The Pursuit of Followership

Over the last few years, I have become a huge fan of Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen’s ideas and writing. Christensen, of course, is today really popular around the world for his article titled, ‘How will you measure your life?’ that was published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR). In this article, the professor talks about how, till you pass out of graduate school, you learn mostly from people, who’re probably smarter and more experienced that you. But once you begin your work life, you learn from a wider variety of people, not necessarily better or smarter than you. This point Christensen makes is something we need to accept and understand as we go about building businesses. I was almost going to title this note, ‘The pursuit of leadership’ until I remembered this point made by Christensen. Leadership, winning and decision-making are really about the art of picking whom to follow and when to follow them.

In our cover story this edition, we discuss several aspects of leadership with Dr. Matt Barney, director, Infosys Leadership Institute. I am not sure if other writers and editors have felt this while writing about leadership, but personally, there is something very intangible and very subtle that I learn while discussing the concept of leadership with various people. In the conversation with Barney, there were two aspects that stood out. One was about how leaders have to be open to experience; the other was about how good leaders also tend to be good followers. Now, these are very subtle points that might be easy to read and understand but tough to follow on a day-to-day basis.

Leadership as a management concept is not very easy to understand. The complexity in the world we live in makes it very difficult to create a framework for leaders of different genres. A business leader requires a different set of ideas as compared to a government leader. A captain of a sports team needs to behave differently compared to a leader of a non-profit. Within the business world, the chief executive of an Internet company cannot approach leadership in the same way his peer in the oil industry does. In short, we need a variety of leaders. We need a Steve Jobs, a Mukesh Ambani and a Mark Zuckerberg. When Walter Isaacson, author and biographer, wrote the article titled, ‘The Real Leadership Lessons from Steve Jobs’ for HBR, he listed out 14 aspects leaders should remember. There is something to be learnt from every point he touches upon, but can you become a great leader if you manage to remember and implement each of those points? The answer, in all probability, is a no.

In our cover story as well, we’ve uncovered several leadership lessons from the Infosys journey. The points we make in the story should serve as guidelines, checklist points to remember when you make decisions, but it is by no means an exhaustive list. As Barney points out in the story, entrepreneurs should continuously observe, read, learn and sink in ideas from a wide variety of leaders from many different fields. Also, as Christensen suggests in his HBR article, it is crucial to be open to learning from your team members, your customers and your shareholders as the best lessons on leadership are usually learnt from these observations. In short, it is the pursuit of followership that can transform you as a leader.

Hope you enjoy reading this edition of The Smart CEO.