Q&A with Rajeev

How is a boss different from a leader?

The distinction between the two is simple – leaders do whatever they need to maximize their organization’s success, while bosses just want to enjoy the privileges of their position. While most banks train their people on leadership, most of the training tends to be formulaic and theoretical, and is often based on look-back competency models and copy-cat role plays. Program after program looks at what made someone successful in a particular job over the past 10 years, and teaches formulas to emulate such past performance. To turn bosses into leaders, banks must re-think their investments in leadership development. Leaders find limitless energy within themselves to create a better future–bosses cling to the past and cope with the present.

Why do you think there are so many bosses as opposed to leaders?

The problem is, most people don’t ask themselves the right questions before accepting a leadership position. Leadership is like parenting. Those who go into it with their eyes wide open enjoy every bit of the parenting journey, including the challenging times. Those that become parents accidentally or without carefully thinking through become very miserable, and also make life miserable for the child.

Leadership is neither glamorous nor easy. Like parenting, it involves years of selfless hard work. One must go into it not because it offers a powerful position, but because one is prepared to enjoy the journey.

What do you think are the keys to becoming an inspiring leader?

  • Knowing your purpose and your values, and having the courage to act according to them.
  • The ability to process and understand grief, sorrow and failure
  • The ability to forgive
  • The ability to build deep bonds with people
  • The ability to shift from “I” to “We” – willingness to stop creating results yourself, and start creating conditions so others can create great results. This also involves willingness to work hard without worrying about who will get the credit.

Do you think leadership is something that can be learned–or are some just born with it?

There is no connection between good leadership and the biological phenomenon of birth. A leader is born when she feels deeply about the inadequacies of current reality, and decides to do something about it. You can certainly decide to do something about the inadequacies of current reality at any point in life after your biological birth.

To the second part of your question – can Leadership be learned? Yes and No. The first part of leadership is about finding long lasting energy to stay the course despite formidable obstacles. This comes only from one thing – getting 100% clear about your purpose and values. This part of leadership (getting energy through your purpose and values) cannot be learned or taught. It must be self discovered. The second phase of leadership is about behaving with others in a way that harnesses and aligns their energy towards shared purpose. This can certainly be learned and improved by practice.

You were one of the founding members of the Goldman Sachs leadership development program–what did that experience teach you about the best way to train leaders?

As above, I learned that no one can teach leadership. Leadership is about having the energy and staying power to stay focused on your vision of the future for the long haul even in the face of formidable resistance. Such energy comes from clarity of purpose and values, and you cannot learn it in a classroom. It must be self discovered, and there is no shortcut to the discovery process. To discover it, one must honestly answer some tough questions:

1. What few things are most important to me?

2. Do I want to:

  • lead a simple life rich with everyday small pleasures
  • achieve great success in an individual endeavor, or
  • lead others towards a better future, or
  • do something entirely different with my life

3. What results do I want to bring about?

4. How do I want people to experience me?

5. What values will guide my behavior?

6. What situations cause me to feel strong emotions?

Who are some examples of inspiring leaders in business today?

There are many. Mr. Howard Schultz of Starbucks, Mr. Ratan Tata of the Tata Group in India, and Tan Sri Dr. Zeti Aziz, Governor of the central bank of Malaysia are just some examples that come to mind.

What is the biggest challenge leaders face today?

In an ever increasing pace of life and an ever changing landscape, the biggest challenge is to choose how to spend your time as a leader. What should you focus on yourself and what should you delegate? Your choices can make all the difference between how the rest of the organization performs.

What do you hope to achieve with this book?

I hope to convey that leadership is not about personality traits, competency models or copy-cat best practices. Instead, leadership is about energy. First, one must find one’s own energy by clarifying their purpose and values. Next, they must be willing to share leadership, and align the energy of a core leadership team towards shared purpose. Finally they must know how to galvanize the energy of an entire organization by pro-actively shaping the three pillars of sustainable growth – the Brains, Bones and Nerves of the organization. I discuss these in a fair amount of detail in the book.