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CEOs Column: The Best Among Equals

A dynamic company is one which keeps evolving and transforming as per the ecosystem dynamics, caters to the ever-changing business needs and addresses the challenges in the emerging market

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Self-realised soul is not bewildered by change. The message is one of self-realisation and that change is inevitable — The Bhagavat Gita, Verse 2.13

One of the best books on leadership (among many other things) is the Bhagavad Gita, which is about mentoring a high-calibre and capable leader filled with self-doubt on purpose and inspiring him to action. The Gita prescribes a clear focus on goals and action without looking at the fruits. It should be a prescribed reading for any leader and definitely for a CEO for the life lessons it teaches. The above verse is very appropriate in today’s changing and dynamic world where the rate of change has accelerated and certainty has all but vanished (other than in death and taxes).

We operate in a fast-changing and dynamic world and that calls for dynamic leadership. Things are moving at speeds that are unpredictable and change is the only constant. Oil price which was predicted to be touching $200 is now at $30; the Internet is changing the way people live, work, play, shop, get entertained, travel, etc.; and the future state of all these aspects including how an organisation or a company will look like is looking extremely unpredictable.

Will the current form of corporate continue and sustain, will it all be people coming together for tasks and sharing rewards, will we need offices, will we need transportation if people are not going to move to offices or leisure if people get more comfortable with engaging with other humans through devices than in person and can experience travel staying at home with virtual reality? All these will need new types of leadership among CEOs as they will need to develop dynamic organisations.

Every time you make the hard, correct decision you become a bit more courageous, and every time you make the easy, wrong decision you become a bit more cowardly. If you are CEO, these choices will lead to a courageous or cowardly company.
— Ben Horowitz, Andreessen Horowit.

So what do dynamic CEOs have to do within these companies to foster a management and work culture? It has been observed that dynamic CEOs have been instrumental in evolving a distinct corporate identity with stakeholders, bringing that dynamism in corporate performance where they have focused on growth and performance. Before we delve into who is a dynamic CEO, we need to interpret the world of dynamic companies.

A dynamic company is one which keeps evolving and transforming as per the ecosystem dynamics, caters to the ever-changing business needs and addresses the challenges in the emerging market. At the core of such companies are their employees and the people who take the task of making the company “dynamic”. In addition to this, the actions taken by these companies also motivate others in the ecosystem to grow and prosper.

Each dynamic CEO is unique and operates with his strengths and brings to bear his vision, strategy, culture and execution skills in different proportions in a way that is appropriate for the organisation and its ecosystem. The CEO of the future will need skills and approaches that meet the expectations of the new workforce, and therefore the values and ideals that the best CEOs will adopt will be somewhat different from the focus and priorities of today’s CEOs.

What makes a dynamic CEO?
Visionaries who dream and implement: Celebrated former CEO of General Electric and author of three bestselling business books Jack Welch once said: “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.”

Focus on Design thinking through a Right brain-Left brain partnership: As CEOs navigate complex situations presented as a result of external and internal factors, they need to operate innovatively using a left brain (creative) and right brain (analytical) partnership. This has demonstrably brought about more empathy, innovation, and customer centricity, among others.

Focus on transforming mindsets & ongoing transformation: There must be a balance that the CEO needs to achieve between incremental and radical transformation, by shifting gears and changing course at the most appropriate moments.

Aware of mutual strengths and weaknesses: A dynamic CEO should be able to evaluate complementarity of skill-sets through realistic assessment of his teams’ and his own strengths and weaknesses. He seeks those skills that balance his own working styles and decision-making approaches.

Focus on execution: Unlike the traditional CEO, the modern-day dynamic CEO is as much a “Chief Execution Officer” who does not relegate execution of the strategy to the operating levels alone. He/she gets involved in the execution of the strategy, with a clear visualise-to-actualise model — by translating the strategy into measurable objectives, socialising the strategy with internal and external stakeholders, having a robust feedback system, and aligning and monitoring various aspects of day-to-day management with the stated strategies.

Continuous learning and communication: It is the learning that leads to innovation at the workplace. The amount of fresh perspectives that CEOs bring on board help shape intrinsic values of the company and inculcate leadership behaviour within the employees. Also, communicating adequately and appropriately is absolutely key in today’s ecosystem. This openness of spirit and ‘being available to everyone’ in the company makes these leaders popular, and they often inspire leadership by becoming part of the team.

Technology and new-age communications are their best friends: Easier said than done! Some of the CEOs who have been the best in the industry went the extra mile to change the ethos of their company and convinced everyone to adopt leading innovative technological advancements. Social media and digital marketing today have become their most effective tools to connect with employees, consumers and investors.

They believe in the youth: Another unique feature of these CEOs is that they encourage a large section of the young workforce with heightened responsibilities. Thus, one will see a good mix of young and old workforce within a dynamic CEO’s team. The rationale behind this can be the fact that a young workforce can understand the aspirations of a large section of young consumers that the country has.

They have people at the heart: While they continue to strive for excellence, people are at the core of these leaders. Looking at the motivation of people and the larger goal of employee centricity is at the core of their people management goals to get the maximum productivity and commitments. They are not only fair but also ensure that their fairness is visible when dealing with people who ensure that their teams remain loyal to them and their vision.

Whether one is the leader of a multinational company or that of a small startup, being a CEO is stressful. There are many things that a CEO is expected to do, but the skill is getting things done with an un-wavering focus on execution. They need to be genuine, as you cannot fake honesty and be balanced by being authoritative but considerate, besides being immensely positive. The CEO cannot be a “superman” or a “superwoman”, and therefore must find his/her own balance and focus on his/her strengths and work on those. The CEO is a catalyst who makes all the difference between a high-performing company as against the one that is less performing.

We would like to end with a quote from Swami Vivekananda on being a leader: “The best leader is one who leads like a baby. The baby though apparently dependent on everyone is the king of the household.”

With inputs from Anindya Datta - Executive Director Markets, Grant Thornton India LLP

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.

Harish H.V.

The author is Partner, India Leadership Team, Grant Thornton India LLP

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