Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

Integrity, ethics, transparency – some of the most used and abused words in the Corporate world. Every organization tries to fit these somewhere in their vision, mission, values but these are often the first to be sacrificed at the altar of ‘practicality’ and ‘business sense’… Read More


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Feedback is a common topic of discussion with most top leaders. Most are happy to get some unbiased straight talk about themselves but there are also those who are reluctant to question their self-concept.  However, when provided real examples, many embark on a self-realization journey.  In the Indian context, in fact in a lot of other places too, honest improvement feedback is rarely forthcoming for people who’ve reached a significantly high position. Juniors don’t want to offend you and seniors, if any, don’t really supervise your activities that closely.

Enough and more has been written about how leaders can obtain feedback – 360 degree feedback mechanisms; identifying and creating relationships with juniors who can give feedback etc. etc. So we now have leaders who pride themselves on being “open” and believe their juniors can walk up to them and offer feedback, who have invested in taking online tests, who have implemented a 360 degree mechanism etc. But who are still not getting the quality of feedback they need for self-development. This raised an important question for me – Even for leaders receiving feedback, why were there such obvious blind spots?

Working with leaders is by no means an easy job. Recent research by See, Morrision, Rothman & Soll has shown that “powerful people are less likely to take advice from others, in large part because they have high confidence in their own judgment and don’t feel the need to incorporate outside views.”  They also observed that confidence was perceived by many as an important attribute of leadership. Thus they concluded that “many powerful people, over time, come to see taking advice as a sign of weakness, assuming that they should project total confidence in their views alone.”

This provides important pointers for us regarding how the feedback should be positioned, assessments undertaken, feedback shared and who should drive the process.  Here is what we have used to create fruitful and successful feedback mechanisms for Leaders and Organizations:


  • Create acceptance for the feedback by aligning leaders’ expectations regarding the purpose of the feedback which should be purely developmental.
  • Keep developmental feedback separate from the appraisal process.  Especially for senior leaders keep the appraisal process focussed on targets and results and have a completely independent process for leadership development.
  • Identify the right people to drive the process. This should be someone whom the leader can respect, perceive as neutral and not having an organizational or personal agenda; and someone with the relevant expertise.


Advanced organizations have it all – 360 degree, psychometric or behavioural assessments, Assessment Centres, Coaches on call. But do all these interventions talk to each other? Is anybody integrating the outputs from the external assessors and internal feedback mechanisms to paint a larger holistic picture for the leader?

Mostly feedback from the various interventions is shared completely independently. So on one hand, a psychometric assessment is providing the leader feedback about his/her personality of which he may only accept the part that is in congruence with his larger self image and beliefs. On the other there are 360 degree feedbacks. Studies have clearly shown that these surveys are often not taken seriously or that the intensity of feedback is much lower for senior members.  It also doesn’t help that organizations integrate this with the annual appraisal exercise or at least time it together. Then there are the standard assessment centres which most senior leaders ace, having experienced so many.

Breaking These Feedback Silos is the solution that has worked best in my experience. While independently these are not so effective, if you have an integrated team of experts that drive all of these and correlate them at every step, they can be brought together to create superior feedback the leaders can actually work with.

  • The psychometric tool generates the adjectives, the higher level personality assessment and anticipated areas of improvement
  • In parallel, the assessment centre gauges the demonstrated ability and behaviours in a controlled environment and responses to scenarios and situations.
  • At the same time, 360 feedback provides examples of demonstrated on job behaviours. This should not just be an online process which, as discovered by research, is not always taken seriously. It should be carried out in combination with introduction and sensitization by the expert team driving the process. In fact, where feedback is being sought from very senior people, one could use a neutral, external expert who can maintain a high level of confidentiality to collect feedback in person.
  • The expert team would then integrate outputs from all interventions to create a comprehensive and usable feedback.

The adjectives and characteristics identified being backed by real life examples will create the acceptance leading to higher self awareness which forms the base for any incremental transformation activity.


