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Dark Roast Double Shot: The Left, Right and Centre of Business
Leaders in business who have long tenures have to keep reorienting their strategies for business and brands to keep them in sync with the context of the times.
Photo Credit : Shutterstock
It was many decades ago. The wooden tables and chairs, the sun streaming in through large windows and open doors, the acrid haze of cheap cigarette smoke that rose from the tables and hung around swirling lazily in the draft of the ceiling fans with large blades and little breeze, the many animated voices and the few shuffling waiters mainly ferrying cups of tea and coffee to groups of youngsters immersed in conversation with an intensity in sharp contrast to their relaxed attention to the ministrations of erudite professors in the classrooms of their colleges.
Acrimonious debates to boisterous agreements the constant humming of the engines of political, social and cultural discourse or scientific thought that would shape the destiny of things to come emanated from there.
The places of congregation may look different, conversations on socialism may have given way to capitalism and liberalism, AI and blockchains may be capturing popular imagination but the journey of change and the next big idea continues unabated. Over the years I have realised and experienced how the eddies set in motion with discourse in reaction to existing thought and practices inevitably goes on to affect everything around us including the world of business.
In a career of over four decades, I have seen this play out in the utterances, assertions and expostulations of business leaders. In the early years it used to be “Are we sure we are not going to run foul of the unions if we do this?”. In the later years I was even admonished for exhibiting queasiness for unfair profits with the dictum “Greed is good, learn to embrace it.”. “Your business should have a purpose to make it sustainable” started off the clamour for ‘purpose brands’ and now it seems that your rank in ESG audits might actually decide your fate.
Leaders over time need to steer their business through the left, right or centre of political, social and economic thought and considerations. Whatever seems to be ideal today, is relentlessly pushed to a point where it starts meaning different things to different people and a new paradigm emerges to challenge the existing one and replace it. New voices and new leaders emerge to champion that thought. Leaders in business who have long tenures though have to keep reorienting their strategies for business and brands to keep them in sync with the context of the times.
With changes so profound, such that they may even conflict with your intellectual views or construal, how should you construct an approach to leadership that is prescient, flexible yet authentic in its approach?
Being rooted in values
The bedrock of great leadership is deep understanding and practice of universal values. These are values such as integrity, humility, courage, service, equality, compassion, empathy, etc. that intuitively find collective and common acceptance across cultures and divides of human prejudice. Greed and selfishness are the two predators of these values and are best shunned despite the temptation of quick and substantive spoils.
These values are truly timeless. Irrespective of whether the world has been at war or in peace, whether they believe in the power of the people or the leadership of the individual, whether they argue for state ownership or free market, whether they support growth at any cost or argue for profits with a social consciousness these values will always be the firmament of leaders.
When we imbibe these values the consciousness, confidence and calm that is required to negotiate tough situations becomes second nature. Learning and practising these values in your daily life is best started early, but it can be picked up at any time. Self-reflection, self-awareness and consciousness of how we think and what we do is the key to opening this powerhouse.
The art and science of listening
Listening is sine qua non to adaptive leadership. The best lead the change and for that you should be able to predict what is coming. Listening effectively comes only to those who have the virtue of patience and the ability to suspend judgement. To listen without filters is the act of gaining knowledge without bias. The quality of knowledge has huge impact on the decisions you take.
This search for knowledge is not a passive exercise. It needs rigour and strategy to deploy effective listening posts. In the bygone era kings would dress as commoners to go amongst the people. In the Second World War spy networks won or lost battles. Now, NASA designed radio JOVE telescopes are used to hear radio waves in outer space to learn more about the universe. Today think tanks, academia, universities, data analytics and indeed the consumers, buyers, sellers they can all be part of a strategy for comprehensive listening.
Who you listen to, makes all the difference. In the earlier days it was deemed appropriate to listen to those who mattered. Sovereigns would ensure that their ministers reflected the interests of the rich and powerful. Today, with equality at the core of liberal thought diversity in organisations is a powerful force to ensure that you have adequate influence of the many constituents that make up your whole.
The springboard of creativity
Knowledge can lead you to possibilities, but how to prepare your business or organisation to adapt to and connect with the new reality needs creativity. Without creativity the transition will be never be efficient or effective.
Creativity thrives best in the crucible of free thought. Leaders who foster a culture where thoughts and ideas can be shared without fear or favour and failure is only another step to success are likely to keep their organisations in the forefront of change and harvesting of opportunities.
In a world that constantly embraces new ideas with hope and excitement, then finds ways to exploit it for vested interests till it comes in to its most despicable avatar and paves the way to another hope and idea, leadership in business can build sustainability through universal values and adaptability through forces of listening and creativity.
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(Nitish Mukherjee is a Board Member, Advisor, Coach & Mentor. The content of this article is his personal opinion.)