In this age when the market is flooded with books on strategies for good leadership and the likes of Jack Welsh and Jim Collins sway millions of hearts, people talk about different perceptions, dimensions, and strategies of effective leadership. But Souma Das, Managing Director & Area VP of Citrix Systems India believes that leadership is all about learning. He says, “In the 20 years of my career I, as an individual, have grown up and evolved into a leader. From the days when I was being led to the present when I am leading an organization, the journey has been constantly on learning and unlearning. If I was influenced by my managers in the past, today I learn a great deal from my colleagues, sometimes even from the junior most among them. In my opinion a leader must have an open mind to view things.” This openness to learning has been his key strength and his concepts on effective leadership are the culmination of the observations he has made in his career spanning twenty years.
They say there are no short cuts to success. Das says there are no short cuts to become a leader. “All the books in the market can influence you for sometime. But to practice the theories mentioned in those bestsellers needs a lot of determination and effort,” observes Das. He believes that an individual can rise as a leader only by learning from his experiences and observation.
There are three characteristics of effective leaders, which Das considers fundamental. He believes that these essential characteristics of a leader are developed in the process of his career marked with learning and observation. The essential characteristics are discipline, passion, and the ability to lead the team. A leader has to be well disciplined in his thoughts and actions. Leadership requires one to always be a step ahead in his thought processes. This is possible only if he has a disciplined mind which helps him to keep focused on the vision in his thoughts and action. Passion is the second element. Without passion, a person will have very little influence as a leader. “I believe that passion provides an individual with the light of leadership and creates an undeniable drive to make a difference,” he explains. His passion for work permeates his team and thus helps him translate his vision to reality.
The third element is the ability to lead the team. This, according to Das, is the quintessential part of leadership. Good leaders must have the ability to motivate, understand, and inspire their followers. It is by the action of leaders that the rules are established. Leaders are responsible for empowering the team and thereby create a culture, determine values, and pass on the principles that will give them more clarity on what is expected out of them. A leader is the force that will stand firm to take anything to its limits with an understanding to facilitate groups of people to adopt a common vision to create effective results.
It goes without saying that good leadership is crucial to any successful business. But what makes a good leader, and how can someone develop himself or herself into a good leader? Das believes that one can be a good leader only by leading by example. A leader has to demonstrate or show the way out to people around you. “I have tried to follow the practices of leaders who not only preach but also practice what they preach. So is the case of people around you. When a leader leads by his own actions he earns the respect of his team and they will start to emulate his model and adopt his beliefs.
Das goes on to explain the different aspects in leading a team. Leading a team is not a simple or easy task he explains. For this reason, he says, a leader may not be a person who is liked by all. A leader has to consistently keep the team aligned to the goals so as to achieve the desired results. According to him motivation, recognition, and appreciation are some of the key tools that help in leading a team. Das also encourages employee participation in problem solving and decision-making. By obtaining and considering the suggestions of the subordinates, he has access to more data, experience, and opinions. He inculcates a sense of belonging and ownership in his team either by delegating total responsibility for tasks or allowing subordinates to participate in problem-solving and decision-making processes. Das also never forgets to appreciate the hard work and sincerity of his teammates. “Whether they succeed each time is secondary. But if they have made the effort to make a difference they deserve appreciation,” he says. But he can be really firm when he does not get what he expects from his team.
It’s often said that the most gifted athlete need not be the best coach. “I do not believe that a person with 10 years experience will be a better leader because he has experience. There could be less experienced persons who can lead better,” he explains. Hence, Das feels that one of the primary responsibilities of a leader is to identify potential leaders within the organization. This is possible only by giving opportunity to everybody, especially the younger generation which is much more adaptable to new circumstances and people.
“Trust your gut,” says Das who feels that what is called intuition, instinct, or common sense is crucial to the refinement of the art of leadership. However, intuition should be derived from in-depth knowledge of things.
Asked what keeps him motivated and be a peak performer, the spontaneous reply is, “Challenges keep me motivated and help me reassess my strengths and weaknesses.” Challenges could be of different types like organizational, market oriented, people related, or at the business level. He says, “Every month or every quarter I try to challenge myself on various things, and my biggest motivation is to achieve that goal set by me.” Whenever challenging situations come up he motivates his team members to see them as opportunities.
A sports person from his young days, Das says that he has acquired major leadership skills like single-minded focus and the deep concern for importance of team building from his favorite sport, cricket. The sport helped him tune up his mind to these characteristics from a very young age.
“Whether you are running an organization or running a project, the success of a leader depends on his ability to best coordinate and communicate with his team as well as in identifying a set of high quality individuals who can perform well in a consistent manner,” says Das before he signs off.