Episode 19

Leadership skills – Are leaders born or made?

Category :  Leadership Paradigms

Is leadership an art or a science?' is a perineal debate. A leader's true nature is witnessed at times of transformation and the challenges it brings along.

In this episode, we discuss and analyze why Leadership is a science and not an art and also go further to describe the three important tactics to be effective as a leader.

You can also check out the link below, for more on Kiran's views on leadership: https://www.vectorconsulting.in/blog/toc-leadership-paradigms/leadership-styles-and-organization-culture/  

Shubham Agarwal : Hello, and welcome to the Counterpoint podcast. I’m Shubham Agarwal. And today we will have an interesting conversation on a rather cliched topic, where more is never enough. No, I’m not talking about money. We’re rather going to discuss about leadership. There are endless debates, conversations and gyaan around it. But you know, if the topic is on the CounterPoint podcast, there’s definitely something interesting up our past lives. We have Kiran Kothekar with us today, he is the partner at the Vector Consulting Group, who has been exposed in the last 16 years to deeper conversations with top management of close to 200 odd companies of various sizes. He’s had more than 10,000 hours of close interactions with top management CEOs or owners on various transformation initiatives. He’s also had the privilege of close one to one interactions, guiding them as a coach, sometimes on their role during the transformation journeys undertaken by Vector. And nothing is better than witnessing leadership during a transformation journey, because that’s when it really matters. And we at vector adore him as a leadership guru. Interestingly, after coming in contact with different sets of people in leadership roles, he has a different take about leadership itself. And that’s our discussion for Counterpoint today. So let’s welcome him and discuss more about it.Hi, Kiran. Welcome to the CounterPoint podcast.
Kiran Kothekar : Hi, Shubham. Thanks for having me.
Shubham Agarwal : Great to have you. Again, I’ve heard you speak on leadership multiple times. And you know, your views on leadership, its development are very different from what we read in the books what we hear generally around us, could you start with some of your views.
Kiran Kothekar : Yeah. So as you said, as an as a founder of vector 16 years, from 16 years back, I’ve been dealing with top management, as our projects are all very transformational projects, large scale projects across the company, we have to get the buy in of the top management and the projects have to be led by the top management to get the transformation done. So I’ve interacted with and I’ve interacted with a wide spectrum of leaders, for example, first generation leaders who have built a company from scratch and made it big, the second generation leaders who have taken it from their parents or uncles, and then there are leaders who have grown up the ranks as professionals in professional companies, as department heads and then becoming the division head and then the head of the company or company, people who have come from other companies as, as, as leaders, or CEOs, recruited as CEOs. And I’ve seen all of them, and I’ve seen them think I’ve seen them manage projects, I’ve seen them manage initiatives. So I’ve developed my own view about how this leaders thing. generally, in the industry, it is felt that leaders are born leaders are like some gifted people. The only few people can be become leaders and others are destined to be working subordinating to some leaders, I have a different take on that. I think leaders can be created, I also think that leadership is not an art,
Shubham Agarwal : very, very interesting. And you know, again, very counterpoint to what we normally hear. I think that’s a very bold claim from your side. Could you explain more about this, this, this thinking this process?
Kiran Kothekar : Yeah, so so let’s start from the fundamental, when we say every, every every leaders job is to help this company grow this company progress, and by growth, we usually think that it’s all about numbers, and you should have a higher profit sales ROCE and other operational parameters. But then, I would like to define growing a company or how a company progresses in a little different way.
Shubham Agarwal : Interesting. Can you elaborate

I have had two conversations with CEOs and they agree that numbers are very important. But at the same time when I asked them I have you had years when you had no progress? Have you had years when there was a downturn when the other numbers were not looking good alright, they were actually de-growing, were you worried? He said no, I’m not really worried at that time because I know my company is in a sound footing we have taken off initiatives which will give us the progress next year of course,

Shubham Agarwal : yeah like launching new products, or revamping services to beat competition

So what does that mean? That means that progress of a company is not just numbers, progress of a company is how the improvement projects are progressing, how many improvement projects have been implemented. This is how I define the progress of a company for me is, well how many improvement projects have we completed? Right?

That also brings us to an important point of how many, it does not matter how many projects are in progress, how many projects have been completed, for example, I wanted to do introduce a new product in the market. I nearby one late one year, so I am late by one year. So that means that my progress has been stalled for one year or it’s delayed by one year right I could have gotten the numbers earlier. So so so, there’s improvement projects very very strategic improvement projects are nothing but enablers to those numbers, this is what I feel is progressing making a company progress.

