Saturday, 9 June 2012

How do I lead not being a Leader?

Sometimes, I wonder that a Leader is a title often over stated. Does it actually mean anything?
For most of us, a leader is one who is in the front, is the tallest amongst the pack, inspirational, role model etc. etc. Therefore, for me to be a leader, I need a title…, say Manager, Sr. Manager, Director, Vice President and so on. How can I lead unless I have the title, it is so difficult, I would not have the credibility, people listen to authority, position, power … ; a recognizable title is so important.
These emotional calls are fairly valid, for those who aspire to achieve these concrete goals in their mind. As I saw the Indian Premier League (IPL) unfold today and recent news in the press, Sachin Tendulkar gives up Captaincy of Mumbai Indians and hands it over to Harbhajan Singh, it got me thinking. The same Sachin gave up Captaincy for India almost 10 years back, to focus on what he does best – be a batsman and a team player.
As I reflected on the news today, it made me wonder how we think of our careers in industry. A young software engineer Ram joins industry, loves his craft, has huge passion for technology, works as a software engineer and excels. He grows from a Trainee to an Associate, Sr. Associate L1’s and L2’s. Now, he is at a cross road. Ram wants to continue to grow; he loves technology but is influenced by the environment around him. His inference is that people who make key decisions are those who are people managers and not technologists. These people managers manage me, my career and determine how far I will go. He is at cross roads on his career choice – technologist path or people manager path?  What choice do I make? His heart says technology but his mind says control your destiny, choose people management. What do you think Ram does, he listens to his mind – people management.
Ram chooses to be a people manager; he chooses to control his destiny and that of others. That is what he thinks people managers do J. He is surprised, it’s a lot of hard work; he finds the going tough; people come to him with issues / complains, which he feels incapable of resolving (as he does not have full authority); he needs to work with different teams / departments; people criticize him; give him on going feedback on how dissatisfied they are with him & his inability to resolve their issues; he feels for the people but feels helpless; he is disappointed with himself and in moments of reflection misses his craft as a technologist. He thinks he is managing his destiny and that of others, but in reality everyone around him is probably managing his destiny. He is demotivated. What is the result –a highly competent engineer shows up as a failed people manager. From an organization point of view, what was the result – the company lost a good technologist and got a bad manager cum a demotivated Ram. End result – Lose : Lose situation for both Ram and the company.
What is Sachin to do with all this? The sach (truth) is listen to your heart!! Sachin was being true to himself. He knew he was a gifted batsman, he loves his craft, he wanted to excel in what he did best, he chose to play to his strengths, he tested his skills at captaincy but quickly realized he did not have it in him to lead as a captain but he could lead as a specialist batsman and terrific team player. He truly controlled his career & his destiny. He still leads India in each game, as a batsman, as a mentor, as a guide, and as an outstanding team player. He is a leads, but is not an officially appointed leader.
One can be a leader in many ways and the one way I would like us to think about is in “doing what we are best at and playing to our strengths”.  Sachin could lead & be charismatic despite being surrounded by good team leaders like Sourav Ganguly and the Dhoni’s of the world.
We can lead despite not being the appointed leader.

What is your current role at Sapient, that of Ram or Sachin? What does your heart tell you……?

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