“Leadership is the game of plus one”

  14 min 43 sec to read
“Leadership is the game of plus one”

Internationally renowned motivational speaker and corporate trainer Prakash Rohera is an ex-banker who has three decades of experience working in global corporations including Citibank, Bank of America in India and the Indian tech giant HCL Limited. In 1997, he started the corporate training consultancy The Redwood Edge.  Since then, he has been giving leadership trainings both in India and overseas. The trainings have taken Rohera to around 25 countries to conduct workshops for 140 different clients. Over the years, he has conducted more than 2,200 training sessions and workshops for over 125,000 participants. The services of The Redwood Edge include workshops ranging from leadership, sales, coaching for CEOs to public speaking and presentation skills. The consultancy also specialises in holding specific sessions as per the requirements of its client companies. Rohera has been visiting Nepal since 2013 to conduct workshops in association with the National Banking Institute (NBI). In an interview with New Business Age, Rohera shares his views on the importance of leadership training programmes, present and future day challenges to the corporate world in terms of human capital and ways to overcome them. Excerpts:

What do you think are the things that necessitate the leadership training programmes? 
The leadership training programmes that we provide have been changing with the times. The challenges of yesteryears and the present days are different. The technology has been constantly changing. So what used to work well yesterday might not work for tomorrow. That is where a lot of inputs are required. With time, minds, attitude, processes, ethos and work culture of a company changes. And the companies that have been able to adapt are the ones who will succeed. 

That is why trainings have become so essential in the modern day world. Earlier a short training session or a briefing was enough for a company but now full-scale trainings are a necessity. The trainings that we provide have come through various stages. The trainings have evolved over time into customised courses making it more effective and to connect better with the audience. For instance, the training of ‘What’s in it for me?’ or WIIFM in short can provide a lot of answers to the pertinent questions on organisational goals and growth of employees. 

I often say that if you wish to create history, you must first be able to create chemistry. The world today is talking about new technology, machine learning, automation and artificial intelligence. This is somewhere I believe that you need to be able to look at and with the other elements of the human capital. Human capital at different levels has different training requirements. Starting from the frontline people in the organisation and providing them with inputs, we have provided training to different levels of people accordingly, including manual trainings to CEOs. The joy is there in conducting different workshops because the needs are always different. At every level, it is for me to understand whether I am giving them the requisite skill sets or am I grooming the trainees for the next level because the transition of employees is very fast at present. If we do not hurry, we cannot catch up with the world. 

What is leadership to you and how do you think leadership qualities can be created? 
I believe leadership is a journey from the inside to the outside. It is about completing and transforming a vision into a reality. It is about creating more leaders, enabling and empowering them and it is taking people to where they thought they could never reach. It is about people taking the ship to the destination that needs to be reached and along the way, enjoying the ride. That is why I believe that leadership is long term. So when you look at leaders and companies who have succeeded, they had a dream which they turned into a reality. Leaders like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Ratan Tata, Narayana Murthy, Narendra Modi and Binod Chaudhary have made an impact in their relative fields. It is not just the corporate sector that requires leadership. Leadership must be present even in other fields such as sports. 

It is about what excites you to make the change and groom yourself and others. It is all things combined that creates a spark. Just look at the magic Kul Man Ghising, managing director of Nepal Electricity Authority has done.  Then there is E Sreedharan in India who changed the face of the Indian railway system by developing the Delhi Metro and Konkan Railway. They fought against the odds and succeeded. 

Leadership is to believe that you can do it. That is why I say that it starts from the inside to the outside. Leadership is 80 percent attitude and 20 percent aptitude. And then, allowing people to run. Such an approach has created Facebook, Mc Donald’s and Amazon. The leaders of these enterprises created something which was not there and then developed infrastructure, population and landscape to support their creations.

How do you think leaders can create a unique culture in their organisations so they can create great teams and perform better?
Nobody is a born leader. We all evolve. My own career has evolved throughout the years. I have made a lot of mistakes in my life which I still do. But we all learn every day. For a leader to be successful, he must first be a student. I have never heard great people say that they are the best. In Jim Collin’s book ‘Good to Great’ he mentions five levels of leadership. In the level five is a leader with great social achievement and high humility. With the passage of time, one thing that has reduced in humanity is humility. The “I” has become stronger than the “we” and that is where most of the leaders are struggling today. 

Nowadays, they believe in, “show me the money” and imagine that the results will follow. But it is actually the other way round. Results will follow only if leaders can create a vision and a statement by defining the “how” part. We have to move from transactional leadership to transformational leadership. Transactional leadership centres on one activity while the latter focuses on creating an environment where everything is synergistic. It’s like the saying that goes, “You cannot create an orchestra by whispering.” So a leader has to engage each individual in an organisation to play their strengths and create an orchestra. It is not just about a single performance. It’s like Messi scoring a goal or Virat Kohli hitting a hundred. The excitement they have is about making magic happen. And leadership is to believe in the success and make sure others believe in it too. There is a saying, “I don’t mind if my leader is slow as long as I know he is going in the right direction.”

Leaders in organisations need to move away from using the word “subordinates” and use the word “team members”. They need to have a collaborative mindset. Companies never make profit. It is the people who do. Leaders create destinies, balance sheets, workforce, environment, economy and the world power. Today, the world really needs some strong leaders. We’re going through some pretty tough times but I’m sure the issues in leadership will be figured out. 

Is it that we need some leaders as role models?
Yes, there has to be role models. It’s like creating value proposition at both internal and external levels. If there are certain value propositions, sooner or later people will be able to realise that value. What that value means is what it means to an organisation and to an individual. But the challenge is how? It is about selling the vision of the organisation as a family.  And what connects the people engaged to achieve a common organisational goal is the belief. If the employees are connected with a common belief, they will be able to build up a collaborative effort to achieve the goals. 

