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Hunger, Humility, Heart: 3M’s Debarati Sen’s Leadership Mantra

Debarati Sen, Vice President & General Manager, 3M Abrasive Systems Division shares leadership advice to get through difficult times such as the present COVID pandemic

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“None of us is as smart as all of us together,” Debarati Sen, Vice President and General Manager of 3M Abrasives Systems Division stated this at a BW Businessworld initiative on leadership. The quote rings true given the need to work together in the prevalent COVID situation, where from small and large businesses to nations and economies are still figuring out the consequences of what has befallen. 

Sharp revenue fall, unprecedented unemployment and mass uncertainties are just some of the fallouts in the wake of the coronavirus. In this background, Sen shared fundamental lessons from her illustrious career as a leader. Under her leadership as 3M India’s Managing Director for three years (2016-2019), the company has built a design centre in India, its fourth such centre globally after Milan, Tokyo, and Minnesota. In FY18, 3M India’s net profit grew 29 per cent to 310.54 crores. 

The three leadership ‘attitudes’, or the 3Hs as Sen calls them, play a critical role at all times – Hunger, Humility and Heart. “It is important for a leader to always stay hungry for growth, improvement and not be happy with the status quo,” she stated. Sen informed how growing up in India had inculcated that attitude in her. “All successful leaders keep pushing the finish line,” she said.

The second important attitude is humility. Sen explained, “Humility is about having a student mindset and always be willing to learn new things – a trait important to be a great leader.”

Lastly, in her opinion, a great leader ought to be someone with a heart. What she means here is that people want to work with a leader who is not robotic but is someone who they can relate to. In this context, she emphasised on the concept of discretionary energy (popularised by Former US Secretary of the Treasury Paul H. O’Neill) – the energy that an employee is holding back in him or her. Understanding it, and allowing employees to express that in the workplace, is key to be a great leader, she explained.

Sen was speaking at the second episode of the ‘BW Dialogue on Leadership’ series that was chaired by BW Businessworld’s Chairman & Editor-in-Chief, Dr Annurag Batra. 

Also joining the webinar, Paul Dupuis, CEO of Randstad India (Randstad is a global leader in the HR services industry) asked Sen about her perspective on ‘legacy’ as a leader. Sen replied stating that what matters is how many people she has impacted as a leader. She stated that it is significant for a leader to trust someone even if the person does not trust himself or herself enough. 

Another piece of advice that she left with that can help leaders during these troubled times is to ‘always look for opportunities’. Giving the example of how the company Uber is restructuring its food delivery business, she stated that staying connected with what is happening and then leveraging any opportunity to one’s success is very crucial. “Rather than looking for one silver-lining, one should look for opportunities,” she said.

To Watch This Full Episode of ‘BW Businessworld Dialogue on Leadership’ With Debarati Sen, CLICK HERE

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