Saturday, October 27, 2012

A TRANSFORMATIONAL LEADER


I do not usually read  books on organizational or leadership development.  It is not that I am not interested. It is just that I believe  it is something  that cannot be understood  through words but has to be experienced .So what I am going to do now is to try and share with you the experience of working with a  person who can definitely be called a “ transformational”  leader.. 

I saw his picture before I met him. I had just joined this organization in 2005 as part of a new team at a new location. I was given a computer which was used by a couple of others before it was passed on to me. While browsing through the files, I saw this picture of his. He had his arms around an old lady who was very upset at having lost her entire family in the tsunami. The picture was obviously a candid shot – neither knew that it was being taken. There was something very powerful about that picture. I could see compassion and empathy in his eyes – something that is usually missing in all those pictures that  I had previously seen of politicians posing similarly. I asked someone about who the picture was of. This person told me his name and added “ This man NEVER gets angry” .  

When I actually met him and started working with him, I realized how true that little comment was! It is not that he did not get angry but just that he expressed it differently. A man who had such a strong rein on his emotions that it was unbelievable!  He had a quality that I have NEVER seen in any human being ( particularly in someone who was not much older than me )so far – he radiated peace! It reminded me of those paintings of the Buddha.

The situation that he was sent to manage at that time was not a pleasant one. There were a lot of team issues not to mention problems relating to operations. I don’t know how he did it but somewhere along the way things started falling into place. And the best thing about him was that he never blamed anyone for any mess ups but openly acknowledged that whatever happened he was “ accountable” ! After a particularly stressful meeting once where people were unwilling to take responsibility for doing certain tasks for fear of being blamed if anything went wrong, his statement about accountability took us by surprise! I have been his fan ever since!

However, I would not say that dealing with him was in any way  like dealing with the Buddha! He was the most demanding of all the bosses that I have ever  had! And the funny thing about him was that he never actually made those demands. He just got us to perform in a way that we wanted to excel. He unleashed that passion in all of us in the most subtle ways. Something that was a mere task  until recently ,now took on a different meaning. Those were the days  when I worked, reworked again and again on a report until I was satisfied with it! Needless to say the output pleased him too..

A special skill that he had was working under stress –whether it was external as in managing an emergency or a team conflict. There was a joke that used to go around  about how he was particularly good at managing “difficult women” in his team( you can guess who helped him in further honing those skills.) We were three women in his team and while I would not say that we were difficult, we were certainly strong individuals who had our own views on how something ought to be done. I think his skill lay in helping us understand the other’s perspective and negotiate.

A rather quiet and shy man, he used to often get “bullied” by us women in  other ways. PP who was known for her brand of double meaning jokes usually made him her target. The poor man just stopped short of blushing at some of her comments! But that did not mean he did not have a sense of humor. An extremely witty man, his subtle brand of humor was something that all of us enjoyed. The Tamil accent in Chennai used to puzzle him a lot until he decided to “adopt” it - with extremely funny consequences! Lunch breaks used to be like something out of a school as we roared with laughter ( the women’s laughter being the loudest).

A man who had begun his career from an entry level  position in the organization, his special skill lay in being able to understand the challenges faced by people way down in the hierarchy !  It also meant that he knew when someone was lying or trying to fool him about some work. I remember him saying to someone “I have worked at almost all levels in this organization. So I know how things work there.” As someone once said “ It is difficult to bullshit to him” !! He used to be very open about what he did not know or understand, asking people to explain new concepts to him. When the person launched into jargon his comment would be      “ Cut the Angrezi and explain what this is actually all about”. I remember having to do it a couple of times- the kind of clarity  that came in me as a result of having to explain something to him and clear his doubts helped me develop a new confidence in my own abilities!

He was my boss for just two years before he moved on to a more senior position. But those two years were something I will certainly remember- particularly the annual performance appraisals where his review would extend beyond what we did as work to how we performed as human beings.

I think I was sometimes guilty of passing on my stress to him. I realize now that many people have done it and are probably still doing it..! The problems are bigger now as he is more senior but I still see him continuing to absorb them like a sponge.

I also see the toll that this has taken on him physically- a once very handsome man, he has today lost almost all his hair. His health problems have increased his weight. Sometimes I wonder why does he take it all.. ?

Transformational leadership  is  considered to enhance the motivation, morale, and performance of followers through a variety of mechanisms like  connecting the follower's sense of identity and self to the project and the collective identity of the organization. Such leaders are role models for followers inspiring them and keeping them interested while also challenging them to take greater ownership for their work.

He did that and much more.. I will need to write an entire book if I have to analyze it more. I am glad that in the seven and a half years that I spent with this organization that I am currently transitioning from, I had the opportunity to spend an entire two year period working with him.

Thanks boss… it was a GREAT experience and this organization is lucky to have someone like you there!

11 comments:

anilkurup said...

Great Bosses and wonderful teachers are manna from heaven. Since my exposure as an employee is now limited to only about 7 to 9 years of my career, I was not fortunate to run into excellence in the form of a Boss. But yes teachers there were a few .
You mean he was not angered? can any man be so?

Jack said...

Meera,

His are the kind of people who make working worthwhile for others. One needs to lead by example and not by just orders. There are very few such persons.

Take care

SG said...

Excellent. It is rare that we come across such bosses nowadays. A leader who inspires his people.

KParthasarathi said...

A glowing tribute.After reading it I felt he fits to the T this quote by Stephen Covey.
"I am personally convinced that one person can be a change catalyst, a 'transformer' in any situation,any organisation.Such an individual is yeast that can leaven an entire loaf.It requires vision,initiative,patience,respect,
persistence,courage, and faith to be a transforming leader."

Deepa said...

You are lucky to have worked with a senior who inspires you. It is very rare to find 'leaders' one can at best find good 'managers'. There is a difference. I was fortunate to work under a very good leader. He is very strategic and a great problem solver. I remember if I walked into his chamber all stressed out and asking for help, he would beam as if I had just given him a prize!

And after reading your post, it appears that leaders have similar qualities. They have an empathy for people, set high standards and also help you achieve them, are in control of their emotions and also create new leaders.

anindita said...

A very inspirational and motivational piece, Meera. Thanks for posting this.

Divya said...

It was nice reading this :) Good to know that the world still has such great leaders even today :)

Meera Sundararajan said...

Thanks folks- but what I have written is only the tip of the ice berg- he is this and MUCH more.. essentially a good human being -rare to find these days!

Cloud Nine said...

Wow...a nice tribute to someone special. This kind of leaders are a rare find these days. Good that you worked under someone so genuine.

sunil deepak said...

Three fourths of your post was making me feel envious but the last part, stress taking its toll and absorping people's problems has a cost, made me stop - I would prefer to have him as my boss than try to be like him! Does that sound very selfish?

Gayu said...

@KP, agree with you totally.
Meera, this post moved me really. There are very few leaders, who have the ability to positively influence their subordinates.
You are so lucky to have one.

Even I have one such Team Leader in our office. Its fun to be with him. He motivates us to perform.

Loved your post.!!

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