Conscious Corporate Leadership – What it Takes to Become a Corporate Leader

Conscious Corporate Leadership – What it Takes to Become a Corporate Leader

Well, l doesn’t have a great insight about who a corporate leader is. But most of us can easily name them. Is it easy to challenge oneself, to go up on the Wall of Fame? No! Then why are we striving to recognize the need to become one that has a long path to achieve? Who is a corporate leader? There is no distinct answer to these questions. However, we shall delve into the concept to gain more cognizance. Mukesh Ambani, Lakshmi Mittal, Azim Premji, Shiv Nadar, Larry Page, Ratan Tata, Narayana Murthy, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Indra Nooyi, Nisaba Godrej, Isha Ambani, Vinita Gupta, Jeff Bezos, Jack ma, Tim Cook, Bill Gates and many more. Do you know why I harked back to this exhaustive list of top-notch business leaders despite knowing that every Indian just like you and me and those on the streets can name them instantly? It is in these names that we have witnessed the essence, ethos, and quintessence of a true Corporate Leader. I can just write down who a corporate leader is, their stories, successes, and failures. But I’m not going to do that. It’ll only be an amphigory. In fact, a Fortune 500 or Forbes top 100 list will do that task better than me.

It is every management student’s dream to scale up the corporate ladder and to attain a sustaining and an enriching position in the corporate world. Before that, there are certain prerequisites to reach that pinnacle. If I put them into practice, then my dream to ratchet up the corporate ladder will be successful. Firstly, I need to map out a long-term career blueprint knowing where I want to see myself in the next 20-30 years. Be it as a CEO or the President or a Zonal Head, I need to be tenacious and be willing to create new facets of me as I work and grow through each position in the organization. These terms – CEO, CFO, COO, CMO, CTO, President, Vice President, Executive, and others sound bonzer. However, only an eager beaver can be propitious. While listening to an interview of Indra Nooyi hosted by Udayan Mukherjee, she says that having an aspiration is crucial but don’t miss out on the current job that you have. In the sense, give your 110% to the one in your hands which alone will set the tone for the future positions that you are going to settle with. I need to ascertain the greater milestones which I must reach. This can be done by envisioning an ideal career path that I want for myself. I must become actionable, show initiatives, and never miss out on learning however small they may appear. Opportunities tap the doors of those who showcase their potential by outperforming manager’s expectations. To be promoted, I need to stand out from the rest by striving for excellence in professional conduct and the work that I produce.

Even before I am making plans about the future, I need to articulate what I already have working out for me. I must bring my plans, actions and its outcomes to a scrutiny and continuously gauge them for knowing where my drawbacks and advantages are. Amelioration is the reward for evaluation. A vision without the ability to execute is going to be a delusion. There are some wisdom bites that have bolstered my ambition all along. I believe they will help me become an exemplary corporate leader one day.

  • Embracing what I don’t know is the key to tapping new horizons: I must be open to risks. Chris Davenport has best described what he meant by risk which I still fancy coming across while listening to one of his TED Talks on Risk management – “Risk is the potential of an action to go wrong.” [1] There is another video on risk management by a professional kayaker – Steve Fisher, which I recently came across and I wish to share through this essay to the reader.[2] Check the links to the videos given at the end of this article.
  • One should dream more than others think it to be practical. Whatever the challenge be, I know that I am on a journey which I can’t step back from. Despite my planning there can be many things that may not happen the way I thought. This could be a blessing in disguise too. However, I shall not deviate from what I’ve set for myself.
  • Channelizing your energy in the right direction: Instead of becoming enlightened on what I am not capable of doing, I should instead know what I can do. That’s where the algorithm of success works. Sometimes, the tasks I can do are an exception for others. This is where I can create a niche for myself. Become an extraordinary person by doing ordinary work. Many try to imitate others and want to do weighted tasks that bear a lot of significance to an individual who wants to be there in the limelight. However, executing smaller tasks with precision is a sign of efficacy. This is followed by doing larger tasks with a certain veracity as that skill is all set from performing smaller tasks diligently.