So then that brings us to a new way of thinking about leadership itself. So what is leadership? Is it running after these numbers or is it running after the enablers it is running after this project that makes come that makes companies grow?

Shubham Agarwal : Interesting. The focus of a leader has to be on enabling projects and not just a number obsession

So, if that thinking is brought in, then we have to start thinking three crucial things one is what is this improvement project that you should take which is the right one to take up because if that is what is progressing the company second is how to get it done very fast, right. And third is how to have a culture where where everyone is thinking about solving key problems and solving them very fast. So, this I think is what a leader should do.

Shubham Agarwal : ok The first one is about deciding the right project. Second is of execution speed and third is culture of solving problems. SO the way I see it, the first topic on decision making, second topic is about getting people to work fast or efficiently and the third is topic of culture.


This is what I think is is the key role of a leader. There are other things like personality, great motivational talks, etc. But those are of no use in these three things are not there. This is my way of looking at leadership.

Shubham Agarwal : Let us expand on each topic. The first one is deciding the right enabling project, which impacts numbers. I have seen orgabizations doing many projects but in the end they don’t show up in the numbers. How does one go about selecting the right projects
Kiran Kothekar : So let’s take let’s look at the tactics when I say taking the correct decisions. That is one of the key part of being a good leader, or a great leader, for example, I want to run a marketing campaign. This is this is a big decision. Right? Which marketing campaign to run, what segment to run, what target customer, what product to focus, what aspect to focus,
Shubham Agarwal : or the real issue could be sales incentives

? Should I be increasing incentives of my salespeople? Should I be increasing the workforce? Because every time salespeople would come and tell you, I’m not increasing sales because I don’t have enough people? Right? I’m not able to cover all the markets, right? Or my salespeople are demoted, or the competition is giving a fantastic scheme to the dealers and distributors or they are having lower prices. They’re having schemes where they’re taking people abroad and all that stuff.


so So the important thing here is that a leader is surrounded by lots of data and he has to go Go through, he has to wade through this clutter. And every other department is coming and telling him their own story. And for example sales will say, I’m not able to do sales, because supply chain

Shubham Agarwal : a usual complain, I would say …you can continue

supply chain will say I’m not able to supply because sales is not doing a good forecast or operations, because my suppliers, you’ve not given price rise to my supplier. So there are a lot of issues that people bring to you. How do you take the correct decision?

Shubham Agarwal : yeah that could be puzzling!

Usually what happens is that, at that, usually leaders think that I have to give her the decision then and there and say, so they would say, okay, there’s a price rise, you should give price increase, or sales are not happening, give a scheme or a discount. So they would give that decision immediately.

But the flaw here is like this sometimes the decision works, and you get fantastic result for the next two, three months of quarter. And then you flounder the next quarter. Yeah. So that’s not great decision. That’s not great decision making. That’s not great leadership. So what one needs to do is to what I think is if you want to practice good decision making, you have to understand what’s happening around you, what are what are these problems, are they isolated problems, are they connected problems. So our belief is that the companies is a system as a whole, no problem exists in isolation, the job of the leader is to collect all these problems and connect them and connect them to find the real root cause.

So the first principle you should follow is that everything that he sees around him are all symptoms, they are not problems. So he should find the root cause And for that, we say follow the principle of convergence, which means that there cannot be so many problems, there can be only one root cause or two root cause for all these problems. Once he does that, two beautiful things happen. One, he knows that what is the big problem he needs to solve instead of many problems in it to solve. And secondly, when the solution is found for that problem, it becomes that one big project and not many, multiple projects.

Shubham Agarwal : You make it sound very simple. Why this way of approaching problems, not so common.

One of the biggest issues is is that we have this easy way out of finding a problem is to blame someone. Okay, that department did this he is always at 80%. So he’s not very capable. Or sales, people always do sales on the last two days and ask for discount. So maybe this guy is not good, right? Or my production, people always ask for capacity. Why can’t we think about getting more out of the same capacity, this guy is not capable. So when you get into this blame game, what you’re essentially getting into is getting away from the real problem. So what we say is that the next principle you should follow is not to blame people. If you the option of blaming, it’s not that people are not good, or lazy or inefficient, it’s don’t just take up that option of blaming, once that option is gone, you have no other choice but to look at systems and processes and real issues.

