Success in management is based on courage

23rd October 2006, ECONOMIC TIMES

Management is about leadership--of people, of ideas, of markets. It is not merely about how far you go, and definitely not about doing what you are told to do; it is about doing what you are paid to do. Managers need to remind themselves about this eternal truth.

23rd October 2006, ECONOMIC TIMES

Management is about leadership–of people, of ideas, of markets. It is not merely about how far you go, and definitely not about doing what you are told to do; it is about doing what you are paid to do. Managers need to remind themselves about this eternal truth.

Courage is not just another leadership quality like intelligence, compassion and determination. In reality, it is the iron ladder on which all the other virtues sit. Without this iron ladder of courage, other virtues will not be effective.

The quality of this ladder of courage is determined and defined by you; it is what you live by.

Courage is not only for the CEO or the iconic top layer; courage is about everyday things done by managers through an organization. The story of a senior manager, Praveen, is instructive.

At his retirement function, his colleagues had assembled for company dinner in the usual manner. The evening programme was progressing predictably. When the speeches began, I thought to myself, ‘this would be the most predictable’.

Praveen first said the usual stuff—grateful to his colleagues, apologies to those he had offended inadvertently, and promise to keep in touch. Suddenly, Praveen’s speech turned very different.

“As you know, my role for several years has been to co-ordinate capital sanctions. Many of you have probably felt that I asked too many questions and retarded the speed of capital expenditure. I have made known my view that, in recent years we as managers had become lax with regard to capital expenditure. We want to spend quickly, but later, we write off. We install equipment and then fail to use it the way we had planned to.

Cash is the most important resource in any company, and we all know that our company gobbles cash for capital expenditure. My career may have suffered because I was perceived to slow down expenditure. But I feel satisfied that due to my efforts, along with all of you, the company saved Rs XYZ crores of valuable cash in the last five years. If this money had been allowed to be spent more easily, we might have Rs XYZ crores less cash and, who knows, I may have advanced another level in my career! For me, that is a contribution I am proud of. I am satisfied that I acted in a particular way because I was paid to do so.”

And then, he sat down—a few seconds of dead silence later, to a round of applause.

If we analyze his speech in the format of academic thinkers, Merom Klein and Rod Napier (The Courage To Act), Praveen demonstrated the power of the CPWRR formula—candour, purpose, will, rigour, risk—in the
discharge of his everyday duties.

Candour means the quality of speaking out in a constructive and contributing way. Speaking out in a criticizing and carping way is unproductive.

Purpose is about pursuing lofty and ambitious goals. Praveen realized that his industry was a cash burner, that even at his level within the company he could contribute to the judicious usage of cash. He could have taken the easy option of leaving it to his bosses.

Will is the ability to inspire optimism. Praveen placed alternatives on the table, he did not merely ask ‘clever’ questions. He added energy to the role he was playing.

Rigour means the discipline to put a process in place. Praveen insisted that the justification for expenditure should follow a predetermined format. In the process, he was perceived as bureaucratic.

Risk is the willingness to trust others to do their bit, while accepting the consequences of your own actions.

It is not enough to have three or four of the above CPWRR. All five need to work together, a bit like the cylinders of a motorcar.

The story shows that courage is an everyday thing that common managers can practice.

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