I recently came across a marvelous book by Carly Fiorina, titled “From Secretary to CEO”. She is known for her tenure as the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, the first outsider in the 60-year-old legacy of HP, an American businesswoman and politician. Carly was the first woman to lead a Fortune Top-20 company. However, this business leader’s journey has been rugged when she was a CEO. She was criticized for planning to merge HP with Compaq in 2001. Later, she resigned after disagreement with her fellow board members. Under her leadership, a company that missed nine quarterly profit targets in a row, could cut costs, remove 30,000 jobs, and lay off 1,45,000 HP and Compaq workforce. It was a tough decision to lay off that many people. However, she had a responsibility to restore the company. Obviously, Carly’s decision to merge HP and Compaq was to save HP from dwindling. Although this was an essential move, it was highly criticized by many. The company lost half of its market value and incurred heavy job losses as I have already mentioned. The company was plagued with ineffective management and has endured numerous problems while scampering to survive. Though the steps taken by Carly were effective in meeting short run goals, on a long run, the merger was a failure. Within the short span of her work as a CEO, it is undeniable that HP had a setback.

Percept: The inception of a corporate leader is not as puzzling as it seems to be. Even if someone is elected to become a CEO or the Chairperson, there is a lot more to what it portrays. Unanimously, employees or the board members choose a leader to run the business. Therefore, it is understandable how meticulously a collective decision is taken while choosing someone to sit at the top. Merely being picked up by everyone is not enough; that doesn’t make one a leader. Some individuals have a natural flair at corporate leadership. This is because of their long-term presence in the corporate world that shaped them into someone that they have proven to be now. Sheer diligence and a thriving ambition to contribute to the firm’s success, places them at top positions. I find myself on the same page.

Having an ambition is one part and translating it into reality is another. The crux of being a true corporate leader is – consistency in putting efforts while navigating through various corporate positions. There is a famous business quote by Mary Barra, CEO of GE – “Do every job you’re in like you’re going to do it for the rest of your life and demonstrate that ownership of it.” It’s not going to be a cake walk when one has an ambition as high as becoming a corporate leader. Absolute involvement in the work that you do will help you evolve as well as stand up for what you wish to become. This requires one to have forbearance and be committed to the aspiration without giving up. Probably, I am sounding a bit cliché, as I have started to swiftly drift towards philosophical references in corporate leadership. For me, these are maxims that form a basis to access the destination I wish to reach. Sitting here in IPE’s eminent classrooms, I can only exploit every opportunity to the fullest. This will set the tempo for what I must look out for in the corporate world. I will come across a paradigm shift in the way I look at what comes my way and what I will reach out to once I get my first job. Till then I must keep tweaking myself to best suit the corporate standards.

Every business leader has something that they wish to offer to the company, its people (employees, stakeholders, and their target audience) and to the society. Every corporate leader is uniquely positioned in the society and by the corporate for what they bring to the table. Interestingly, I’ve come up with some refreshing attributes for a corporate leader. Jack Ma – Creating companies that outlive its founders; Reshma Saujani – Closing the gender gap in the tech world; Brian Chesky – reshaping the hospitality sector; Ilya Sutskever – is at the forefront of AI revolution; Kevin Johnson – a CEO who takes blames for employees’ mistakes; Mukesh Ambani – A go-getter who disrupted the telecom industry with JIO and plans on placing Reliance in Top 20 companies of the world and so on. When business leaders are driven by what they want to offer or create, rather than what they want to take, that’s where they have truly won the battle.

Of all the corporate leaders, Ratan Tata inspires majority of the people, including me. His vision is a flagship for the corporate world till date. He made sure that everyone in the organization adheres to and exhibits Tata values, within and outside the firm. This huge conglomerate’s success is rooted in its values – Integrity, responsibility, excellence, pioneering and unity. Ratan Tata remained stalwart throughout his tenure in the Tata group. I’ve been galvanized by his words, “A life without excitement, ups and downs is too boring and dull. You need to be a storyteller to your grandchildren, why don’t you prepare for that from now? We get this life only once; experience every aspect of it. No one ever has grown without falling once, fail as many times as you can, then only you can succeed. So quit complaining and start exploring,” he has said. His name itself draws a lot of reverence and Tata group is recognized because of this great corporate leader. His simplicity, philanthropy and vision are no new to this world. He is a true embodiment of leadership. He, as a leader, had a knack for exploring new ventures and tapping potential technologies; I have bragged enough about him. However, someone who has received Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan is no less to be canvassed about.

