Saturday, October 27, 2012

What a CEO really wants from you -Interview with Mr.R.Gopalakrishnan

As director of Tata Sons and the author of two corporate bestsellers, R Gopalakrishnan is no stranger to the corporate world.  In this interview with Swetha Amit, he talks about his latest book What a CEO really wants from you, which delves deep into what constitutes an ideal relationship between a CEO and a manager. Excerpts from the interview: 

R GopalakrishnanWhat inspires you to write?
I think for some reason, I enjoy writing. Maybe I was a half-baked editor of the college magazine. But most importantly I think writing has helped me to be more precise on two counts - first to be thorough about a particular matter because it goes and sits in your memory and, second, it helps you to be precise and not ramble.
So in the interest of memorability, precision and enjoyment, I was inspired to get into writing.

Did you see your third book, What a CEO really wants, as a continuing pattern of your previous two books?
There is a pattern. It is not a very well thought of pattern. I have to say I didn't sort of think of it in advance and plan it. But when I look back, like with life in many things, it fits into a nice pattern.
The first book, The case of the Bonsai manager, came out of a question that was bothering me: 'why do successful people come to the top and then wobble and get fired?'. And that caused me to enquire into that subject. I came to the view that it's because they become so analytical in the course of their rise. But when you reach a very senior level, analysis gives you that much and no more.
And you have to take decisions intuitively. But if a person says he takes decisions based on intuition alone, then the stock of the company would collapse. He gets caught in that trap and that causes him to make mistakes. That's because he becomes a prisoner of analysis and not a friend. I don't want him to be a slave of intuition, but a friend of intuition.
That's how the first book came to be written. And, because the subject was on the psycho-social field, which is not my natural subject, I was inspired from nature.
Nature has simplicity, which we have messed around with as civilisation progressed. So I took a number of examples from the plant and animal species, from which I drew lessons and that became an interesting book. That caused me to go to my second book. It says why people fail to use their intuition. I came to the view that the leader or manager has not realised who he is, is because self-awareness is low.
Tata Management Training Centre has done some research on it that establishes every manager lives in three worlds. The first is his own inner world where only he knows his ideas. The second is the world of relationships where every person has to get along with somebody else. And, the third world is where everybody has to get things done to earn a living. Every manager is going between these three worlds. 
And that became the subject of my second book. As one goes through these three worlds, it's like a person travelling daily from Borivali to VT by bus or train.

One has some experiences, meets certain friends and is influenced by these experiences. As the penny drops, one gets this 'aha' feeling. Like how one would put a penny in and get weighed, or get a bag of potato chips. That's how the English expression came: 'when the penny drops'. And, I said 'that's how you learn what nobody teaches you'. That became the second book When the Penny drops: Learning what is not taught.
And then I met a publisher who said to me, there are lots of books on how to become a leader and how a leader behaves. But if you are starting at the lower end of the escalator and follow the behavioural pattern of the big boss, you are going to fall flat.
There's a different way you can develop your career. Looking back at my own career, I was always more conscious about the company's obligations to me than my obligations to the company. It struck me that if young people start their careers by thinking of the boss as a sort of customer, they will see the boss with his / her own needs. A boss may not be the perfect, iconic person that the media makes them out to be. A boss has his / her own insecurities, challenges and problems, whether personal or official. People must try to adjust to that. And, I devised what is called the four As.
The first is accomplishment where you must deliver results. The second is affability where you have to deliver results, not by being a cuddly teddy bear, but by being affable.

The third is advocacy. Everybody is a salesman of ideas. You have to sell your idea to somebody only then you earn a living. If you have no ideas, you cannot earn a living. And the higher you go, the greater the advocacy.

The last is authenticity.
So that's how this book came about. The three fit into one another, though I didn't design it that way.

What according to you makes a good CEO?
I think technical abilities, conceptual abilities and human abilities.
Technical abilities can be acquired very quickly because the person may have done engineering or management. As soon as he joins a company, he is put through a course. He gets a lot of chances to learn technical abilities. Everybody learns the same thing. There is no uniqueness. Everybody gets a BSc or a B.Tech degree.
Then come conceptual abilities. He may attend the same strategic programme or the same IIM. But people come out with different ideas as they are now in cerebral space. And how things lock in their minds; different people think differently.
The last and the most important is the human ability. At the end of the day, people must want to work with the CEO. People must want to come to office. They must say "he's a good guy, nice guy, barks at you sometimes but a good-natured guy". A CEO must be able to work with people.  This is not taught by anybody. You learn on your own. Every one makes mistakes.

These three qualities make a good CEO.

What does a CEOs expect out of his managers?
The CEO secretly hopes that his managers can read him, and align himself with his manager. The head of the company or division may be having a hell of a time because the results are not coming, and he wants people around him who say "Boss we are with you", "What can I do to help you?" He wants subordinates who can wrap themselves around him, take his form, shape of his worries and help him to come out of it. That doesn't mean being a "yes man".
But I am talking about intellectual, psychological and philosophical alignment. But very often, they find people who say, "This is not the way to do it, why don't you do it this way". He gets into a friction. I have been in that situation.  It's very easy to state it but tough to do it because they are two different human beings.

