organisation.

Varun and Jimmy could begin with defining simple processes and what they mean in reality for Delaware. For example, does customer service include a certain amount of discretion and spending or sanctioning authority to even the first line employees and by how much? In which situations would approval have to be sought immediately and why? These conversations and delving into details can be remarkably energising if the purpose and tasks are kept in mind and it will help everyone in the region understand what is expected of them.

Jimmy’s task was to put in place systems and controls, which are badly needed. In this situation, some time should be given for systems to stabilise so that they can stand the test of time in the merged scenario. In some companies, when there are an overwhelming number of processes to oversee, finance and HR professionals humourously refer to the “jail processes” and the “bail processes” to categorise the urgency and importance of various processes and how they need to be monitored. Jimmy should now use his capacity to lead to stabilise systems in his own function and keep a dialogue going with Varun and Varun should do the same for his own domain. Jimmy is capable of being an inspiring leader and he should be coached to use this strength now.

Finally, the senior management team at Delaware has to go on a serious retreat where self-reflection is paramount. The aim of this retreat should be to create a vision for the organisation while embracing the diversity within. Mere existence of diversity in the organisation is no guarantee that there will be gains in productivity, efficiency or performance. It is the energy that goes into inclusion that makes diversity work. The energy to understand mindsets, personality types, role definition, potential for role conflict when leadership and managerial tensions play out.

It is in the nature of groups to form factions. It is equally in the nature of groups to unite if there is a common purpose which deeply resonate with the members. This feature of groups arises from basic human needs for both sameness and uniqueness. The differences have emerged sharply here: CA-MBA, North Indian, South Indian (maybe even Madrasi), IIT/ non-IIT, community, region, language. However, there are many ways in which sameness can override these factions. A good retreat should be designed around using a combination of techniques that bring out similarities and differences. Showcasing the work done by the Southern region regarding competencies will be very helpful. Psychometric instruments, discussion of leadership styles, appreciative enquiry and the use of humour especially in the discussion of conscious and unconscious stereotypes and biases again helps groups unite.

However, it is likely that some of the work will involve discomfort or pain. Value shifts may be required. This pain has to be acknowledged while highlighting the common purpose and the benefits of teaming.

If this conflict is viewed as a symptom of normal leadership and managerial tensions and hence addressed thus, the end of the tunnel can actually be a shining light not a moving train.

The writer has over 22 years of work experience across India, the UK and US in leadership development, diversity and CSR. She has worked for HUL, Mercer, Accenture and the UN, among others. She holds degrees from Harvard, the LSE, TISS and the University of Madras


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