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Analysis: A Convincing Argument

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I have to admit upfront that I like this man Aniljeet Daman. He wears glasses that see in black and white. Now he wants to find people with similar vision to work with and build his company, Taffet India. How much more defined can one get about life, business and the company one wants to keep? But Aniljeet and Taffet India have a grave problem — not much of the known world looks at life in black and white. Aniljeet is going to lack agreeable company.

On a visit to Israel to set up a partnership with a technology company, I came across a stunning variation of what Aniljeet is trying to do to build his business empire. The CEO of the Israeli technology company, which was crafting a Web-based inter-operable instant messaging solution, was an insomniac. He worked 18 hours a day, all without a single cup of coffee. He made an awesome role model in an age when the dominant business mantra is speed-to-market. His HR team had a clear mandate to give preference to insomniacs when it came to hiring. The company, which had about 80 employees, had not met with much recruitment success on its insomniacs-first policy, but they did have a couple of medically certified insomniacs on rolls, who gave the rest of the company sleepless nights.

The CEO — let us call him Abijah — had a sharp sense of reality. He often told his colleagues, "I can't keep these waking and working hours alone; I need company. It is another matter that insomniacs work without complaining and can be more productive." Not everyone believed him. They thought he wanted more work extracted from everyone. And who knows, perhaps that was Abijah's cunning goal. But as CEO he was careful to repeatedly emphasise that he had other, if not perfectly justifiable, reasons. Abijah once told me that this repetition of purpose before the rest of the company was necessary: "It emphasises the kind of person I am, and it also emphasises the culture I want built around me with people who do not mind working non-stop. Well, not everyone has to be an insomniac, as long as they work hard!"

It is difficult to not marvel at this approach. But Aniljeet is not in Abijah's category. Abijah wants work done; Aniljeet wants work done in a way not easily subscribed to by everyone.

Aniljeet's sensitive and intelligent departing HR head, Kapil Shankar, complains to him about the sale of Taffet India's home appliances business, in a bid to give an example of unethical business behaviour at the company. Aniljeet, however, responds without remorse saying, "Yes, I remember my dear man. You wanted me to sell it (the home appliances business) as is, whereas I needed to prepare it to present it. You thought I was dressing it up; I think I was getting it ready to be presentable. In business nobody buys a bad looking product!"

There is truth in Aniljeet's observation that there is no point spending time, money and effort on packaging products that could have been sold in a brown wrapper. But it certainly makes him sound like an aggressive huckster. Most other CEOs would have astutely chosen refined words to say the same thing.

The point is this: leaders today must be careful of what they say as well as how they say it. It does not matter if it is being said to an employee who has put in her papers, an employee who is just joining, a vendor who has been struck off the provider list or a partner in business. Why is this so? And how can Aniljeet stand to gain from appearing caring, perceptive and responsive to Kapil? How can he benefit if he wins Kapil over, not to his way of life or to his seemingly dubious value system, but to standing by Taffet India? The answer is simple. As Jeffrey Gitomer, the author of The New York Times bestseller The Little Red Book of Selling, says, "Getting your way is the gateway to getting what you want."

Aniljeet is on a hurried quest to creating wealth. We are not debating the merits or the ethical and moral nature of his pursuit. All we need to understand is that effectively communicating what he wants is the key to getting what he wants. People, cultures, environments, dreams and desires differ between people. No leader can hope to blend every single employee into what today are largely manufactured corporate cultures (is HR listening?) that employees anyway view with a jaundiced eye. It is, however, important for leaders to communicate with employees in a way they would want employees to communicate with them. Honesty will beget honesty. Dishonesty will beget dishonesty. You will reap as you sow — this does not really need much reminding.

At the bottom of all communication, as in life, is courage. To courageously communicate what is necessary is half the battle won. Generals have used courage to lead entire armies to improbable victories. They have practiced what is their dharma as true leaders: to observe and exercise courage in everything they do and in everything they say.

Arun Katiyar is a content and communication consultant with a focus on technology companies

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 12-09-2011)