Pearls of Wisdom // Reading for Rebels

adviceOn my flight back from China, I found a copy of Business Today, India's leading business magazine. The Jan 11 issue features a cover story titled: The Best Advice I Ever Got with pearls of wisdom from a handful of very successful business executives — most of them Indian. Because this isn’t a publication that’s in my (or perhaps your) normal radar, I thought that there’s a lot worth sharing. I’m going to break this into a couple posts so your eyes don’t bleed from reading pages and pages. A bunch of the advice fell into one category — leadership — something that’s always important in our endeavors, perhaps moreso with the business and financial challenges we’re all facing at the moment. Here goes…

"Every problem can be traced back to failure of management and leadership. Don't look for excuses or find people or situations to blame, but focus on what you can do to achieve desired results." — Akhil Gupta, Chairman, Blackstone India

Wow, this is a good one. There's another saying that people don't quit companies, they quit managers. It's always tempting to blame someone, especially because people do tend to screw things up. But I believe people are exactly as good or as poor as they are managed. I have to remind myself of this often.

"Share the credit for success; take responsibility for trouble." — G. Madhavan Nair, Chairman, Isro & Space Commission

Every success Rebel has ever had is owed to the teamwork of everyone involved. I do my best to make it apparent that this is not the Josh Levine show. On the other hand, as it says above, every failure is owed to poor leadership, which means I'm ultimately responsible if there's an unhappy client.

"Results matter, efforts don't." — Jignesh Shah, Vice Chairman, MCX

We have a saying that goes something like "never try." If you're going to do something, commit yourself and apply whatever tenacity is necessary to get it done. No more, no less.

I've often seen young employees try to impress me with how hard they're working. Truth is, I hate seeing people work hard. I'd much rather you come in for half days and produce stellar results. That may not be practical, but the point is all that really matters is the results.

"Pay attention to your people. People are the only thing that matters, and the only thing you should think about." — Shelly Lazarus, CEO, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide

I haven't always been good at this. Years ago, an employee told me the sense she got from my management style was that I just needed young people to work for cheap and that she could easily be replaced by new blood eager to get put on. At the time, she was probably right. And while you could argue the value of keeping people from getting complacent is keeping them insecure, I've found it's not much of a motivator to get people to do their best work. I'd say my approach today is much more people-centric. My goal is to never have more people than we need, always hire the best, and let people know that I value their contribution.

"Competence alone is not enough... One needs an ability to convince others and be confident without being arrogant." — M. Rammohan Rao, Dean, India School of Business

Love this one. I've often struggled with the truth that my own success depends on my ability to convince others when I'm right. But that's the truth.

"Take your work seriously, but don't take yourself too seriously." — Piyush Pandey, Chairman, Ogilvy & Mather India

Soon as I read this, the word "swagger" popped into my head. Our world seems to be full of people who take themselves way too seriously and don't give enough weight to their work. From hip hop to Wall Street, the world suffers when we get too wrapped up in ego.

"The most important principle in life is humility and conservatism. Don't try to show off or try to be different for the sake of being different." — Uday Kotak, Managing Director, Kotak Mahindra Bank

Back to the swagger issue. It might work for rappers and celebutantes, but as I said that's usually short lived. The rest of us better keep our stunting in check and focus on the long term. When executives or creative directors start walking around like it’s their show, you know you’ve got trouble.

"Out of every 10 men born in this world, nine work for the tenth. Prepare to be the tenth." — Jamshed Irani, Director, Tata Sons

This hits home for me because I never wanted to work for anyone else. Even when I have, I've also felt that I'm working for myself. I believe a key to success is to embrace both of those situations as complementary rather than mutually exclusive. When I hire, I'm not so much looking for people to work for me as people who are going to work really hard for themselves. If we can align our self interests so that working for oneself and for Rebel and our clients all fits together, then we have a successful relationship.

People who treat me like the boss don't last too long.

Stay tuned for more words of wisdom from this article in the next couple days.