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Srinath Sridharan

Independent markets commentator. Media columnist. Board member. Corporate & Startup Advisor / Mentor. CEO coach. Strategic counsel for 25 years, with leading corporates across diverse sectors including automobile, e-commerce, advertising, consumer and financial services. Works with leaders in enabling transformation of organisations which have complexities of rapid-scale-up, talent-culture conflict, generational-change of promoters / key leadership, M&A cultural issues, issues of business scale & size. Understands & ideates on intersection of BFSI, digital, ‘contextual-finance’, consumer, mobility, GEMZ (Gig Economy, Millennials, gen Z), ESG. Well-versed with contours of governance, board-level strategic expectations, regulations & nuances across BFSI & associated stakeholder value-chain, challenges of organisational redesign and related business, culture & communication imperatives.

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15 Lessons From “NaMo” Style Of Leadership

This learning for the corporate sector is never to air differences amongst team members in public.

Photo Credit :

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The acronyms and memes hash-tagged “NaMo” evoke sharp and larger-than-life responses. Love it or hate it, there is a lot of leadership lessons to be learnt here.The best learning is when you don’t get prejudiced by the emotions that the leader as an individual-evokes, but to look at the process of the leadership and the behavioural traits. While there could have been many mistakes, tactical errors and not-the-expected outcomes, those are performance outcomes.
While a leader gets the brickbats or the kudos, it is a team that the leader puts together that helps her/him in the process. However, the leadership style cannot be attributed to the team ! The full accountability of the leadership style rests with the leader.

This is about those positive learnings only, from behavioural traits and not about the individual or any of the outcomes.

“Outside-in” perspective Vs insider-tag
The leader did not come from within the elite circles. This leader, in fact came from the very outside possible and also refused to “fit-in” the conventional expectation; he created his own space, style and persona, despite the criticism and obstacles.

Corporate folks would understand how much of change-management efforts and personal energies that this would have entailed ! A CEO or a 2nd generation founder-family’s successor taking charge might have faced this constraint and even ostracisation initially.

Positioning of the individual
The positioning of the individual when he communicates is not perceived as a political role. The vast majority of the audience sees the individual as the “Patriarch” of the great Indian joint family. That’s a great position to be in, as the public recognises the individual to have his own views and wield influence over the views of the family members (citizens). That allows for differences of opinions and counter-views to exist in the family. As in any other family, some of many family members might refuse to listen to the patriarch and/or want their views to be heard.

In this positioning, the majority of this undivided Bharat family keenly listens to the leader’s oratory. His words count. His statements are repeated with interest and serious intent. His ability to arouse national-fervour has been amazing. The emotions that this evokes is sharp and ranges on the extreme and never in the middle or moderate. Love or hate. It’s the democratically elected leader who leads from the front.

Crossing the multi-generation chasm
It is remarkable that someone has been able to communicate concurrently with three generations of Indians and is able to get them to relate to him. His public-speaking style, the usage of mass media or the latest digital tools cuts across the content-clutter. His attire, messaging and adoption of jargons appeals to a large segment across the three generations. It’s an important lesson for corporate leaders as they deal with workforce & consumer segments ranging from baby-boomers to millennials to Gen-Z, each of them with their own expectations.

Ability to work with ever-evolving communication channels
His social media following is unparalleled and sets a huge benchmark for corporate leaders to aim for. Forget the individual handle, even the global-major-brands have not been able to gather that many social media followers.

“Mann ki baat” is a superb example of a brilliant idea of using radio as prime medium and along with TV / web to reach millions of Indians in hinterland as well. Until then, radio was seen as a fading national-medium. Another example of how successful leaders need to be creative in using communication channels.

Team-handling skills
The leader knows more about his team members and uses that “influence” to steer their actions. He also gives space to his team members to perform and has not resorted to knee-jerk team reshuffles. His handling of his team is never in public and always in private - direct or through his secretariat. So the public can only conjuncture on his happiness or him being upset with any of his team members.

This learning for the corporate sector is never to air differences amongst team members in public.

In-control of happenings
While there have been criticism that his style is of micro-management and that every decision is taken by his office, there is a learning here. His office, as the office of the leader, knows what’s happening in every project across the cabinet portfolios. Ask any corporate honcho if (s)he knows about all the projects handled by their direct reports !! And ask those of the direct reports what will happen if the boss knows more about their subject than them ?

It is also said that his style allows for much leeway of executive independence for the bureaucracy. In a political sphere, where political leaders have been accused of interference, this is a refreshing change !

Ability to manage JVs
The NDA political alliance has multiple parties associated; and not everyone will agree on everything. It is important for a unified leader to lead the alliance, despite the differences and not allow for policies to be held up. In this regard, there is an enormous learning from NaMo leadership style, on how to steer a multiple-parties-JV !

Imagine a corporate leader running a JV with over 10 partners and regularly steering conversation to get consensus for every strategic project !

Ability to deploy right Human Resource
For every trouble shooting or crisis management, his ability to identify resources that would help in assuaging the situation is to note worthy. He does not shy away from using personnel not associated in the conventional or protocol based hierarchy, if they have the right skill sets. This usage of “rainmakers” is something that good corporate honchos use as well.

Energy levels
His energy level is unmatched. And to use one of that aspect - “yoga” - and to position it to the world is a class act. The discipline and commitment to work and for the nation is unparalleled. And ofcourse if the top leader has this energy level, how do others in the team cope up with the “expectations”? And most CEOs would have retired by that age. But here is someone with age-defying-energy and more importantly sense of purpose.

Language barrier
Despite his usage of “Hindi” as the main communication language, he has been able to gather listeners all over the country; including the states that prefer their local one as the medium. (This article is not commenting on the views about such language-divide).

Global network
His ability to connect with his peers and influencer-stakeholders globally has been proven time and again. Most of these relationships built are personal connects and help in long term rapport building. And to use this effectively in strategic-handling of global relations for better managing our country’s objectives has been met regularly.

Concept-selling ability
The ability to package a concept and to present it with finesse to an audience that laps it up, is indeed showmanship. But at the same time, this trait is also useful when it comes to making far-reaching policy changes or structural reforms. In this count, “NaMo” leadership style showcases a leader with panache to “package ideas”.

Ruthless focus
His ability to be focused on few critical top-priority areas and to get them done to fruitful outcome is remarkable. This is despite the daily hustle bustle of myriad topics that would seek his attention. And he does not get perturbed publicly or bogged down by any failure or anything short of expected result; he moves onto the next goal.

He does not lose calm or composure in public. That’s a sign of a good leader. He never looks flustered or perturbed. People get inspired and have increased hope by seeing the confidence in a leader.

Decisive leadership
His style is clear and loud. There is no dithering over decisions to be made. Once a decision is made, it’s about focused execution and the perseverance to track each of the projects. In a during-covid & post-covid world, decisive leadership would become much-needed even in the corporate world as people get overwhelmed by the long covid lockdown fatigue and as uncertainties and a sense of gloom looms over.

Personal integrity
In a field where allegations of all kinds are thrown at various leaders, this leader has stood his ground on personal integrity. There has been never a question on this aspect. For this sphere of life, it is an incredible achievement.




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namo leadership magazine 5 Jan 2021