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Leadership Through Relevance

by Hemant Jain

Satya Nadella asked Steve Ballmer in a management performance review how he stacked up against “greats” from Microsoft Corp.’s past. The chief executive called the question “nonsense”, because it didn’t focus on the future of the company. That moment transformed Mr.Nadella’s thinking. “What drives me every morning and what keeps me up every night is one thing: this business is not about longevity, it’s about relevance,” Mr.Nadella said.

So, how do we and our companies stay relevant in this ever-changing world?

When I graduated from IIT in 1982, the buzzwords then were ‘business data processing’, ‘RDBMS’ and a few other technologies. Those who joined the bandwagon and stayed in those technologies have been left behind. Those who kept up with the changes through the times are relevant and well-known in their fields.

Here are a few lessons I personally learnt in the industry:

Don’t hurry to get a title unless you are ready for it

In my career, I have seen too many youngsters too eager to get a title, especially a managerial one. It may help them find a better bride or let them feel more accomplished in the family, but it doesn’t help them in longer term. That’s truer if they are not ready.

Stay technical, if that’s what you like

You are an IITian! Don’t be ashamed to remain technical if that’s what you like. There are technical ladders available these days in large organizations. Some new technologies are not easy to learn, but the brain needs to be sharpened regularly. If you don’t use it, you lose it.

Even as an entrepreneur, you can find others who can look after your business while you look after the technical aspects, because that’s what you excel in.

“You are an IITian! Don’t be ashamed to remain technical if that’s what you like. There are technical ladders available these days in large organizations. Some new technologies are not easy to learn, but the brain needs to be sharpened regularly. If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

Choose business roles only if you are good at them

Some people have the knack for business and management. If you are one of them, go for it. But do introspect a little before choosing that path. And stay relevant there too, by staying abreast of the changes around you. Business and technology are not separate islands- there is so much that links the two. When you specialize in a technology, understand the business drivers.

Look for integration opportunities in the areas that you know and the upcoming areas that you need to learn

Technology usually changes gradually with a few disruptions. You may find that your accumulated knowledge in one area can be combined with a new emerging technology. There won’t be anyone better than you in this integrated technology. Look for such opportunities.

Staying technical is a continuous process

What you learn in IIT will only take you so far. What IIT gives you is the ability to learn new skills quickly. Utilize that to stay abreast. The Internet is a great equalizer, you have access to knowledge in any field that you like, wherever you are. If nothing, join online courses whether you are just out of IIT or close to retirement.

You can’t do it on your own, but nobody will do it for you either

No one can succeed alone. You need a network. You need to consciously build that network. You need people around you who will guide you, mentor you or simply be there for any advice that you need. But remember that eventually, you need to take the lead. They won’t do it for you. Look for role models as you grow so that you can stay relevant. You can love and respect your high school teacher, but to stay relevant in technology for big data for self-driving cars, maybe you need another mentor.

Network with the younger lot

If you are mid-career, continue to stay in touch with younger alumni. They will energize you and tell you what’s new. Train interns in your job- there is a lot to learn in coaching. That’s one thing I personally like about the medical profession – they formally teach the next generation.

In summary, do not make yourself obsolete. To be successful, continue developing yourself. Keep innovating and re-inventing yourself and stay connected.


RAVINDRA BEHERE January 21, 2015 - 9:29 pm

Excellent Gyan and an eyeopener

Sunil Taneja January 22, 2015 - 6:02 am

Highly inspirational

Prabir K Majumdar January 22, 2015 - 8:06 am

Excellent thought, very relevant.

J.Jose January 22, 2015 - 8:03 pm

Joining you at this moment of glory. Your humility is exemplary especially after such trail blazing success flight.
You were and are always helpful and there are so many virtues in you that will make me emulate you. Prayers and best wishes for more achievement and success.

A N Poduval January 22, 2015 - 8:55 pm

Great words of wisdom, Hemant. Keep it up and do not forget the social responsibility angle too! Self sustaining technologies are the flavour of the season and what is needed in India. Keep up your spirit and please do guide others (NITians ) too!

Hazurasingh January 24, 2015 - 12:43 pm

Hemant, you hit the nail on the head. Specially your comments on IT and business not being separate and on keeping oneself relevant through continuous learning. Very few of us actually are able to do it and you are an excellent example of the same. Excellent article. You have spoken volumes in a very short and to the point article.

Dr K M Soni January 31, 2015 - 4:55 pm

Congratulations for sharing your views regarding leadership, practical views. And for me too as an IITian. I did my PhD from IIT Delhi in 1995. I am sure, you would continue to share your views in future too.

Vrunda May 10, 2015 - 12:19 am

Very nice


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