New Manager

Ten tips for budding leaders

Vinay Mantha | Updated on August 26, 2014

team leader

Leadership, says the writer, is not rocket science, and comes up with practical tips for the workplace



It was the year 2011. By then I had lived in the United States for 14 years, and the desire to return to my motherland only kept getting stronger by the year. I was, however, clear that I will only relocate to India when I find the ‘right’ opportunity. One fine day, I got a call from a head hunter that there was a company looking to hire a Director to build an ‘Analytics Centre of Excellence’ in India, to service its global clients.

The very nature of the role appeared to me as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I pursued it. What followed next was nine gruelling rounds of interviews over the next few weeks, post which I took the giant leap of faith and landed in India in April 2011 along with my family.

I have recently completed my third anniversary in this company, and as I recall my journey over these three years I would like to think that I have largely been successful in standing up to the entrepreneurial challenge I signed up for. Today, as I sit in the front of my computer, sipping my favourite latte at a coffee shop, I thought I should convert my experiences into 10 tips that I hope, will inspire others. Here we go.

Tip 1: It's all about the mission statement (vision) — but that cannot be static.

Within the first month of my job, I had carved out a mission for what we would accomplish by 2011. Every thought, every risk, every action henceforth centred around that mission statement. Every year then on, we set a newer mission for ourselves, that we would go all out to achieve. Be prepared to adapt and carve a new mission for your team each year, or risk becoming outdated.

Tip 2: Authority and autonomy — the leader's ammunition: A leader without authority and a reasonable level of autonomy will never be able to take the right risks and make the bold moves that a situation demands. One of the first things I asked for when I joined was to have my own budget which I would spend on things I believe are right for the growth of the practice. My recommendation to people who are unfortunate enough to be a part of a company where authority and autonomy are frowned upon: update your resume and move on.

Tip 3: A bridge is only as strong as the foundation that supports it: Go all out in picking your A-players. Invest time in grooming them further, and getting them to understand and share your passion for the practice mission. Over time, add more pillars to further bolster the bridge. Pamper them (within your existing means), but at the same time challenge them to push beyond their comfort zones year after year. By doing so, you would have fortified the bridge (your practice) for a long time to come.

Do realise though that the nuts and bolts of a bridge will need to be replaced more frequently. In other words never aim for 0% attrition. People who cannot associate themselves with the team for a longer duration will naturally move on. Let them go and re-hire. Remember that fresh talent brings in a fresh perspective. Embrace it.

Tip 4: Let go, but don’t be blind: Once you have identified your key lieutenants, give them the needed authority and autonomy as well. Understand that no one likes to be micro-managed. However, your eyes and ears need to be always tuned to catch any signals of distress from the broader team. You should be prepared to act swiftly when such a need arises. This is a very real but tricky situation that you cannot avoid. You will go through phases of being popular and being unpopular in this journey.

Tip 5: Frameworks are the key to success: It’s nothing but a process/methodology which, once in place, allows you to solve a repeating problem faster. For our team, it was all about establishing frameworks for ‘hiring’, ‘training’ and ‘delivery’ very much tailored to our analytics domain. Definitely invest the needed time in developing the frameworks that are relevant for your line of business, and keep revising them as needed.

Tip 6: Let your eyes resonate the message from your lips: This simple tip is all about being totally and absolutely sincere about what you convey to your team. A leader who cannot convince the team that he means what he says can never take the team along with him. This applies equally to situations where you need to convey a positive as well as a negative message.

Tip 7: A ‘Centre of excellence’ is all about ‘excellence’: The name says it all. If you want to call yourself and more importantly want others to perceive your team as one, every deliverable that your team produces should fall nothing shy of being excellent. Invest the needed time in setting high standards for excellence and in training the team to deliver as such. Excellent work is the only way to achieve exponential organic growth.

Tip 8: Leadership by influence versus example: We have all heard that it is great to lead by example. My take is that while it is good to lead by example in some instances, it is better to lead by influence in many others.

An example of leading by example is allowing your team to work on a flexible schedule when you yourself would like to do the same. However, if you want the junior members of your team to, say, clear a professional certification, does it mean that you would have to clear the certification yourself? Probably not the most relevant thing to do for your job role. You can and should, however, influence your team on the benefits of them being certified. A leader should work towards building an aura of charm/influence on the team.

Tip 9: If you don’t look out for your team, nobody will: This is all about empathy and a personal ambition to both reactively and proactively address the concerns of your team. Concerns adapt various flavours but from my experience, the top two areas of concern are “fair compensation” and “nature of work” in that order. On the matter of compensation, I think a leader should not only address the concerns of his vocal team members who raise a genuine concern about their compensation, but also proactively assess and address the same as it pertains to the complacent/quiet members of his team.

Tip 10: Celebrate success but allow for failure: This tip stems from an inspiring quote I heard from a great leader, which resonates well with my belief. Even highly successful leaders sometimes forget that being recognised for a job well done is the fundamental want of a human being. A good leader should never shy from dishing out a lavish and public appreciation of his team members. A simple smile you put on the face of the person receiving the appreciation can do marvels in terms of the future productivity of that person. At the same time, remember that life is not about being always successful all the time. While there is no need to celebrate failure, there is an overwhelming need to allow for failure.

Conclusion

Over the years I have had my fair share of highs and lows. By no means do I claim to be a master of any of the 10 tips I mentioned above. Based on what I have learnt from my seniors, my colleagues and my juniors apart from my own personal experience, I have been attempting to practice these tips myself. To all the future Captains, “Your success is only limited by your imagination. Go Conquer.”

The writer is Director, Analytics, SapientNitro, a marketing and consulting company

Published on August 26, 2014

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