• News
  • Columns
  • Interviews
  • BW Communities
  • Events
  • BW TV
  • Subscribe to Print
BW Businessworld

Case Analysis: A Wrecking Ball

Leadership traits are indeed “infectious” and the Malhars and Taarikas look to the “signals” on attitude and behaviour that the top exudes

Photo Credit :


An old Irish saying goes,”A fish rots from the head…” and it looks like Photogen’s Taarika Sen is out to prove this adage with a fervor that is quite disconcerting and hugely unsettling for young Malhar.

But let us not forget that the world has many successful Taarikas, who can wreck the cultural fabric of organisations with a zeal unmatched and there are many young Malhars who have to swallow lessons in introspection and understanding human behaviour in order to “cope” and survive another day at work!

Taarika’s anxiety for the brand’s script in that advertisement seems phony in the face of a ‘brand Malhar’ who is treated poorly. Photogen’s proposed advertisement (the ad showed a lady whose face was dark and scarred and the copy line said: “Not good enough? Use Photogen!”) not only speaks poorly of consumer
insights but sounds the alarm for how warped the “culture elements “ in the company are!

Is it not a sad reflection on leaders and leadership that we have come to rationalise abusive, uncivil, uncouth and singularly disrespectful behaviour with a shrug and a sigh – “This is the way competitive businesses and people are: why don’t you find some coping mechanisms”?

The malady of emotions overcoming the tongue is not new; it is just that it has become an accepted norm of aggressive,” professional” behaviour and we have become unconscious of the fact that our legacy of leadership is not factories, assets and profits but to passionately embrace the truth so well said by Malhar’s online friend Redwing705. “Finally, life is about people. If you can develop the right attitude to deal with people, you will rock.”

As each of us grows within an organisation and reach leadership positions of any significance the canvas, in my view, shifts from “It’s about me” to “It’s about us”. No longer is “management” about just stewarding manpower, capital, resources and entrepreneurship but building purpose, defining values, exemplifying behaviours and finding ways to codify these in the generation that is at work and planting the seeds for its germination.

Unfortunately, purpose, values, self management are relegated to footnotes and, instead, we have bosses like Taarika who make “valid points” but convey the message with such appalling anger, rudeness and disrespect that its impact is sure to be lost on her audience, especially if it involves a new recruit or an intern like Malhar who is unfamiliar with the ‘culture’ of the organisation.

Instead of recalling the ‘valid points’, the audience will recall anger, harsh words, terrible behaviour, tantrums and develop dislike for her, despite her professional wisdom and competence.

A philosopher, writer and the founder of the Rishi Valley School where I studied, Jiddu Krishnamurti, once said “The guru is within you”! Why have we forsaken ourselves and why has “personal reflection’  become such an unfamiliar concept to us? How much have these uncouth, brash, angry, hurtful words contributed to the schisms in the social and organisational fabric that we see in the world today? Or do we not realise that? Is that the level of dullness that has set in?

Most importantly, Malhar’s bad-mouthing boss Taarika stands the risk of becoming a role model, that will perpetuate the misery of a devilish work place where intrigue, harshness, uncivility and disdain is the lexicon of business.

In the corporate world today, it is still about “making the numbers”, trust  is measured by ROIC (return on invested capital) and leadership icons defined by “KPI dashboards full of green dots”!

When was the last time a corporate honcho in the real world got the boot because he perpetuated a caustic culture at the workplace? When has a terrible 360 denied you a fat bonus or when has a promotion come your way when the boss has said, ‘He is aggressive (read abusive) but effective (read results)?’

But all is not lost on the world of leadership. There abound the Father Bonaventure’s and Redwing705’s who voice the words of sensibility, reason, kindness, introspection and respectful treatment of people as a non-negotiable.

It has been my personal endeavour to ensure that respect, dignity, decency, courage and humility are fostered in not just my personal behaviours and actions, but even more importantly that people working with me – no matter who they are – know what the workplace-behaviour-expectations are.

Leadership traits are indeed “infectious” and whether in good times or in a crisis, the young Malhars and the mid-levels Taarikas look to the “signals” on attitude and behaviour that the top exudes.

As the 18th century poet Mirza Ghalib once said:
 “Umar bhar Ghalib, yehi bhool karta gaya/
Dhool chehre pe thi, aur aaena saaf karta gaya”!

(All his life Ghalib kept cleaning the mirror when, in fact, the dust was on his face!)

It is time for that moment when the leader will dust the arrogance of authority from his face and understand that the Malhars are the corporate future-in-progress. Taarika is turning into a “wrecking ball” but it’s not too late, Malhar – try that conversation of getting her to be a bit patient with and respectful towards you. If Taarika still refuses to change and indeed “abhors angels in her den”, then, come along to Nestle – I will have a job for you!

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:
magazine 16 September 2017 case analysis case study

Suresh Narayanan

The writer is the CMD of Nestle India and has been in the trenches of Marketing, Sales and General Management for 36 years across HUL, Colgate and Nestle

More From The Author >>