Shubham Agarwal : so what you are saying is the tendency to find people as the cause of orfanizationsal problems prvents us from seeing the real issues at play. Ok so you don’t do that but finding problem is not same as fiding solution

How do we find the correct solution? Like I say when the inventory goes high, you try to cut it down by giving some target, inventory goes down salespeople, shout and tell you to increase. So this is not the way to solve the problem, right you have identified that inventory is my problem, but this is not the way to solve the problem. So we have to solve this is a conflict if I increase it, I have a problem, if I decrease it I have a problem. So what we need to find out is the real solution which can solve both sides of the conflict, that means Can I not lose sales and have inventory low inventory at the same time. So this is the way to solve it, which we call which we say what we say here is that there are no conflicts in reality, don’t just don’t accept conflicts. This always assume that there is always a solution to solve a conflict.

Shubham Agarwal : so to summarize , to follow the first step of your leadership template, deciding on right projects is key. For that 3 principles have to be imbibed
Look for connections between problems to find the root cause
Dot bring people into your analysis
Try to resolve conflcits in a win-win manner
Shubham Agarwal : The next point was how does one get managers to work very efficiently on the projects. Many leaders are frustrated with the output that they get from their subordinatesKiran
Yeah, so I mean people struggle to get more from the lower level people. How do we get more from the higher level people and you know when in senior managers department heads they have their own KPIs they are running after KPIs at times their KPIs clash with other departments that politics and, and perception management and picturing yourself as to get your thing done and so on so forth. So how do we get so many times leaders try to judge people try to label people or stereotype people. And I think that’s not correct, because nobody comes to office and says that nobody comes to office saying today I will screw up this organization or today i’ll i’ll get I’ll not do sales or I will not do production as required Nobody does that right. So, there’s something happening around them that that makes them behave in a particular way and that leader’s way of working leader’s way of of discussing leaders way of taking decisions affects that. So, now, if I want to now get more done from these people, we cannot we cannot rely always on getting the right people motivated people then then you will never achieve what we need to look at is a process or solutions which will make people give more output at the same time in the same time. Now, how does it happen? So first is if you will go around in companies will find that leaders are always trying to improve very, very I mean rightfully so they go to a conference, they see something happening, they want to do that they listen to a friend they want to do that they read a book, or they observed a problem in the company so they want to so every meeting improvement projects are being launched, right? And the senior managers are flooded with that they can’t say no, like, for example, why are we not making good sales in this region? Can we do a survey or why? Why the sales are not happening, can we look at analysis of each product. So every time a new product is being a new project is being launched this. So, we have done this in many of our clients places, if you take inventory of all the projects with these people, you will find that each one is loaded with 20-30 projects 99% of the cases more than 10 projects, each one of them and each. And many times a guy has to work with three other senior managers project. So so that makes it that makes it very, very difficult for somebody to focus on one project. Now if if I know and this many projects are coming because of the first thing that is you’re looking at symptoms, not problems and trying to solve, get a solution for every simply the ones who do the convergence analysis, many of these projects go away, very few projects remain. Now within that you say which is the one that is the most impactful for my current revenue, or future revenue, or current profits or future profit. The big change that has to be done here is that stop all the other projects, just focus on that one project, the moment you do that, at least 50% of the time, the senior management is free. And they get enough time in the second half to work on this project and have a review every day of that one single project is like this, take 10 projects and finish them after a year. Rather, rather than against that, take one project and finish it in three weeks. Stop all the projects or maybe all the projects together finish in a year, but the revenue starts coming in. And when the revenue starts coming in the impact is seen more capacity of the people is is released because you’ve solved the problem. And the other important thing is that when you see when people see results, the motivation level goes up. So you don’t require team building exercises on top of a hill where somebody is thrown and other people track in, they come back and fight and fight the next day in office, right? Because you’re not solving real problems. Right. So the issue is solved the real real problem.And this has been created by leadership and their thinking. So if we change that the same people can give fantastic. This is what we have observed in companies that we work with. We have a large projects transformation. We’ve seen this harmony amongst people, we’ve seen this fantastic output by people because we have stopped everything else and told them to do one thing at a time.