The manner of transmitting the feedback to the leader is an important determiner of whether it will be accepted and used. Unfortunately, leaders receive politically correct, very tactful and safely worded feedback both from internal people who don’t want to offend them and external consultants who don’t want to spoil the chances of getting future business. The ideal person to share this feedback should be one who:

  • Has been part of the complete assessment process, therefore having developed an understanding of the leaders’ strengths, blind spots, behavioural styles etc.
  • Can inspire respect from the leader
  • Is unbiased and whose only agenda is development for the leader
  • Is bold enough to show them the mirror in a manner that drives acceptance and inspires change

If this person also has the necessary expertise to take the relationship forward by being a coach in the leader’s developmental process, that would further strengthen the outcomes of the intervention

This approach will enable the organization to provide leaders tangible feedback they can work with, drive self awareness and inspire them on their improvement journey.

The author is a Transformation Expert, Executive Coach, Trainer, Change Management Consultant and also CEO of a small business group. To know more, contact the author at shweta@shwetahanda.com

This post has been published in The Financial Express as part of Shweta Handa-Gupta’s guest column

Copyright ©2011-12 Shweta Handa-Gupta. All rights reserved.

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“I don’t believe in team motivation. I believe in getting a team prepared so it knows it will have the necessary confidence when it steps on a field and be prepared to play a good game.”

~Tom Landry (American player & coach, ranked as one of the greatest, most innovative coaches in National Football League)

How many of you have held your breath as you saw a trapeze artist let go and fly through the air only to be caught deftly by their partner? That split second when you thought they might miss… only to be followed by a sigh of relief as their brilliant teamwork shines through.  Have you had those moments in your work team too?  Those times when everything seemed to come together in a beautiful symphony to help deliver outstanding outcomes and you wished you could capture that synergy and make it work everytime. Teams don’t really happen naturally and you can’t force teamwork.

A team, according to me, is best defined as the coming together of a group of people with complementary skills to collaborate for achieving a common purpose.  It is the complementary skills, collaboration and common purpose that sets apart a “team” from other form of groups.  All teams typically go through Tuckman’s stages of group development – first they ‘form’, then ‘storm’, then ‘norm’ and finally begin to ‘perform’.  Attempts to make teams more effective have to focus on identifying the right people to ‘form’ the team, taking care of aspects that will hold the team together when they ‘storm’ and of course ensure the most effective ‘norms’ are put in place to allow them to start performing sooner and become more effective. Let us look at the factors that really differentiate high performing teams.

  • Complementary Skills – Teams need to be built with specific objectives in mind by identifying individuals with a diverse set of skills and abilities; as well as the aptitude to capitalize on these complementary strengths to achieve synergies while maintaining a healthy respect for different approaches and values. The right team mix is an important outcome of the ‘forming’ stage.
  • Collaboration– The level of collaboration has been identified by research as one of the key differentiators of high-performing teams. A number of factors need to be planned to foster collaboration
    • Strike the right balance between collaboration, interdependency and autonomy. Norms need to be set clearly defining the levels of interdependency and autonomy which will ensure that various parts of the symphony come together cooperatively to deliver the final results.
    •  Solid relationships should exist amidst the diversity. Actively create an environment based on mutual trust and respect since no team can perform in an atmosphere of animosity.
    • Involve everybody and encourage all to contribute. Respect for differences and the opportunity to disagree or be different without being punished is an essential part of encouraging people to participate
    • Create an effective conflict management process where differences are discussed openly and resolved.
  • Common Purpose – A team’s success is essentially dependent on a clear, relevant, inspiring, achievable common goal. The power of a team emerges from the members’ commitment and alignment to the goal. Not only does a clear goal focus energies, it also holds the team together during the ‘storming’ phase. Create a compelling vision of the future to provide a deeper sense of purpose to the team and always remember that high performing teams work with more ambitious goals than average teams.
  • Effective Processes and Planning – A successful business team always starts by outlining the necessary processes. The expression ‘complete work approaches’ takes on extra significance for high performing teams since defining the necessary processes, procedures and methods is important to their success. Have you ever heard of a good surgical team or an orchestra or even a sports team begin their attempt without identifying their approach, plan and processes?
  • Open and Continuous Communication – This factor can be ‘make or break’ for any team. The speed and quality of results delivered by the team are directly proportional to how fast; accurate, specific, timely and open communication is within the team. Communication also has a direct impact on the other factors mentioned above. Encourage team members to make time to share, discuss, express their opinions openly and grow together. High performing teams have little time to waste on confusion and misunderstanding and intentional efforts at straight talk should be encouraged.
  • Empowerment – Creating a team and not empowering them to make decisions is akin to putting a cake pan without batter in the oven and expecting a cake when the timer goes off.  The most talented individuals cannot produce results if they aren’t empowered to seek the ingredients, create the right mix and influence the results.  Set protocols, encourage independent thinking and create an environment that demands and appreciates informed decisiveness.
  • Defined Roles – While high performing teams typically need flexible role structures and multi-tasking, it is important for team members to understand their own as well as others roles in relation to the goal. Role clarity is essential to build synergies and understand interdependencies and is a natural extension of defining work approach and putting effective processes in place.
  • Infrastructure & Training – Most often overlooked aspects, both the right infrastructure and timely training are really hygiene factors. Ensuring the team has the infrastructure and resources required to complete their tasks and ensuring they get the correct information, knowledge and trainings required to excel their goals is essential for any leader who wants to create a truly cutting-edge team.