Look at a sports team. There may be a star performer but if he/she doesn’t have a connection with other players, the team will never be able to show results. Lots of leaders know how to grow and encourage the talented people because talent is what makes the difference. In today’s world, we have different people who have different sets of skills. So it is important for the companies to harmonise the different skills of different people. Leadership is not easy to achieve. It requires continuous effort, commitment and a lot of planning. Leadership is about what you think when you are alone and what you say when you are in public. 

Imagery and strategic thinking are very critical in leadership and are necessary to become a role model. Either you like a leader or you respect a leader. What you feel and respect is what you earn. People work for the leaders not because they have to. They work because they want to. This is what I think is the essence of leadership. People who aspire to become leaders in their fields need to keep asking themselves “Am I adding value?” and “Am I better than what I was yesterday?” 

One can also count in value addition chain management, performance improvement and being the first mover. What did Starbucks and Facebook do? They created markets that didn’t even exist before their advent. So, it could be even a simple restaurant but it should be able to make a difference. It is because of something special the restaurant offers which will be its plus point. Leadership is the game of plus one. 

Words such as digitisation, automation and disruption are no longer only in books. Such words are a reality at present. As a trainer I have changed the ways I lead so much in the past 20 years and I still believe that I need to go a long way. 

You have trained many corporate people in Nepal over the last four years. What are your impressions about Nepali professionals? 
Nepalis are wonderfully warm. I’ve noticed that it is the culture that makes them so. There are more team celebrations. Elements like loyalty, commitment and eagerness to learn greatly exist here. A lot of senior leaders have a lot of participation in the events and willingness to learn new things. 

However, there is room for improvement for Nepali professionals in terms of focusing more on time to think and to be a little more connected to the people at the grassroots. The leaders should also scale up their knowledge to become complete. I have met a few great leaders here with high knowledge levels. But I think the leaders need to create a learning culture not just for them but to create a platform for other people in their organisations to gain knowledge. Leaders need to have more fire within them than outside. If the fire is not there, leadership cannot sustain. Networking is another aspect Nepali professionals need to focus on. It creates business opportunities and gives them more exposure to a corporate environment. 

Nepali banking industry leaders have been facing tough times over the last few years following the new paid-up capital and other various requirements. How can they lead their institutions more effectively in this context? 
Nepal’s banking system has been going through a lot of transition lately. Mergers and consolidations in the country’s banking sector are happening quite fast due to the new paid-up capital policy requirements.  With the additional paid-up capital, there will be a lot more pressure on banks to become innovative to sustain their balance sheets in a healthy way and to be cost effective. All this has been adding more pressure and challenges to the bankers to move ahead. Nonetheless, banking will become easier for the customers. Overall it will be a big learning experience for people in the Nepali banking industry. 

Bankers need to adapt to the new business environment and upgrade their skills accordingly. Otherwise, they will be left behind. They need to have proper strategies and sound knowledge to be able to cross the hurdles. There will be a lot of pressure on employees. The management should be more open to listen to the staff. Open town hall meetings are an effective way in this regard to become more transparent. There should be more forums within the institutions where various issues are discussed. Employees need a lot of assurances. And the best way to assure them is through open-ended communication. Open discussions will help to address different issues that remain unaddressed within the organisations ultimately increasing the productivity. Boundaries and cabins within organisations are being merged. So the more openness is created, the more beneficial it will be for the institutions. It will reduce the level of fear that persists in the organisations. Anxiety and fear of the unknown are the biggest problems of productivity. 

Why is it important for a leader to focus largely on “people development”? 
People are the biggest assets any company can have. Companies have products, processes and people. All products and processes are useless if there are no people. 

It is the people who drive economies, nations, organisations and families. I always say “Is it a house or is it a home? Who makes a home?” It is the people who do. It is the people who make the corporate entities profitable. 

With the growing competition the world over, talent is becoming rare and companies need to groom the people.  Today there is a big challenge from the millennials, something that the whole world is facing. The millennials are a lot more restless, ambitious and their expectations are quite high. They are more intelligent than the past generations. If they don’t find the answers to their queries in an organisation, they will look outside for alternatives. 

Human capital is a critical part in organisational management where the available human resource needs to be groomed differently at various levels and requirements. The experienced employees over 50 years of age require a different way of handling. They need to be upgraded. As for youngsters who are restless, they need a different kind of exposure and rather than trainings, they require a lot of mentoring. So to be successful at a younger level requires a lot of mentoring. But the challenge will be to find the right mentor. 

Leaders are about building careers. If you can build a career, you will be able to benefit a lot. Youngsters should be able to see the value proposition. The career is rather a pyramid. So how people move through the pyramid is where they need leadership intervention, counseling, mentoring and coaching. 

 What message would you like to give to aspiring leaders in Nepal? 
There are five words to keep in mind. First is passion. Passion spreads, it is persistence and perseverance. And to be the best in what you are doing. Second is to become an expert in whatever you do. And third is to become dreamers. The tragedy of life is not about being unable to reach one’s dreams. The tragedy is having no dreams to reach. And whatever dreams you have, make sure to set a deadline. 

The fourth is to enjoy life. You only live once. I find people are very tense these days. The index of happiness is going down. We need to remember what we are working for. That is to enjoy life and celebrate it with family and friends. 

And the fifth is to remove negativity. Positivity spreads fast but negativity spreads faster. So watch out for people around you with negativity. Nurturing and growing yourself in that environment is going to be tough. Also learn to say “no” to a few things in life. The day is full. So you have to remove some parts in it in order to add something else. To learn, one must first unlearn.

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