Cultivating leadership values – part 1

Cultivating leadership values – part 1
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KRISH SHANKAR is the President of the Bengaluru Chapter of the National Human Resource Development Network, and Executive Vice President and Group Head of Human Resource Development at Infosys. Krish has over 30 years of experience and has facilitated organization-wide transformation and capability development, and been instrumental in building a strong talent pool through a series of leadership development initiatives. He is an avid reader, and loves wildlife photography and trekking. A football enthusiast, he is passionate about teaching and exploring new ideas in Human Resources and organization development. In this exclusive interview, he speaks with V SRINIVASAN and SHARAT HEGDE in his hometown of Bengaluru, India.



Q: Krish, as an HR leader, you have served in several eminent global organizations. What are the values which you have deeply cherished as an individual and which have really helped you to serve at the highest levels?

KS: Over the last 30 years, the best thing is that I’ve learnt from a lot of people, a lot of leaders, and when I really look at the best people, some of their values are the ones I have internalized and applied to my life and built around.

The first value is all about being genuine and authentic. It is not always easy, but if you can be genuine and authentic, and people know that what you say is what you mean, I think that’s the first step.

The second value, which is behind all of this, is transparency. I have found that whatever the difficult problems or tough things, if you’re transparent about your intent – why you want to do it – and if people see the purity of the intent coming across, then even the toughest problems can be managed. For example, when you have a tough performance conversation with somebody, by telling them, “Listen, I know, but this is something that is important for you and for the company and so we want to give you…”, they accept it. So being transparent about why you are doing something is very, very important.

The third value I learned when I was at Unilever. It has stayed with me right through. We called it ‘self-confident integrity’. It was actually a mix of a couple of values. One is self-confidence, in terms of why you’re saying something; you need conviction. The integrity is all about professional integrity. If you’re an HR professional, or whatever field you are in, there has to be some integrity to what you’re doing as a profession. So there has to be conviction, and you have to be true to the values of the profession, true to the values of the role you’re playing.

These three values – authenticity, transparency and selfconfident integrity – I would keep as the base of how I define myself. On top of that, I found that one thing that people valued in me was what I call the ‘helping relationship’. They liked me to be a mentor, they liked me to talk, they liked me to help, and they liked me to be a coach. So I found that trying to help people is something that they valued, and they thought I was good at it. Therefore, that’s something I have built upon.


I have found that whatever the difficult problems or tough things,
if you’re transparent about your intent – why you want to do it – and
if people see the purity of the intent coming across,
then even the toughest problems can be managed.


Q: How do you resolve moments of conflict between the mind and the heart at work?

KS: Well, it’s a tough thing. Maybe it’s easy to say but difficult to do, but I believe you’ve really got to see how they can work together. Because if you think that the mind and heart are in conflict, then you’re not going to make things work. Somehow we’ve got to integrate the mind and the heart. Therefore your mind should think with your heart, in the sense that your mind should look at emotions, people, this and that. As you start processing those things, your decisions will become more relevant and more correct.

There could be decisions where your heart is saying something, but the mind or the compulsion of the mind says something else. That will always be there, but if you really discuss and explore emotions at that time and say, “Okay, what emotions are there? Why are we feeling that?” then I think your decisions can be even better. So a little bit of reflection is what I would suggest; a little bit of using emotions and empathizing at every situation. These are the two tools that you can use to ensure that both the mind and the heart work in tandem.

The reflection is always, “Why am I feeling this? What is happening? What are my fears?” And putting yourself in the shoes of other people, empathizing with them: What do they feel? How do they feel? Why should they do it? So those are the two things. Reflection and empathizing are two strong practices, which will help you to get both your mind and your heart working together.


Reflection and empathizing
are two strong practices,
which will help you to get both your mind
and your heart working together.


Q: In today’s fast-paced business environment, which is very demanding in terms of results and dynamism, how do you keep your own journey joyful and also vibrant?

KS: In everything that we go through in life, we always go through ups and downs. Especially over the last couple of years, there’ve been lots of instances where I have been through a lot of pressure personally. How to manage this?