All of these will come together to create the right result-oriented high performance culture.  As a leader it is your responsibility to lay the right foundation by ensuring all of the above as well as to build trust, endorse inclusiveness, encourage initiative taking and create energy within the team.  Effective teams have a higher sense of ownership and it is important to develop individual leadership qualities and promote a shared leadership culture, a very delicate task.  Don’t forget ongoing evaluation and monitoring of progress and performance. Planned development will keep improving the team performance.

“I’ve always found that the speed of the boss is the speed of the team.”               ~Lee Iacocca

An adaptation of this post has been published in The Financial Express as part of Shweta Handa-Gupta’s guest column

Copyright ©2011-12 Shweta Handa-Gupta. All rights reserved.

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* Bringing out the Best in You *

Thank you for your tremendous response to the first part of the Essentials of Personal Effectiveness series. Your stories have been an inspiration to me and I present here more information to help you increase personal effectiveness and remove barriers that may be holding you back.


I) Don’t stereotype your Critics – We often distort people whom we have conflicts with. Once we have built our mental image of the person, we begin to perceive his/her actions/incidents in a manner that would confirm the image we’ve built up. Colleagues whose agendas seem to oppose our own are not necessarily our enemies. Similarly, people who cannot see the point behind our brilliant ideas are not necessarily intellectually inferior 🙂

Sonia (name changed on request) suffered the leadership costs of this when she was leading the process excellence team of a large multinational company. She was sometimes exasperated by the inability of department heads to see the point of process improvement and compliance. The CHRO, Sanjay (name changed) was someone whom she had decided was seriously lacking in logical thinking and analytical ability. To add to that he was mostly flattering the business heads in what she perceived as an attempt to hold on to his job since he didn’t seem to have any other talents!!

About this time, the leadership team of the organization participated in a self-development workshop where Sonia was paired with Sanjay in one of the exercises where you had to make an effort to understand your partner and his/her drivers/motivators and share it with the rest of the team. Sonia was forced to humanize Sanjay and look at him as a real person with good reasons for his perspectives and behaviour. She realized she could actually like him and understand the constraints that sometimes made him oppose her suggestions.

When we demonize people, it severs our link to reality and affects our ability to effectively exert influence. We need to proactively assess how we interact with our competitors or people we don’t like or agree with. It is important to realize that they are real people with their own perspective on life who may be stereotyping you just as you are doing to them. Reaching out may get you more allies than competitors.


