Every day, you meet a cross-section of people, some professionally and others personally. A select few leave you with a crumb of knowledge, some guide you in the right direction, and some leave you inspired. This time, an inspiration of sorts came from a blogger, public speaker and author of two books, The Habit Of Winning and The Secret of Leadership; Prakash Iyer.
An optimist by nature and a storyteller by profession, Iyer reveals that he always dreamt of writing a book, and his first inspiration was the Letters to the Editor he had written once to Sports Week. “The letter was a note of congratulations to Sunil Gavaskar on his century in a test match in Melbourne,” he recalls, and adds, “I was so excited to see my name on the magazine that I realised how much I enjoy writing. From there, I never turned back.”
Today, two years after releasing his latest book, The Secret of Leadership, Iyer says that there are many more experiences within and outside of work, which have given him enough fuel to write his next book. In a light-hearted conversation with The Smart CEO, he shares his views about the power of conveying a lesson through storytelling, why leadership and IQ tests are a myth, and how there is potential in each one of us to become a writer.
In both your books, The Habit of Winning and The Secret of Leadership, you’ve driven concepts, ideas and motivation into the reader’s mind by using a cross-section of anecdotes from the sports and everyday world. Please share with us anecdotes, which are close to your heart.
I wouldn’t pick any particular anecdote and say that was close to my heart because it’s a culmination of the various experiences I’ve had over a period of time and each resonates well with me. But, here’s something interesting. Every time someone reads my book and comes to me with a particular anecdote that impacted them, I can judge what issue they are facing. The one that resonates well with them is the one that creates the biggest impact on them.
Take me through your experience of writing a book. What was the one thing you did differently when you wrote each book?
That’s an interesting question. With respect to the experience, I always had this dream somewhere in the corner of my mind that I wanted to write. I started with a blog (prakashiyer.com), and once it started gaining considerable traction, I decided to turn it into a book.
When it comes to style of writing, I realised that if you convey something in the form of a lesson, people may not pay attention to it. Instead, I decided to adopt a storytelling format where I wrote it like I was conversing with my 18-year old son. I asked myself, what would my son want to know, and how can I convey it in simple words, in a language that we would understand? The beauty is, a narrative style (storytelling) is very powerful and can resonate well with the audience.
Tell us about the most challenging period in your professional career. How did you motivate yourself to get through this phase, and what were some of the key learnings that came out of this experience?
Oh, there were several! You don’t win every day. There are days when you just don’t get it right. Let me give you an example. Once, when my team (and I) were faced with a challenge, I used an example that I’ve shared in my book.
Once, during the match, Sachin Tendulkar got hit on the nose and he was bleeding. He could’ve said, I don’t want to play, I want to go back to the dressing room. Instead, he said, Main Khelega, because his team wanted him to stand there and fight. In fact, someone said, these two words transformed Tendulkar from a little kid into a fighting genius. I used the same example with my team. I said, you either say it’s tough, I’m quitting, or you say, Main Khelega. Suddenly, one person after the other stood up and said these two words and the scene became a war cry of sorts. I thought that was quite powerful.
Your last book, The Secret of Leadership, was published when you were three years into heading Kimberley Clark as the Managing Director. Ever since, in addition to your new role as the Chief Executive of Mumbai Indians, were there any new lessons the journey offered you?
Learning and experiencing is an ongoing process. Let me share an anecdote of a lesson I learnt outside of work. Last year, when I was on a trek, I was accompanied by a man who helped me carry my bags. Something happened and I told him, it’s tough to climb this mountain. He looked back at me and said, if you want to go up there, first climb with your eyes then climb with your legs.
I learnt two lessons here. One, that when we all try to achieve something, we try to strengthen our legs (our capabilities). Instead, we first need to set our eyes on where we want to go. And second, we often don’t value the lessons we can learn from the people around us. We seek a Guru or a genius to come and teach us. We need to realise that there are common people all around us who can teach us great life’s lessons, in my case, my teacher being the Sherpa who carried my bags.
The role of technology in the world of publishing.
Honestly, I think reading is seeing a revival and attention spans are getting shorter. In such a case, what we need to do is, respect their intelligence, understand what they want and convey it in an as effective and concise manner as possible; like, in 140 characters. When we get this right, it will spread like wildfire.
For instance, once, someone sent me a message saying there was a forward on Whatsapp of an extract from my book (an anecdote). For the next 50 days, many people came back to me and said they saw that forward. That’s the power of technology. If the content is interesting and appeals to the audience, it spreads very quickly.
If there was a leadership myth we should bust, what would it be and why?
That leaders are born and not made. For one, we often tend to judge or stereotype people based on their capabilities or sometimes people limit their capabilities themselves. For example, I’ve heard people say, oh, I’m a Sagittarian, so I’m clumsy. I can’t do anything about it. Added to this is the leadership tests that judge how good a leader you are. I don’t believe in those either. The truth is, there is a leader in each one of us. And each of us has the ability to become better than what we are. The question is, how we train ourselves to become better.
There are many professionals who aspire to write. However, writing and more importantly, getting it published is a challenge. What is your advice to them?
The answer is simple; write. A lot of us have great ideas but we worry about finding a good publisher, we worry about the success of the book and more. But, keeping all this aside, the first thing we should do is write. If we enjoy writing and enjoy the process of writing, a good book will happen. And, I don’t believe someone who says I don’t have the time to write. We always find time for the things we want to do, it’s just that we don’t prioritise it right.
Your favourite author: R.K. Narayan
Your favourite phrase: Sachin Tendulkar’s Main Khelega
Your favourite activity: Golf
The first thing you do in the morning: Write
The last thing you do before you go to bed: Read
Your first article you wrote: When I was a child, I wrote a letter to the editor of Sports Week, congratulating Sunil Gavaskar for scoring a century in a Mebourne test. I was tremendously excited when the editor had published it with my byline. Even today, I think that was a masterpiece.
What inspires you at all times?
I’m a huge optimist. I generally believe people are good and good things will happen to everybody. Added to that, I draw inspiration from a cross-section of people I meet every day as well.
About the author:
Prakash Iyer, the current chief executive of Mumbai Indians, is the author of two national bestsellers, The Habit of Winning and The Secret of Leadership. He is passionate about cricket, and contributes regular columns in the media on motivation, leadership, teamwork and winning.