Hallmark of a leader

Lead Review

Hallmark of a leader

Are leaders born? Or, are they made? Are they crafted by the environment they live within and shaped by the experiences they face through their careers in particular, and life at large? Or, is leadership just genetic? A trait passed on from Mr Hitler to Master Hitler? Or, for that matter, from Mr Hitler to Ms Hitler?

The answer to this one big question is really floating in the wind. Floating in the wind, as the very definition of leadership is undergoing change. As one grapples with systemic definitions that tell you what leadership really is, the single best definition of leadership I will arrive at is a take-off from the definition of money itself. Let me morph it to leadership: Leadership is what leadership does. If leadership is what leadership does, the guys at Infosys must be great, if not good, leaders for sure. Look at what it has done for a start.

The company is today a USD 4 Billion plus enterprise, enjoys a market capitalisation eight times that multiple, employs 1,30,000-plus people (and threatens to grow continuously on this count), manages mass recruitment of a scale unheard of in other categories, manages mass sets of final settlements as well, faces attrition from every entity around waiting to poach its readymade leaders, and manages one of the world’s most exciting leadership and training facility as well. In such an environment, leadership is most certainly a buzz-word that delivers just more than the buzz.

Leadership @ Infosys, edited by Matt Barney with a foreword by N R Narayana Murthy and S Gopalakrishnan, and an epilogue by T V Mohandas Pai, is an academic, nice and solid effort at documenting the leadership style that has made Infosys what it is today.

Powered by intellect and driven by values. For sure. This 226-page book is surely powered by intellect. While the introduction by Matt Barney, adds the academic focus in documenting the leadership ethos, as it has emerged at Infosys, a host of leader biographies contributed by names you and I don’t know, but names that mean a lot within the Infosys context of internal employees, vendors and clients give it a back-bone and context.These leader biographies come from different realms. And not necessarily from the verticals that manage human resources. And that, indeed, is the joy of this book.

There are rich nuggets that emerge as solutions in the realm of leadership from people who work in the realm of product innovation, consulting, quality and productivity, client solutions and in verticals that face retail, consumer and packaged goods, life sciences, media and entertainment and more.

This tome on leadership is therefore, much more than a book that explores theory and routes to leadership. Instead, it is a book that explores life from a practitioner’s narrow gully as well. The book is, for sure, peppered with the academic rigour that such books, and more importantly, academic papers that HR scientists present at seminars and forward to publications that respect the oblique word and phrase that makes it that much more academic. Porter’s generic value chain is not only explained but illustrated as well copiously, just as names such as Hugo Munsterberg will explain  theories that many will find it a bit tedious to explore.

Infosys emerges out of this book as a scientific laboratory that believes leadership to be something that is a science of sorts. A science that can be studied, distilled, watched empirically in the behaviour of people, and isolated for its individual elements which can contribute to re-create behaviour and ultimately, leadership. Leadership that is consistent in its policy, its ethics, and more importantly, in what results it achieves.

Companies of the type, size and ethos of Infosys do surely believe that leadership cannot lay centric in the hands of a few. In a very inclusive manner of speaking, leadership lies at every level. The more you notice it, the more you showcase it, and the more you democratise its use, the more it benefits a company.

In many ways, the mantle of leadership that has seamlessly passed on from founding leader to leader, be it from N R Narayana Murthy to Nandan Nilekini and now to Kris Gopalakrishnan, defines the ethos of the founding leaders of this company. This leadership mantle is right at the top. One now waits with bated breath as this leadership mantle, hitherto in the hands of the founders, gets readied to move beyond the founding fathers. Seamlessly again.

In many ways, Infosys recognises through this book the fact that leadership lies all over. Lies at every level. And in many ways the leadership that lies at the level of delivery is much more precious to the organisation than leadership that resides only at the top.

If I worked for Infosys at the bottom or middle-rung, I would feel very good about this book and the ethos it represents. If I worked in a competing company, I would ask questions of my own company’s style of leadership. If I were an academic, I would look at the signs of the times, as painted by Infosys, as the signs to embrace and move ahead with.

If I were the type who believed that leadership was a trait one was born with or without, I wouldn’t read this book at all!  The book, to that extent is a nice piece to have in place in the process of documenting the modern practice of leadership in a company that wants to see itself to be as modern as it gets, as contemporary as it can afford to be, and indeed as inclusive in its leadership style as it must be, to face the future as it unravels.

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