II) Be a Leader not a ‘Manager’ – Stop ‘managing’  – ‘Fire-fighting’ is a popular word today with people using it to describe how busy they are, sometimes to describe the scenario in their offices and often to display their skills in a high-pressure situation. We feel a distinct sense of accomplishment after having ‘doused the fire’ and ‘managed’ the situation, often subconsciously seeking the high and the praise that comes with it.

The question we need to ask ourselves at this juncture is – Are we letting new fires alight while we are busy dousing the old ones? Have we got so used to jumping from one crisis to the next that planning and being proactive have lost their place in our schedule? Are we so busy ‘managing’ that we have forgotten to ‘lead’?

Set aside time in your daily schedule to plan ahead and anticipate crisis waiting to happen. End each day by drawing up a list planning, prioritizing and scheduling for the next day. This will go a long way in increasing your productivity and effectiveness. Also remember, it is the ability to foresee and plan for the future that will take you to the next level as an individual. A successful leader is one that can not only manage his schedule efficiently but also help his team plan, anticipate and be proactive, skills that are fast getting lost in this fire-fighting world.


III) Don’t wait for authority – All around us, we see tremendous talent and potential which is waiting to come to the surface but the owners of this talent have been conditioned to keep their heads down and keep working hard, waiting for the right designation and authority to come their way before they take the lead. Unfortunately that may never happen, because today’s progressive organizations reward people who take initiative and seize the opportunity to make a difference using whatever informal power and influence they have.

The power to influence doesn’t automatically follow the fancy designation and authority but the designation may follow the power to influence which you have to create yourself. You have to make the decision to lead and start making the changes that will lead to improvement.


IV) Set your own benchmarks for yourself – We don’t always function in situations where we have external benchmarks to live up to and sometimes, even when they exist, these benchmarks may not inspire us to brilliance.

You must be a yardstick of excellence even when the environment around you allows for something lesser. Excellence is a habit, once you get used to below par performance, it will be difficult to get back to higher standards. Also remember, whatever the expectation in your current role, your personal brand is something you need to maintain and live with. If you accept mediocrity in yourself for too long a time, it may become your standard of excellence. So wake up, you owe it to yourself to do better than that!!! 🙂


V) Take Breaks – Taking breaks is not just essential for good health but also for being a more effective performer. A period of rejuvenation is essential to engage fully at work and is also necessary to internalize experiences and learning.  Research has shown that when you tune out your brain’s analytical networks during breaks, your brain is able to establish more innovative connections and wander along pathways that provoke creative breakthroughs.

Taking a break does not mean only stepping away to the coffee machine or the smoke room, you have to free your mind and avoid your daily stressors to allow yourself to relax and rejuvenate. Use deep breathing exercises at work, don’t miss your weekend break, indulge in your favourite hobby and avoid checking your official mail when on a holiday. These will pay you rich dividends by:

  • Increasing your focus when you return to work
  • Giving you time to introspect and internalize
  • Balancing the development of your brain
  • Allowing you to connect with the latent sensors in your subconscious which can improve your decision-making skills in the long run

I hope these tips inspire you further on your journey to excellence, there are more to come. Do keep writing in.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities”

~ Stephen Covey

Copyright ©2011 Shweta Handa-Gupta. All rights reserved.

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Top Reasons Why Being A Multi-Specialist Pays.  

In this world of specialists is the Renaissance Man dead? Is Da Vinci – painter, sculptor, architect, musician, scientist, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist and writer still relevant in the modern world? Generalists have often claimed him for their own especially in battles with specialists but I do not think Da Vinci was a generalist or even a specialist. He was multi-talented and definitely a multi-specialist.

Specialists have been defined as people who have in-depth knowledge and expertise in one area or discipline. Whereas generalists are those who have basic knowledge in a wide number of disciplines without the depth and expertise of the specialist.  Promoters of specialization still insist that since specialists concentrate on only one discipline they are more knowledgeable and experienced and the generalists claim that they are the masters of integration and will always be the ones leading the pack.

So who wins this battle between generalists and specialists? In my opinion, neither suffices to be successful in today’s scenario.  While specialization is… Read More

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