Leadership is an abstract and complex topic. While a lot has been written about leadership, the best way to learn it is through experience. I embarked on my journey as a business leader about 5 years ago, when I moved to Dhaka to manage the Bangladesh operations for Perfetti. It was a wonderful experience with lot of learning and it gave me a great sense of achievement. I now lead the India business which is much bigger in scale and complexity. But some of the fundamental tenets of leadership remain the same.
I have tried to distill my thoughts on leadership into an equation. The popular notion is that managers manage the operations, while leaders lead managers and the businesses. I would like to put forth a thought of how leadership is also about managing – managing some key elements. It’s not without reason that the business leader is often called a Managing Director.
So what does a good leader need to manage?
In my view, 4 key elements- Time, Energy, Expectations and Environment.
It all starts with how you manage your time, and then it expands in concentric circles- how you manage your personal energy, how you manage expectations vs others, and finally how you manage the environment at large.
This can be represented by an equation: L = m (t + e^3), where L stands for Leadership, m is about managing, t is time, and the 3 e’s are energy, expectations and environment.
Let us look at each element in a bit more detail.
Time: All of us know that the time we have is limited, and more so for a leader, who has to handle multiple things. Hence it is important to spend time wisely – to prioritize, to make choices and to be disciplined. There will always be multiple asks for one’s time – for work, for others, for self. There are many ways to manage time effectively and one needs to choose what works best for them. My practice: I wrote my personal mission statement a few years ago, in terms of what are some of the key things which are important to me – and the way I spend my time is governed by this to a large extent. For example, Fitness is important to me, hence I make sure that I commit at least 30 minutes every day for this, no matter where I am.
Energy: Today, energy is a more precious commodity than time. We all have limited amount of energy. Managing our energies has also to do with managing our emotions. There are things that happen through the day – meetings, conversations, experiences – which sometimes energizes us and sometimes sucks out our energy. Hence it is very important to keep replenishing positive energy to maintain the energy equilibrium. And this is where having a passion can come in handy. My practice: Photography is one of my passions and I have found that it helps me in de-stressing and restoring my energy balance. I also regularly practice Yoga, which helps me maintain my mind-body-soul equilibrium and deal better with negative energies.
Expectations: One of the key things for leaders is to manage expectations. There are expectations of internal as well as external stakeholders, and the expectations need to be managed upwards as well as downwards. This can be done through formal meetings or over informal conversations. My practice: I have very often found that stating and seeking expectations with my team and aligning them to the best possible extent, upstream rather than downstream, helps in successfully managing expectations.
Environment: The environment that we operate in is changing at a rapid pace, and in multiple dimensions including consumers, competition, talent, technology, regulatory and so on. One of the key asks for a leader is to manage the environment in the best possible manner. This means keeping one’s eyes and ears open, picking up signals on what could be potential opportunities or threats, and figuring out ways to pro-actively manage them. My practice: I try to have more of an outside-in perspective by pro-actively seeking new learnings to help me better adapt to the changing environment. I do this by reading, by attending relevant forums on a regular basis and through informal networking.
In summary, leading effectively is about managing effectively- managing time, energy, expectations and environment. There is no easy, straight answer on how to manage these. Over the years I have found that if we can mindfully manage these elements better, it will help us to get closer to solving the leadership equation.