A few days before Chanda Kochhar took charge as the MD and CEO of ICICI Bank in 2009, her peer Shikha Sharma, who was until then heading ICICI Prudential, put in her papers at the organisation she had been committed to, for nearly three decades. The writing on the wall for Sharma, who was senior to Kochhar in the organisation, had been clear since late 2008, when Kochhar was named as KV Kamath’s successor — that the corner office belonged to her younger colleague.
While little is known of what clinched the deal in Kochhar’s favour, Sharma had two options — to wallow in self-doubt, or to chart out a new course. Incidentally, just around the time Kochhar took charge in 2009 as the head of India’s largest private sector bank, Sharma made headlines by being named as the MD and CEO of the country’s third largest private sector bank, Axis Bank.
Sharma, of course, vindicated the faith reposed in her by increasing the bank’s net profit by 134%, in the three years she has been at the helm, to R4,242 crore in the last financial year, from R1,815 crore in 2008-09.
But while Sharma may have gained greater glory, others have not been so lucky. T Mohandas Pai, erstwhile CFO of Infosys who quit last year after serving for 17 years, had made no secret of his ambition to lead the company where he was the most prominent non-founder.
So how does someone who loses the ‘race’ make a comeback and motivates himself/herself afresh? Former head of GE in India and CEO, Bharat Light and Power, Tejpreet Chopra, says that while it is natural for any contender to the CEO’s post to feel upset about not getting the post, one needs to be mature enough.
“Any one who’s a contender for the leadership position has reached a certain high level and is a driven individual and everybody knows that it (getting the CEO’s post or not) is part and parcel of the game,” he said.
It also may not be necessary for the one who has lost out, to leave the organisation. “One has to be really hungry about the top job with the required energies to make a comeback,” observes Richard Rekhy, head of advisory, KPMG India. “One could take a sabbatical, refresh oneself, and most importantly stay relevant.”
In their book, Firing Back: How Great Leaders Rebound After Career Disasters, authors Jeffrey Sonnenfeld and Andrew Ward argue that past triumphs of the CEOs can quickly come to nought by the very same qualities that helped them blaze a trail.
“When a devastating career setback hits such superachievers, they feel a greater shame because their loss of self-esteem, their loss of influence, and their loss of self-reliance are so very public,” the duo write in their book.
Headhunter Sonal Agarwal, country managing partner of Accord Group, says that a senior level executive, considered leadership material in their organisations, should not view their missing out on the top job as a failure. “The fact that a professional had a serious shot at the top job means that he has considerable market value —and other organisations are usually happy to look at exceptional leadership talent,” she said.
One way of preventing career frustrations from building up in an organisation is to regularly have a churn at the top leadership level. HUL for instance, has seen several of its India leadership team — Keki Dadiseth, M S Banga and Harish Manwani being ready examples — go on to head units overseas, allowing elbow room in India for the next rung of leadership to make a dash for the corner office.
How open should a leader be to criticism from subordinates?
Knowledge and learning are parallel rail tracks — they move together but never meet. One of the things we often miss out is about our own self, the ‘You’, which we take for granted. As a leader it’s important to understand that there could be gaps in how others perceive you. And one of the ways to do that is by soliciting feedback and to be open to criticism.
Since a leader has to take people along, it’s important to align actions, decisions in a way that help people accept, follow and believe in their leader. The leader needs to continuously seek views, thoughts and feedback and be reorienting. Reorienting is not necessarily always warranting a change but it could just mean more communication and clearing the air.
A leader though will need to be skilled to filter, assess and act on what matters the most.
(Srinivas Rao Cheedella, MD, Laurus Edutech)
In today’s world of fast changing business, it is important to have a connect with the employees at the ground level. This can be achieved through a policy of transparency and open door approach. Employees should be encouraged to approach any leader within an organisation and share feedback and views on issues.
The management should also strive to build a culture of healthy debates, challenges and should be open to criticism. However, the operative word would be constructive criticism.
The clear guideline on suggestions should be that so long as it supports the cause of the development, it is constructive culture, which should be encouraged. However, employees should also bear in mind the words of Epictetus “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”(Vijender Singh, MD, Pantel Technologies)