I am still in my twenties in this phase of the leadership journey, and I had still not discovered any tomes, any books of wisdom to guide me. For those of you who have read this blog, will know that my previous territory was Delhi City, where I fired someone for the first time in my life. It was not the last time that I fired someone, but I did discover that it never gets easier. Whenever I had to fire someone, I was always conscious of the fact that there was a family behind this person, people who were often dependent on this person’s income so, I would normally resort to firing, or sacking, as an absolute last resort.
One lesson that I learned early on, is that you can be a tough and strong leader, without losing your essential sensitivity as a human being.
So, I was transferred to Uttar Pradesh, the map of which has been put up, but I shall do so again, to make it easier for people to follow the tale.
In those days, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand were one state, before vote hungry politicians decided to bifurcate them.
So, as I said, I was transferred. One reason for the transfer was to make way for my successor, who could not travel because he was in his 40’s! Amazing! Plus, my boss loved his avuncular manner. So, the words with which I was transferred were, “If you don’t want to be transferred to UP, you can go to hell…. And, UP is hell anyway.”
It was hell in more ways than one, and it was heaven in that it was to prove to be a great learning ground.
The territory that I took over was considered to be a star territory in terms of performance. It was not. It had fundamental issues and problems that had been swept under the carpet. The warts were beginning to come to the surface, and the pus was bubbling underneath.
It was hell.
I had an executive who walked around like a sort of medieval emperor. He had a favorite rep, an absolutely brilliant guy who thought he was the heir to the throne, and therefore work was below him. The rest of the team was too scared to speak when the executive was in the room. Accounts with distributors were a mess, and controls on work and financial ethics did not exist.
I truly found myself in hell. First off, providence was on my side. I managed to transfer the sales executive out of the territory and replaced him with a sales rep from my previous territory, a brilliant man whom I got promoted. Unwittingly, I learned a valuable lesson: make sure your core team complements your strengths, and ensure you can trust them completely. You do not need people who mirror your strengths, and are clones of yourself. This is essential, if you need to sleep well at night!
I caught another stealing money, and promptly sacked him.
Next, we put performance measures in place, and implemented them ruthlessly. We took the bias out of performance management, and made this completely transparent. I identified those reps who had potential, and ignored the medieval heir to be. A year later, he came around, and I started developing him. In time, he grew to be a manager, but he had lost several years due to the poor leadership that was given to him earlier. Tackle problems according to their priority, and don’t keep grudges. Develop people. As a leader, one of your prime tasks is to develop your people, and to help them find their own strengths.
I also tackled the accounts of the various distributors one by one. However, in business, you don’t have the luxury of solving problems and then growing the business. These have to happen simultaneously. So, I identified those territories that would be my growth drivers while I was tackling some of the more difficult cases. Some of these were short term drivers, and others were those that would give me good, long term, sustainable growth. How did I identify these territories? Well, my sales executive ( I shall write about him later) and I were a great team.
As I travelled the market, and learned the market, I relied on his judgement, and this was infallible. So, the next lesson was: know thy market and thy business. Ensure you take guidance from those who know better than you. It does not matter if they are below you in the organization’s hierarchy. Be humble, and keep learning.
However, the fundamental lesson that I learned as a leader then was this: never be afraid of a difficult territory or task. Roll your sleeves up, and get in. Hell can be a great teacher.
And this: no situation is the same as the previous one. You cannot assume that, because you were successful in one situation, you will be successful in the next. Adapt your style, your approach, your strategy to the situation. It will not adapt to you!