I look at it from the perspective of three principles that I’ve tried to use. I’m not a master at this; I’m also learning and I don’t claim that I’ve reached the stage where I can manage everything. I also go through problems, and sometimes it’s tough to really pick myself up. But there are three practices which I have seen others using, and I’ve also tried to use them:

Always try and take some time off to reflect on a problem and see it as a learning opportunity.
For example, suppose there’s an issue, ask yourself, “Okay, what can I learn from this?” Try to separate yourself from the problem and look at it objectively. That always helps, and sometimes I see that these issues could have been managed differently.

Ensure there are other parts of your life that you want to really work on.
For example, I do a bit of fitness training and running. I do a little bit of reading and writing and working for the community and writing a blog. You’ve got to keep some time so that your mind is really working on different elements and not just one type of work. Then there is family. Working and spending time with family and being there. So those are the other elements of your life to invest in.

Put things in perspective.
When you go through a tough situation, put the whole thing in perspective, acknowledging, “Yes, there it is.” There are others who go through even tougher problems, and there have been times when you’ve survived a tough problem, so revisit how you went through it.

Also, look at where you want to be in the future: “Wow, I know all this, but this is what I want to do. This is what I want to be. This is what I want to see in the future for my team or group.” So by putting things in perspective you can look at any problem from a larger context. If you put your own journey into perspective – what you’ve been through, your tough times, and the things you’ve overcome – then you see that the issues don’t become so big. So change your perspective, and identify where any problem fits in the larger journey or objective.

These three principles will definitely help you to keep going. Even if you go through ups and downs, you will move forward. I don’t say that I’ve mastered this. There are others who’ve done much better, and we should learn from them.

I would say that by nature we’re all adaptable, we’re positive, that’s how we’re wired. So we’ll grow, we’ll adapt, and move on and develop. But if we spend just a little bit of time reflecting to see how we can be better, it really helps.

Q: You mentioned the importance of giving time to family. Is family time compromised for most professionals in today’s business environment? What has been your own experience and insight on this subject?

KS: There are two things: family and friends. Both are important. Over the last few years, spouses are also working and traveling, and to get time together is tough. But I think it’s very important. Given all the pressures that we are going through, we have to find time for this. Our family members are also going through the same thing. They’re also going tough times, and sometimes they want us there.

Q: As a leader at the helm of your organization, are there any specific techniques you practice or methods you apply to stay emotionally composed and poised? The organization looks up to you, they observe what you say, they observe your body language, and they see your moods. How are you able to maintain that centeredness?

KS: My experience over time has taught me two things. If you suppress all your emotions, if you don’t recognize them, that may not be the best thing in the long run. You’ve got to understand the emotions you’re going through. And some of them are okay to express also, because people also want to see a genuine human being. It is inconceivable for somebody to go through life and still be emotionless. Not many can do that; it needs a high level of nirvana to do that! But most people are not like that. Where appropriate, a little bit of emotion helps. Therefore, I believe that we’ve got to show it.

Now, while I’m showing how I feel, there’s also a role I’m playing. In addition to the emotions that I’m facing, I need to also show certain emotions needed in the moment. While I may be angry about something, I can express that anger but equally I have to immediately change to show an emotion that gives people a little more hope and optimism. I have to keep both in mind. While I express emotions, I also step back and say, “Well, I feel it. But listen, we’ve got to move forward for the good of the company, for the good of the group, for the good of the team. These are some things we need to do, so let’s do this and see how we can move forward.” You have to enable that.


As an organization grows, the whole thing about
managing yourself becomes very important.
First, in your role as a leader there are
many more things that you’re doing.
You owe a lot to your team,
you owe a lot to your people.
That realization comes, and therefore
you start thinking about your teams,
you start thinking about others.


Q: Conventional management wisdom and the journeys of leaders seem to be hinting that a great deal of leadership is about how you manage your own self. How does managing yourself really fit into the overall equation of leadership?

KS: As an organization grows, the whole thing about managing yourself becomes very important. First, in your role as a leader there are many more things that you’re doing. You owe a lot to your team, you owe a lot to your people. That realization comes, and therefore you start thinking about your teams, you start thinking about others.

And you also have to manage how you are coming across. Therefore, an understanding of the role of self is very important. It’s a discipline you have to build from early on, but it’s also something which you can do by making space for the right moments of reflection and mentoring. More empathy, and more understanding of where you come from and what you’re doing, help you to be a better leader and also help you develop a perspective of more people.


To be continued.



Interview by V SRINIVASAN and SHARAT HEGDE


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