Right so you’re hinting towards the multitasking and you know, removing the multitasking that happens at large across organizations. I would urge my all my listeners if they’ve not had a chance to look at one of the episodes that we did on multitasking please do so, this is described even more in detail.Great. So, Kiran moving on you know the last the third one that you the third pillar that you mentioned was of culture and culture I think is is a very subjective and yet very under understood you know topic I think in the organization’s you know these are like slogans on the wall we have an open culture but managers are scared to talk to their bosses criticize their bosses or you know have conflicting conversations to really go deep down what in your opinion is the right is that is a true culture
Kiran Kothekar : Yeah, so that’s right because we go to every other company I go, you find this boards, slogans and then this small boards around or posters around which says all these things and be open your team team, you should work as a team, we win as a team, right? individuals don’t win and all that stuff is written down there right. But if you go down at the ground level, nothing of that is being practiced right? the leader can practice a few things to bring an open culture so whenever somebody comes first is that people like to give solutions. So if somebody comes to us to you and says okay if I you know what I we should reduce freight costs, we should change our partner, logistics partner is very good solution is very good for the company. But then if the leader start saying, okay, fine, this is we should do it, but he’s not looking at the fact that that bringing in this cheaper guy could result in delivery issues, which could result in sales problems. Instead of that, if he comes in if he asks him and what is the problem you’re trying to solve? Yeah, this is a great solution, but what is the problem you’re trying to solve and please go back and write down the problem and bring it to me. So make people write down problems not just verbally verbally, you can go all around just if you’re talking you can go all around the place, but if you write down people are made to think and you should you should also tell him Okay, also discuss this problem with your colleagues who are going to get affected with it don’t discuss a solution discuss the problem discussing the issue is actually far easy.
Shubham Agarwal : This is a great suggestion.
Kiran Kothekar : Because when it comes to solution, it is your solution versus mine Why are you entering my department and all that stuff, but if you start thinking about the problem discussing the problem only that is when you create an open culture right, but the but the CEO also should also practice allow people to behave in the same way for example, He is talking about a solution he should allow people to say okay, what is the problem we are trying to solve? Because CEOs CEOs have the power they come and just blurt out solutions right. So, somebody he should have a culture where he said what is the problem and this is something that he can set up by always asking somebody comes to a solution, he says, What is the problem we are trying to solve? By the way asking what is the problem we are trying to solve is a very, very, it’s not a very intrusive way of communication. It is it is not like getting on trampling on other’s feet It is like asking very notion question, what is the problem we are trying to solve here? And if the guy’s clear, he will talk about the problem and it’s a very good conversation. So, discussing problem before a solution is actually creating a good amount of harmony amongst people like we are not able to increase sales What is the problem? My competition is giving more discount is that the real problem? So when you make this guy think more so for example, you say okay, this is the problem then should we if we decrease prices, will we get more sales right, we are not discussing solutions we are discussing what is the real problem that that makes the and the second principle which is of not blaming people. So, as a rule, if the dealer if the leader says, okay, you cannot take the guy’s name, whatever you discuss now, you cannot take anybody’s name, right? Or, Okay, stop. You’re taking somebody’s name. Let’s discuss the real issue. With this you give courage to people to come and talk about you remove psycho fancy you remove perception management, because now we are discussing systems processes issues.
Shubham Agarwal : Yeah, everyone has their own version of problems. There’s no agreement on a common problem, I think, to start with, generally. Right, so I think this looks great. And this sounds really, really good. We spoke about a lot of things and three specific, you know, pillars to build great leaders, would you would you please summarize the entire thing for our listeners, so that you know, it is again once in a small, short, quick format.
Kiran Kothekar : Yeah, so if you if you summarize, as you said, three, three big pillars, one is taking correct decisions, which is follow the principle of convergence, don’t blame people don’t solve the conflict on one side, try to solve, solve the conflict on both sides. The second part was getting more out of people this is not by making people run faster, or work harder or long hours, it is by taking away their load, giving them focus, providing help doing a daily review of the one single project, providing the decisions, approvals, etc. So that’s the third part is building a culture. Shubham
This is an interesting counterpoint on leadership. The 3 points is, what I belive any leader can adopt with lots of practice.If you have any questions, counter questions on what we discussed today. Please write to us on our social media handles, or you can also write to on our website. The link for all the for all the channels is in the details to this episode. We’ll come back with more episodes. Until next episode. Thank you. Bye bye

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