The Leadership Journey. Part Two – At Midnight?

After I was transferred from engineering to sales, I realized that I could not go back to engineering. My original grand plans of doing my PhD in corrosion seemed to have rusted and fallen away, and so, like many other young, aspiring people I turned to an MBA. An MBA was not my first choice of career. In one of those “what if” moments of my life, I wonder, – what if I had indeed continued on to my PhD?  But, that is grey haired thinking. I have thoroughly enjoyed my journey since then.

After my MBA, I did one year of training again. I was, I must say, relatively naive when I was appearing for campus interviews. I used to go for interviews in a shirt and open collar, and with long hair. So,interview after interview, I was turfed out. Finally, I went to town, got a blazer, had a haircut and, yippee!! I got a job!! Hoo boy! That should have been my first lesson of the corporate world – that, no matter how good you really are at your job, no matter how much you contribute to your organization, appearances matter. It took a long time for me to learn this lesson, stubborn fellow that I am. Yet, there is something of the Sun Tzu lesson that I still stay with. When he was asked to choose a horse, he chose a horse that did not have any distinguishing feature about it. He passed over all those Arabian steeds and wonderful looking horses. When asked why, he simply replied that he wanted a horse that could run well, and not one that merely looked good. The implication of this, is that when you look for people to work with, you need to look deep, to look beyond the obvious to find the right person to work with. Yet, we are obsessed with appearances, and while I agree that you should look good – if you look good, you feel good – this should not be the over riding concern.

This, however, is not the lesson that I was to learn then. There were a bunch of lessons that I learned in those two early years. So, I shall divide them into two parts of leadership, and one on how to treat people.

So, I skip through the first few months of the training, and I move on to the sales training. The chaps that I worked with were a mixed bag of people. I must say that, looking back, I am glad for the grilling that I got. While I yearned for strategic roles, looking back, I do realize that those early lessons were critical. Some of the chaps that I worked with were extremely dedicated.

There is one chap I remember, Sharad Joshi is his name. We had worked the day in village markets. We travelled in a van that had just a tin roof, and it was hot. It was over 40 degrees centigrade, and the front cabin where we sat was alternatively, mimicking a sauna and a steam room. I was getting a head ache, and I kept wondering why the bloody hell we didn’t get back to our base town, get under a cold shower, and spend  the day in the cool comfort of a soothing ceiling fan. But no, Sharad was focussed on the sales target, and we went from village to village, selling the stuff. We made our last call at 9 pm, and then headed back. I was dead, and when we stopped, close to midnight, at a roadside restaurant for dinner, I was ecstatic and dead. Food, at long last! Sharad saw a competitor’s carton in the corner of the restaurant, jumped up, leaving his food, and made a sale! While I thought he was mad at that time, the incident and his behavior that day stayed with me. If there was a lesson that I got that day, it is that when you are motivated internally, you don’t need an external force to push you along. You just need your own motivation to keep you going, and when you can find a person in your team who has that fire, then more than half your worries, half of your troubles melt away.

The first task is to find the right people, those with the spark, those who are guided by their own inner light (of course, they need to fit in with the cultural ethos of the organization, but that is another story). If you can develop the ability to find the right horse, you make the first step towards having a great team, and a great bunch of people to work with.

The issue then, is to give these people the motivation they need, to provide them with the proper direction, to develop them, and to let them fly.

 

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