On Campus

What they don’t teach you in B-school

Updated on: Mar 23, 2015
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Listen patiently, fix things fast. Lend your ears to voices that are diverse, and get synced globally. Success will follow

What I want to focus on is leadership. Your leadership. How do you take the leadership potential all of you have and cultivate it so that you can begin to realise it along your journey? None of this is to say I have all the answers! I don’t. My daughters will tell you that!

What I do have are some perspectives around leadership. I’ll share three: First, I’ll share some leadership attributes that I look for in myself and others. Second, I’ll talk about leadership and the importance of developing a global view of things Third, I’ll talk about why leadership in its highest form facilitates doing well and doing good.

But before I proceed, I want to offer the following disclaimer. When I graduated, I was all of 21, green behind the ears — if you could find them. And I had no clue what I was going to do with my life: other than join a great global firm in Nestle. That was my grand plan: Get with somebody good. Get with somebody global. Do something that interested me. That’s it.

So, don’t stress if you haven’t got a detailed plan for your life. Anyone can have a good idea or plan, what makes it great is execution, which brings me to my first point around leadership attributes.

Just do it

The first is a sense of urgency. Today’s world of rapidly-advancing technology and ever-shortening innovation cycleshas no space for procrastination. It’s that urgency that makes me say to my colleagues that “if you have good news for me, take the stairs. If you have bad news, take the elevator.” I need that information fast, so I can do something about it.

The second is a sense of balance. A lot of people think that urgency and patience are contradictory. And they could not be more wrong. You need to be patient enough to listen to everybody, but yet, you must have a sense of urgency to take a decision and to execute.

The third is to be courageous enough to take thoughtful risks. Rarely are you going to have perfect information. The willingness to take a decision at that time will depend on your ability to take a thoughtful risk, which ultimately depends on your courage. The thoughtful part depends also on your humility and realising that you don’t have all the answers — that you can learn something from everybody. Humility is practically a rite of passage.

And the fourth is to be paranoid. And by that I don’t mean be fearful. What I mean is constantly ask yourself if you’re missing something. Is there more to the problem? If you don’t question everything, if you’re not competitively paranoid, you will not have the sense of self-introspection that you so sorely will need to be a real leader.

Diversity matters

All of these are tremendously facilitated if you surround yourself with people who don’t look like you; don’t walk like you; don’t talk like you; and don’t have the same experiences as you.

What makes diversity so important? Diversity is essential because a group of similar people tends to think in similar ways, reach similar conclusions, and have similar blind spots.

To guard against that, you need to harness the collective uniqueness of those around you to widen your field of vision — to see things differently, to fail harder, to innovate, and to question everything. Widening that field of vision means widening your worldview, which brings me to my second point around leadership and globality.

The world is getting smaller and more interdependent than ever, which makes leadership and developing a sense of globality more important than ever. By globality, I mean developing a global view and increasing your connectivity to the world around you.

For example, once you get acclimated to your new jobs, consider getting involved in organisations outside of your work but that connect back to it as well — like a bilateral or a multilateral organisation. Explore avenues such as the World Economic Forum. There are colleagues of mine at MasterCard who have been very active, even right out of school.

The key is to go beyond looking at the world through the lens of your company or your organisation or even your country. All of which are better served by the mindset that you can’t catch the blind spots I just mentioned with blinders on.

It’s a wide world

Globality is about taking those blinders off. It’s about seeing that we’ve got a global population that’s increasing exponentially. It’s about being aware of demographic shifts and what they mean for countries such as India and China,where the demographics in both places are moving in opposite directions. It’s recognising that globalisation has benefited some but not nearly enough. In fact, we’re seeing some backlash in the form of increased nationalism and in some cases, chauvinism.

It’s realising the role world governments and politics play. Who’s in and who’s out makes a difference in addressing these larger, global concerns. It makes a difference for your company or organisation in those countries where it has a presence or wants to have a presence.

The regulatory environment around your business will be something you’ll want to get a handle on as well.

Globality not only broadens your thinking, it expands your focus. It enables sectors like government, business, international development, foundations, and civil society to get beyond their own spheres — and to coalesce around shared interests or common concerns. Globality is the 21st century’s answer to the ancient Greek ideal of being a citizen of the world. It’s the deep appreciation that — in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.— “we are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality… whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Globality is vital to leadership at any level but it’s a prerequisite to leadership at the highest levels, which brings me to my third point: Doing well and doing good is an organisation or business operating at its very best for itself and for society.

It’s the highest form of leadership. It’s the idea that you can pursue what is in your best interest as well as what is in the interest of others. It’s the recognition that your success is tied to the success of others.

You know the saying, it’s lonely at the top? It’s only lonely at the top when you don’t bring other people along with you.

This principle of doing well and doing good holds true for any one person or organisation, but it’s an especially powerful principle for business and the private sector today. In a business sense, it’s the idea that the private sector can be a force for growth and a force for good.

That business can make money, and make a difference.

There’s never been a greater opportunity for business to be a force for good in the world. But I also believe that when it comes to this year’s graduating class, there’s never been a greater opportunity for you, for your generation and mine — to come together, to use the best of what we and the organisations we work for have to offer — all in an effort to meet the global challenges of our time.

( Ajay Banga is President and CEO, MasterCard. This is an excerpt from his convocation address at IIM-Ahmedabad on March 21 )

Published on January 24, 2018

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