Leadership from the heart – part 1

Leadership from the heart - part 1
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In this series of articles, PRAKASH SESHADRI takes the reader on a journey from survival mode to a mature leadership model, by sharpening Emotional and Heartful Quotients, and using examples of the challenges that an individual and organization undergo.


Is there a way to move from a survival mindset to a growth mindset?
Do we understand how human beings evolve their competencies?
Are we clear on the role of Emotional Intelligence in leadership?
Does the heart have a role to play in sharpening our leadership skills?


Often leadership is thought to be a skill that is only relevant for those with fancy titles and the responsibility for managing large group of people. But leadership is required for all of us, regardless of the role we play at work, at home, in the society or any other place of interaction. Each individual has the ability to make a difference if they can “sharpen the saw” on their ability to empathize and interact with other fellow human beings. The art and science of leadership has evolved over the last decades, thanks to management gurus and their books and lectures etc. In the recent past we have seen increased involvement of Mindfulness in making leadership more empathetic. But very little has been written about the role of the heart in leadership, even though it plays a very important role in most critical decisions that organizations and individuals make on a daily basis.

Survival Instincts

Let us begin with a story of a lion and a deer. One morning, there was a hungry lion on the prowl. He had to run with all his might to catch the deer, else he would die of starvation. The same morning, there was a deer out crisscrossing the landscape of the forest. To avoid being in the jaws and paws of the lion, the deer was constantly changing her trajectory to survive.

What is the substance of the story? The entire thing boils down to survival. Whether you are a deer or a lion, you must run.

If you are a business leader still waiting for a successful moment, think twice: Have you been running the show like a lion or a deer? It is not the force with which you run that counts, it is the attitude that makes all the difference.Drawing a parallel between this animal story and what we do as humans, if we ask who the lion would be in our office environment, generally it would be the boss. Who are the deer? Usually the employees. And what are the parallel survival instincts in organizations? They are quarterly-based targets, performance pressures, productivity pressures, research etc. My personal observation going back to the 1980s and 90s is that even though the most successful corporate or a fortune 500 company had back-to-back quarters of great performance, a single poor performance in the subsequent quarter led to layoffs. This still prevails today.

The Pressure of Survival and Productivity

Wherever we go for corporate engagements, there’s a standard tone: “I am highly stressed,” “I have a lot of pressure,” “My boss is at my throat,” “I have huge targets to achieve.” A cross section of employees who have been living through similar ordeals have decided to draw the curtains on their lucrative careers to settle for relatively quieter jobs. The reason? Cut-throat competition and stress, the silent killer responsible for many lives. No one is immortal, so why the struggle? The so-called corporate hierarchy is pushing each one to the brink with unrealistic expectations and goals created by every fabric of society, be it the boss, manager, family or yourself. In my last 34 years of experience I have realized that this thread of hierarchy is inscrutable.

Let’s face it, as long as we are at this place, we must run the human race. There are many questions that arise:

How do we face it?
What set of skills, knowledge and capabilities are needed to scale up in an organization structure?
How to be more productive in order to be successful?
How to achieve expertise?
How to seize new opportunities?
How to deliver value to customers?



The Competency Spectrum

The human survival instinct is reflected in the concept of core competencies, which is a very simple model to build core competencies (Broadwell, 1969; Hamel & Prahalad, 1990). You start with Unconscious Incompetency (UI) then move on to Conscious Incompetency (CI), then to Conscious Competency (CC), and finally to Unconscious Competency (UC).

Let me illustrate with an example. There is a family living in a big apartment complex with a swimming pool. When the parents are not aware, the toddler finds her way out of the house, sees other people moving on top of the water from one end to another, slides into the water but can’t swim. Fortunately, the child is saved. After six months she starts speaking and yet has a fancy to do what the elders are doing. All in all, the child never knew that she has to learn to float on top of the water.

In the CK Prahalad model, this is called Unconscious Incompetency, when are are ignorant, when we are not even aware that we are not aware.

This is what happens to many employees when they are pushed down by severe work pressure, or when there is a new technology to be learnt, or a new framework to be developed. They are exposed to unconscious incompetency. They don’t know that they don’t know.

Now, when the toddler starts to speak, she expresses her interest in going to the pool. Her father tells her that she has to learn to swim. So now she has moved from UI to Conscious Incompetency. She knows that she has to learn to swim, but she doesn’t yet know swimming. So Conscious Incompetency is when we are aware that we are not aware. When a task is assigned to an employee, they are aware they cannot do it and move to CI.

Now let’s consider performance measures, such as goals. If my goal, by the age of 10, is to become the under 10 state swimming champion, then I have to learn the art of swimming. This is termed the “conscious building process of acquiring knowledge and putting that knowledge into practice.” The knowledge that we get through books is not enough; we consciously and consistently put our acquired knowledge into practice so that it becomes our expertise and we implicitly achieve goals.

This process of developing competency in a conscious manner is what Professor Prahalad called Conscious Competency (CC).

For example, you are driving on an unfamiliar road and in an unfamiliar vehicle, which has a new driving system that you have never used. The moment you get into the car, you start checking out the driving system, its settings etc. You also load the maps to check the route in advance. Now you are in high alert mode as the vehicle and the roads are not familiar. This is akin to the process of competency building. When you need to build a competency, you need to be sure of the skills you need and also be conscious of building that competency. Hence the term Conscious Competency (CC).

If these stages are understood by training managers, HR managers and the leadership team, then they will be able to delegate and choose the skilled personnel to implement tasks who can achieve their goals.

Lastly, we move into the ultimate aspect, Unconscious Competency (UC), where everything happens automatically and unconsciously, like your breath – effortless and seamless – because of mastering knowledge and skills to perfection.

This is how Professor Prahalad introduces core competencies into any organization, bringing harmony between multiple resources and skills to make it unique.

To be continued.


Article by PRAKASH SESHADRI



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