Alignment of people like in politics or large organisations is the heart of any relationship. Even between family members. In the institution of marriage, at the end of the day, it's not whether you are right or wrong compared to your spouse; you have to align yourselves to each other.

There is a constant battle between one's aspirations, abilities and an ambiguous business environment. How do you think one should cope to survive in a corporate environment?An aspiration is like the engine of the car. Ability is like the gear box and the wheels. And ambiguity is the fog, rain and conditions of the road. Aspiration is something that is deeply yours.
Ability is very closely linked to what is yours. But ambiguity by definition is external to you. You cannot do anything about it. Just like when you drive a car, you have to adjust your aspiration and ability to that ambiguous environment; you have to do the same with your career.
So if it's raining heavily and you continue to have the aspiration to drive at 100 miles per hour through the rain, then there's only one way to go. But you automatically see it's raining and the visibility is poor. Even if you have a Ferrari, you will drive it at a cautious speed. You will change your abilities. Maybe you will sit forward and look through the window or sit back and drive.
In the same way in your career, you will tailor your aspiration and ability to the business environment.  If you don't like the business environment, you may change it.  The battle between aspiration, ability and business environment can be handled only through the fourth 'A', which is adaptation. You have to adapt to the business environment or find a new business environment. Adaptability means you either influence or shape the environment or you shape or influence yourself.

Failure to cope with work pressure often leads to frustration and decline in one's self belief. How do you think one should handle this?

In my first book, The case of the Bonsai manager, I wrote though not directly, an answer to the question. I designed a terminology called IMOPCORE. IM stands for immersion, OP stands for openness, CO stands for contemplation and RE stands for reflection. 
You have to be immersed in what you're doing, whether it's selling cars, trucks or dal. You have to keep yourself open and every day you must contemplate the circumstances in which you are carrying out your task. Contemplation and reflection are very different. Contemplation is the circumstances and factors surrounding you. And reflection is how you adjust to that.
So for example I can contemplate that I have a mother who is a bit unhappy with the daughter in law.  Then I must reflect on how I can help. If my mother is not happy with the daughter in law and I keep backing my mother, then I will create a different problem. If I back my wife, then it will create a different problem. So contemplation is your circumstance and reflection is your response.
I feel if you reflect on this IMOPCORE cycle, then I think it helps to smoothen the role. You don't get rid of it.  It is very much like yoga, it will help you to relax for half an hour but that doesn't mean your work pressure will go away. This is a sort of management yoga.

There is a constant need for individuals working in a corporate environment to be in the good books of their bosses. How do you think they should handle a scenario where their opinion and values differ from that of the boss? 

This is actually in chapter 8 in my book.
Under affability, I have talked about how you disagree without being disagreeable. You may be very intelligent but your intellect can be very threatening to your boss. I have also mentioned how to balance self-interest with company's interest. These are dilemmas one faces while working in a company.
Under accomplishment, I have said how you deliver results reliably, offer solutions and bring dynamism to work. Dynamism means you have to come with a fresh frame of mind and you shouldn't look half dead or uninterested in what you are doing.  Then under advocacy, I have said you must have the ability to communicate to your co-workers.  And then comes authenticity.
Authenticity doesn't mean saying what's in your head.  It actually means disguising what you are thinking. For instance if your mom and dad tell you exactly what they are thinking of you, which they would say once in a while when they are in a rage, that's not the way it should be. That's how I have covered these four As. So this question is answered in chapter 8.

How do you think a good manager should help himself to grow as an individual?

Apply the same principle of IMOPCORE. That is there in my book The Case of the Bonsai Manager.

Who are your favourite authors? And which book has inspired you to a large extent?
I am not a focused reader on any one particular subject. I love to read history, contemporary affairs and management.  I read 12 newspapers a day. I love to read editorial articles. So I don't have favourite authors. 
I also love reading about ancient classics. For example I got four different books on the Ramayan with different perspectives. One is the classical Valmiki Ramayan which is the most popular. I've got another book, which is written from the point of view of Ravana.  And I've got yet another one which is written from the point of view of the Rakshasas.
There was another old book written by Michael Madhusudan Dutt describing the Mahabharata battle from the point of view of Shakuni.  So that's another area of interest. I don't think I have a single book but many books, which have inspired me. 

Last question. Have thought about your fourth book? what will it deal with?
Actually my first book has now become my fourth book. It's called A comma in a sentence. And it's about our family history, aimed at my grandchildren and where we came from. I have to trace the family back to 1832.
It's called A coma in a sentence because my life doesn't matter. I'm a mere comma in a large sentence or paragraph. So I want my children or great grandchildren to know that their lives will be the most important to them and rightly so.
 I have written 10 chapters and my intention is to sit and finish it. It may not be for publication unless I can make it interesting enough. And I have got another outline of a book - a distinctive view of India and how India has grown in a very distinctive way. So there's an emotional battle as to which one I should write first.


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