There are many corporate leaders who have evinced what it takes to survive in the corporate world. These days, many corporations are struggling especially during the pandemic due to reduced operations of the economy. To be at par with the economies of scale, corporates are slimming down (removing of employees or cutting costs or stepping back from unprofitable collaborations etc.) in many aspects as their businesses are on ventilators. The recent coal crisis in China and the same which was touch and go in India, shows how scarce our resources are; this downsized the operations in China. China was more concerned of becoming economically backward rather than what will happen to its people. A series of power cuts have halted the production leaving its economic indices shivering. It is so obvious that these resources can get over by the end of 2050 leaving no scope for survival thereafter. Environmentalists will keep researching and giving us flabbergasting facts about resource depletion. However, it is in the hands of these businesses to revive the exhausting resources or rather shrink their consumption of raw materials drawn from the environment to make sure they don’t entirely vanish from the planet. Else, we need to visit a petrochemicals museum or a botany museum to know what resources were like. This is where I want to highlight another aspect of who a corporate leader is. He/she is not a corporate leader:

  • Who is solely driven by the thirst to excel and ignores the subtler aspects of life and ecosystem. However individually we may differ, we all are interdependent. So far, I have seen corporate leaders who have used earth’s resources to create products and services that facilitate survival. In the sense, it is basically understood that we created a car/ bus/ scooter/ aero plane/ train for transportation, books and stationery for education, factories and industries and various other facilities to perform the core functions of production of finished goods to be dispatched to the retailers ultimately reaching the consumers. Businesses must consciously draw resources from the planet and should ensure that they are accountable for their actions and must give back to the planet by consciously taking care of the environment.
  • Merely depending on innovation, R&D and tech advancement will not be a good alternative when already the core resources that we depend on have started to deplete. I mean to say that even to facilitate R&D or Tech, we need certain resources. Therefore, businesses shouldn’t heavily depend on these resources that are nonrenewable or exhaustive in nature. Though it is a great source for aiding production of goods and services, a true corporate leader will not push it on to CSR for reviving them all back. By then, we may truly not be able to ascertain how positive or negative the situation can be.

I bring forward a new concept of Conscious Corporate Leadership. Today’s world fancies coining terms that are used intemperately till they are insipid or lack originality of action. Corporates are highly actionable and have a constant interaction with the environment. They have a greater chance and choice to do good to the planet as they have a larger scope to do so. The very inception of any business is based on the raw materials that we get from the planet. Businesses must consciously choose what to offer and what not to offer to the society. They are the trustees of the society. Therefore, they should take up this responsibility of moderately using the resources and start acquainting the society to consciously consume only what the society wants. Here I would like to coin another term Conscious Consumption. We should know what to consume and how much to consume. It is not a barrier to business when they drive society towards this. This won't scale down the profits of a firm. Instead, it is a true leadership quality of the business itself. It is only going to waste our time and energy when we sit and discuss climate change and global warming. Such claptraps have been encouraged for a long time and still we haven’t changed our actions. So, as I delved into this matter where it encompasses all the key points that I have been discussing so far, I wanted to make sure that environment is the key aspect of any business functioning. The highest authority in the corporate world is the corporate leader (CEO, CFO etc.) Therefore, a transformation in their style of leading the firm will bring a paradigm shift in what is happening out and to the world. Businesses need to focus on profits, growth and expansion, but it should not take away that which is of the society. Later, it will be catastrophic by the time we start to realize and try to revive the planet back to its optimal state of providing resources. This is where a change in leadership will set everything on the right track. This is what I want to be, once I get to lead a conglomerate, to show the world what it is. As a true Conscious Corporate Leader, I shall bring a reformation in the consumption style and patterns of the society that shrinks its excessive usage of consumption to a Conscious Consumption which is more appropriate. Businesses should not compromise on the welfare of the people and the planet's while conducting business.



About the Author

Ms. Alla Sai Namrata, Intern, National Institute for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (NIMSME) and Pursuing Master of Business Administration at Institute of Public Enterprise.

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