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BW Businessworld

Leaders Never Outsource Trust

If there is one thing in common amongst all the Cronkites - it is this: They say what they mean and mean what they say!

Photo Credit :

1592817004_AKapj1_Business_Leader.jpg

I always enjoy breakfast. At 35000 feet. Especially in business class!

But sitting there, in the Boeing 777 half way between Washington and Mumbai, I had lost my appetite. 

“ You have not touched a thing? ” 

I smiled feebly at my boss and MD, Rohit Kapoor, seated next to me.

“ Still tense about what happened at the Board meeting yesterday, Sumit? ” he asked.

I nodded. 

“ Don’t worry, I am sure we will survive this,” he said.

The board meeting was unlike any that I had attended over the past seven years. I recalled the tension in the boardroom once Rohit had presented our results. The Chairman made no immediate comments and just sat there drumming his fingers on the table. He then spoke in soft measured syllables and we had to lean forward to catch every word.

“This is clearly a collective failure by you all. I agree that the software business globally is under stress but how did competition hold their numbers while we slipped on every metric?”

The next sentence was unambiguous: “Either you guys shape up by the next quarter or I will be speaking with a new team.” 

Rohit broke my reverie, “By now some aspects of the board meeting should have leaked out?”

“What worries me are the rumors, that would be doing the rounds amongst our ten thousand employees, in different locations,” I replied.

“ That worries me too,” he said.

Rohit and I enjoyed a special trust relationship. Though I was his Head for HR and Communications, he often sought my views beyond my current role. We were in a way quite telepathic with each other. I guess I had earned his trust because I never misused my proximity to him. 

“ I hope to get a fix on the rumors in the next two days, ” I said.

Crisis 

The news was alarming. Only one topic dominated every conversation across the company – 1500 to 2000 employees would be soon laid off. 

I knew that employees would start looking around and the best ones would go first. Every HR Head’s worst nightmare.

I sought an urgent meeting with Rohit and apprised him of the impending crisis. Damage control had to be immediate.

“ Are you sure about these rumors?” he asked.

“ Dead certain Rohit. My teams have their ears on the ground,” I replied

“ What if these rumors are not wide spread? We should not be giving them wings,” he said.

“ Time is of essence, Rohit. We need to take that risk. If we do not stem this situation now, it would become an avalanche, and impossible to reverse.”

“ So what are you suggesting?”

“You must address all employees tomorrow, over video, and clearly tell them there would be no lay offs,” I said.

“ Why not have our COO address this too, in his scheduled quarterly call to all employees? ” asked Rohit.

I was dreading that and had no choice but to push the envelope. “ We have only one ‘Walter Cronkite’ in our company and that is you Rohit. Only you must address the employees,” I said 

“Walter Cronkite? You mean the US news anchor?”

“ Yes.”

“ So what’s the connection here?”

“Walter Cronkite was polled as the ‘most trusted man’ in America. He was the anchor, for late night news during the ‘80s, with a reputation for honesty and fairness in his reporting. In a way he became the standard for measuring trust.

“ So?”

“ I think only you have that kind of credibility here Rohit. And we cannot risk anyone else speaking.” I was virtually imploring him.

“ I hear you Sumit, but what if things do not improve and we are forced to lay-off some employees in the near future? Will that not destroy our credibility?”

Sometimes desperate situations create their own epiphany moments. And one such occurred exactly at that instant!

“ You could say that ‘at this moment’ there are no lists and no plans for any layoff!” I ventured

Rohit thought for a moment and agreed to go for it.

It was one of the best-attended town hall video talks. All locations reported that there was an air of anticipation everywhere.

Rohit began his talk, “ Friends, I hear that there are rumors, all across our company, that we plan to lay-off employees and that lists are being drawn up. I assure you, that at this moment as I stand here before you, there are no plans to lay-off even a single person.”

He paused and looked at me standing behind the cameraman. I gave him a thumb’s up.

“ It’s been a challenging quarter but we have made plans to turn things around and I need each one of you to help me in this. Let me also tell you that, in the unlikely scenario that we have to resort to any lay-offs, you will hear of it first from me. Trust me!”

Faith restored

Within two hours of Rohit’s address, it became clear that talks about lay-offs had completely died down.

That evening I walked over to Rohit ‘Cronkite’ Kapoor’s room to thank him for helping us over come the crisis.

“ Do you seriously think it was me?” asked Rohit

“ Of course Rohit, it was truly you, ” I said.

During my career of over three decades I have come across just two or three Cronkites. Look around in every sphere of life, be it politics, academic institutions and other areas. Where are the Cronkites? Where are the trustworthy leaders?

If there is one thing in common amongst all the Cronkites - it is this: They say what they mean and mean what they say!

The writer is a consultant and an Independent Board Director at Jindal Stainless Ltd. He is also author of the best selling book - Inside the C- Suite.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


Tags assigned to this article:
leadership leaders crisis Magazine 5 May 2021

Jayaram Easwaran

Author, Consultant, and Independent Board Director at Jindal Stainless

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