A quintessential factor that eventually makes or breaks a team is its leader. Theodore Roosevelt once said, ‘a leader leads and a boss drives’. As a leader in an organisation one might have all the necessary knowledge about the nature of work and the expertise to ensure effective execution. However, is that all it takes to deliver results? What if a perfectly fine leader steers away from a focussed plan of action? The obvious repercussions have to be borne by the team and the organisation, at large. Not the best of situations. What leads to a leader derailing from course then? Picture this. An organisation identifies an employee to take up a responsibility after the person has displayed on enough counts his or her potential to deliver. Come an unforeseen challenge and the once potential leader goes off-course. HRKatha explores what such challenging circumstances are and how they can be best tackled.
Sundara Rajan, Co- founder, Thomas Assessments India, a global provider of people assessment tools and the only provider with bespoke Education and Sport divisions, is of the view that failing to foresee changes is a major factor that causes a team leader to lose focus.
These changes could be in the business cycle, technology, societal and by extension employee aspirations, hyper-competition or government inclinations towards the business. It is the sign of a good leader who foresees the changes and acts to pre-empt the challenge and prepare the organisation for appropriate measures well in advance. “No change comes with a prior announcement. The good leader senses the changes ahead of others and prepares his company to face them,” Rajan says.
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These challenges are faced by every possible sector in the country today. Whether telecom, auto, financial services or retail, every organisation needs to identify leaders not just on the basis of their talents to oversee the execution of business mandates but also the ability to understand scenarios and plan accordingly. The onus, Rajan believes lies a lot on sound HR departments in organisations. “The evolved HR teams monitor the business environment in which they function and take changes quite seriously. Some of the employee-friendly policies of past few years emerge from such understanding of factors and the need to protect employees from the negative impact of external changes,” he says.
It is up to the HR function to also ensure, he believes, the mental well-being of employees that will eventually make able leaders. “Many sectors in the industry are witnessing the start of a hyper-competitive era. This change in the business environment increases the demand on the mental abilities and emotional intelligence of the employees to cope with extra demands that come along with. While most companies focus on the physical comforts, few give attention to the mental well-being of the employees,” says Rajan. Herein, he emphasises the need for leaders to be high on Emotional Quotient.
“No change comes with a prior announcement. The good leader senses the changes ahead of others and prepares his company to face them”
A leader sensitive to his team’s needs will only motivate his or her colleagues to push the envelope and set higher benchmarks.
The issues Rajan raises are well-agreed by HR leaders who take very seriously the idea of a capable leader. They agree there could be situations when the best of talent might get distracted and emphasise on the need for HR to be more sensitive to warning bells. They add how yet another major reason for leaders to derail is when there is a mismatch between a role and the competencies and passion of the candidate chosen to take up the particular responsibility.
“Leaders require different kinds of competencies to succeed. Potential is not only about any functional competency. It is about certain leadership behavioural competencies, which need to be demonstrated at different stages of business lifecycle, which lead to a successful outcome & generate value for the enterprise,” says Amit Das, Director – Human Resources, Bennett, Coleman & Co. Das further adds that there could be situations when the strategic imperatives and the related business ecosystem are not aligned with an individual’s aspirations or when leaders are not able to have people in their teams who can think differently. “While I have seen leaders being successful in one organisation, they have failed in others. This happens when the core values of the leader are not aligned with the organisational culture. Also, the best of business strategies fail due to lack of right cultural alignment within the organisation leadership team,” he explains.
Deepali Bhardwaj, Head – HR, Cushman & Wakefield has a simple point to make about the issue – “we don’t allow them to fail”. “For us, leadership development for a particular role starts at the management trainee level; when we hire candidates from the campus. Typically, when you have such a fast-track career, it tends to get to people’s heads very quickly. This is the point of check. The moment you sense something like this, you step back and offer them constructive feedback,” she says.
“While I have seen leaders being successful in one organisation, they have failed in others. This happens when the core values of the leader are not aligned with the organisational culture”
Bhardwaj believes in providing opportunities to potential leaders in the form of interim roles before they can be given a larger responsibility. She insists on experiential learning that will build better leaders. Put employees in difficult and challenging situations and let them learn from them. Let them be managed and directed by a mentor if need be and build them to be better leaders, she believes.
The Thomas Solution
Rajan is of the view that an external solution provider can help HR teams get the better of such challenging situations. HR experts agree to the need for such solutions that will eventually help individuals be more excited about a role and be driven towards common goals of the team and the company. It is extremely critical, he thinks, the need for an organisation to know its employees better, both in terms of their capabilities and need. On the need for external HR tools, Rajan explains how such solutions help companies to stay focussed on larger goals while building a better understanding of their employees.
“By their nature, organisations focus on business and profits and tend to consider all employees capable of taking care of themselves, irrespective of the impact from working in a particular company. Tools and expertise which are created to understand people, their motives, emotions and their ability to cope with change help these organisations to understand the unique characteristics of each employee and identify the need of each employee,” he says. Talking particularly about Thomas Assessments, he vouches for the several tools that can help organisations achieve this purpose.
“We don’t allow them to fail. For us, leadership development for a particular role starts at the management trainee level; when we hire candidates from the campus”
Rajan says, “Thomas Assessments have a series of diagnostic tools that help companies understand the cognitive, behavioural and emotional intelligence of each of the employees and identify the right measure to build them in their careers. At times, these diagnostic tools indicate the need for special attention to an employee on a specific area that helps the company to focus their efforts.”