Somewhere in the early pages of his book, Inside-Out Leadership: 16 Radical Insights Successful Leaders Wish They had Discovered, the author, Rajiv Vij, tells a story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, the first people to climb Mount Everest. On their return to base camp, Hillary was interviewed by journalists who were all keen to know how he had accomplished what no one had been able to do before. One of the reporters asked him “What does it feel like to conquer the tallest mountain in the world?” Hilary reflected on this for a bit and then responded, “It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” 

Hidden in that little story is the quintessence of what Inside-Out Leadership – the approach and the book – are all about. That what’s holding you back from becoming a better leader is your own self. That success in the corporate world needs you to find answers within yourself first. And that most of our problems and challenges in the real word are manifestations of the demons inside our heads. 

The 16 insights in the book pertain to very real - and very relatable - challenges that leaders face. The problems are familiar. Even the insights might have a ring of the obvious to them, making you wonder ‘how come I didn’t think of that’. But what makes the book a thought-provoking must-read for leaders is the ideas, experiences and thoughts that Rajiv embellishes the book with. You can see the mind of a master coach at work. You can tell this book is a labour of love from a person who has seen the problems play out in front of his eyes as he has hand-held corporate leaders from around the world and guided them in their individual leadership development journeys. I loved the book for its simplicity, the actionability of the ideas, and the authenticity of the author that shines through every page, every line, every word. 

First, the simplicity. Anand Mahindra, in his straight-from-the-heart foreword, refers to the book as a ‘seminal’ piece of work. And while it sure is a work that could set the narrative for future dialogues on building authentic leaders, Vij resists the temptation to pack in jargon or complicated theoretical models, relying instead on keeping the ideas simple. And real. You can almost picture the conversations between the leader and the coach as he tells you about the struggles modern-day leaders routinely grapple with. 

Common mistake 

Blaming other people for their problems, waiting for other people to change is a common mistake leaders make. We forget that it’s our thinking, our perspective that’s at the heart of the problem. And, Vij vividly brings the idea to life by comparing the experience to the difference between looking out of the second floor and the fifty-second floor of the Empire State building. The scenery outside is the same, but depending on where you are, you see a very different picture. 

Every chapter in the book ends with a list of recommended personal actions. A series of questions that make you think, and think again. To get full value from the book – and from Vij’s wisdom and counsel - I’d highly recommend that you pause and reflect after each chapter, and put down the answers to the questions he poses. Those answers, taken together, will serve as a mirror to your own leadership thinking, and also provide you with a roadmap for the journey ahead. 

My favourite chapter in the book is Insight #10: From fixed ideas to reformed beliefs. Rajiv talks about the impact our deep-rooted beliefs have on our actions, and our outcomes. So how do you change your thinking? How does anyone change beliefs? Changing our beliefs is, for most of us, a very tough ask. Rajiv provides a powerful five step framework to help change beliefs. Here’s what he suggests: Identify a trait that’s currently holding you back; articulate the belief that might be underlying that trait; explore alternate beliefs that are potentially possible; reflect and shortlist the alternate beliefs that you think could be true; and finally embrace those alternate beliefs that you think could serve you well. 

The book couldn’t have come at a better time. Thanks to the pandemic, leaders are increasingly asking themselves questions around purpose, what constitutes success and what makes us happy. Tucked in somewhere along the way is a line I found powerful – and funny at the same time. Referring to the blurred lines and long hours that ‘work-from-home’ has entailed, Vij says “You can’t do a good job if your job is all you do”. 

Irony and parallels 

There’s also a reference to Gautam Buddha, who was born rich, and then left the comforts and luxuries of the palace to become an ascetic. It’s hard to miss the irony, and the parallels too. Rajiv Vij is a modern-day Buddha. A man who became CEO of Franklin Templeton India at the age of 33. Then Asia-Pac head of Franklin Templeton at 36. And chucked it all up at 39 to pursue his calling, embark on a journey of personal growth and help other leaders become just a bit better. Vij today is a sought-after leadership and life coach who has touched, nay impacted, the lives and careers of several big-name leaders in India and overseas. And what you get in the book is well-thought out, practical advice to help you in your own journey towards becoming a better leader and a better, happier person too. Think of the book as a personal-coach-in-a-box. Just for you. 

As I put the book down, I couldn’t help think of yet another story of Hillary and Tenzing. The story goes that Hillary tried climbing Mount Everest several times. And failed. Tried again. Failed again. And after one such failed mission, he stood at base camp, looking at Everest in the distance. And he suddenly screamed: “Don’t be so proud, Mount Everest. I’ll get you one day. I’ll get you because you are only a mountain. You won’t grow. But I am a human being. I’ll grow. I’ll get better.” 

That is such a powerful, empowering thought. No matter where you are in life today, truth is you can get better. Heck, we can all get better. And if you are serious about getting better and upping your game, take the first step: pick up a copy of Rajiv Vij’s book. 

(The reviewer is a leadership coach and well-known author) 

Review: Inside-Out Leadership: 16 radical insights successful leaders wish they had discovered by Rajiv Vij 

Published: Westland Business 

Pages: 238, Price: Rs 547

 Check the book out on Amazon