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For a leadership DNA

Can you actually train leaders to lead better? Infosys is so sure of this that it has assigned an entire institute and a multi-layered training programme to build a leadership chain, reports Anita Sharan.

business Updated: Feb 27, 2008 23:21 IST
Anita Sharan

A challenging business environment where most organisations are grappling with the need for good managers to take business forward, some organisations are working at developing their own leaders. Of these, Infosys Technologies is perhaps among the first to have set up a leadership institute formally.

The Infosys Leadership Institute (ILI), located at Mysore, aims at enhancing management depth and grooming potential leaders on an ongoing basis. Girish Vaidya, senior VP & head, ILI, says, “Around 2000, we went through an assessment of our business and the way we were doing it. One need area that we identified was to have a structured way of developing leaders.” He points out that iconic leaders are few but they don’t “build” institutions. “Leadership is a continuous process.”

The institute has identified three levels of leaders that it selects and trains. Tier I leaders comprise of unit heads – currently, 53 such leaders with work experience of 20-25 years have been identified.

Tier II comprises of leaders who have 15-20 years of experience and will take up senior positions in three-to-five years. Currently, 180 such leaders have been identified.

Tier III comprises of leaders who will move into Tier II positions in three-to-five years. This tier has the largest number of identified leaders at 530.

“With all three tiers, we work on what we call the ‘power of one’ – identifying one area of improvement and one area of strength for each leader,” says Vaidya. A structured Leadership Competency Model is used, under which nine competencies have been identified:

i) strategic leadership – creating strategies and making others understand them;
ii) operational leadership, against competitive benchmarks;
iii) change leadership – developing change initiatives and convincing the team on them;
iv) context leadership in a specific area of expertise/function;
v) relationship building leadership to relate to and network with external and internal stakeholders effectively;
vi) entrepreneurial leadership;
vii) adversity leadership – crisis management or business downturns;
viii) transition leadership to manage transition into the mother company during an acquisition; and
ix) talent leadership to develop talent on an ongoing basis.

While all three tiers are exposed to different development programmes – the Leaders Teach series where Infosys leaders talk of their own experiences, and the Distinguished Speaker series in which global masterminds are invited to talk – Tier I is also mentored by the company’s board of directors.

Another interesting component is giving experiences in areas the participants themselves identify as desirable for exposure. “For example, crisis association for Tier III leaders,” explains Vaidya.

While all this sounds impressive, how does Infosys ensure such development initiatives don’t remain theoretical and temporary in their impact? Vaidya is quick to point out the effectiveness measures adopted for the leadership drive.

The first is that leadership development is a top-down propagation. Second, there is measurability through a “leadership capability appraisal on various parameters. An average score for the entire company is taken annually and we check if it has moved forward.

Third, we also do regular audits. Fourth, after the training, we give development assignments spanning two-three months to each leader – the manager the leader reports to, is involved and has to give us feedback finally. This way, we involve the managers in the process too. And finally, there is a specific leadership index for a leader to measure the achievement of his own success.”

The core idea: “the right techniques make a better player, as in cricket,” states Vaidya. The big idea: “To develop and pass on a leadership DNA within the organisation.”

Through a structured framework of training, a transition learning for taking on new roles is streamlined.