New Manager

Needed: ‘Action tanks', not ‘think tanks'

Updated on: Dec 18, 2011
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There are some inspirational leaders you simply don't tire of. Infosys Chief Mentor N.R. Narayana Murthy's A S Deshpande Memorial Lecture at the Institute of Banking Personnel Selection in Mumbai last week was a tour de force on leadership attributes. Technology, said the man who is often referred to as the face of India's software revolution, is only an instrument.

“The primary ingredient for progress is innovation through the power of the human mind,” he added.

Courage is the most important leadership attribute, he said, requiring difficult decisions that often run opposed to popular opinion.

He also urged his hosts to work on a set of tests (using computer simulation) to evaluate the ‘courage' of candidates for leadership positions.

More NRN-speak:

Speed: You will need to act as if there is no tomorrow. You need a sense of urgency. Jawaharlal Nehru established half-a-dozen IITs, IIMs, the atomic energy establishment, the Planning Commission, dams, and other public institutions in a span of a decade from 1951. He was a man who acted with a sense of urgency. “Some decisions will go wrong.  But that is okay. The media may criticise you; but if you get eight out of 10 decisions correct, that is a fine record.”

Innovation, among equals: Ask yourself three questions:

Can I do the job faster than yesterday (at the same level of excellence)?

Can I do it cheaper?

Can I do it at better levels of excellence?

That is all innovation is.

Executives must spend time with people across the organisation to get the best ideas about innovation. At the same time, don't talk down — talk as equals. It is not difficult to implement. Leadership is about creating a vision and enthusiasm so that others also feel they can ‘catch the rainbow'.

Execution excellence: We Indians think articulation is accomplishment. I had a recent conversation with an American CEO in Boston. The talk veered to ‘think tanks' in New Delhi. The CEO interrupted me to say that what India needs now is not more think tanks but ‘action tanks'.  We need to quickly move from idea to action.

Openness to new ideas, fostering pride: I had an associate who was in charge of keeping the board room clean.  I would make it a point to introduce this person to all our VIP guests to the Infosys campus, including the likes of Vladimir Putin.  This gave the employee a sense of pride, which ensured that the room was always kept sparkling. Leaders need to create an environment where everyone can give ideas.

Living by values: Leaders must try and encourage the practice of values such as integrity, hard work, courage, and commitment to excellence among their colleagues. And leaders need to live by these attributes.

Published on February 15, 2012

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