Worshiping intelligence is a recent phenomenon in our country, surfaced perhaps during colonial rule. A large part of our education system today is designed to enhance cognitive abilities that are expressed in terms of grades and numbers. Likewise in business much emphasis is given to strategic thinking, technical know-how and such other cognitive abilities. As a result, leadership development programs have a left brain bias. If their contents don’t include business strategy, strategic decision making, business modelling etc., those programs are looked at with contempt. Leaders spend millions on learning which businesses to invest in, which ones to sell, analytics, projections and predictions, how to make decisions, how to intelligently handle situations, how to build business models, how is ZARA model different from M&S as a case study and predict the trends of e-retail, cloud computing, big data or deal with repackaged phenomenon like disruptive innovation and so on. It’s an ecstatic feeling going to ivy leagues and burning mid night oil researching, solving complex problems and preparing presentations on strategy.

In reality I have seen that such concepts, models and case study based leadership programs usually have limited use and relevance. They may suit some of the most mechanistic organizations that have things figured out. Strategy, process efficiency, structural interventions, analytics, problem solving etc are their vehicles of growth and their leaders benefit greatly from those programs. They may also help build leader’s world view, perspective, seeing the big picture, networking etc. But it is imprudent to universally apply this educational model. I have seen many a family owned businesses and MNCs use even their CEOs mostly operationally. Typically, family members would sit together and decide the real strategy with inputs from the internal reporting system and communicate it to the CEOs/ MDs for them to execute. A progressive family would at best do this in an inclusive manner. In case of MNCs, mostly their strategy gets exported from their global headquarter with leaders having at best only operational input. Indian businesses therefore are able to do very little justice to such education. In many cases such programs have reduced to being a part of Engagement, R & R strategy. To put things in perspective, we must remember that this stream of knowledge was earlier called `business management’ with clear focus on `managing’ rather than leading.

This challenge is further compounded by the fact that the business world does not recognize emotional universe. There is almost total rejection of the right brain in business, even in the so called creative businesses. People are advised to think dispassionately and not bring emotions to work, forgetting that intense emotions were behind the biggest achievements in the world whether it was the adventure of Columbus, Alexander or insult of Chanakya that created the first republic of India, agony of Mandela that created a rainbow nation, humiliation of Gandhi or pain experienced by Nobel laureate Mr Sathyarthi. Harvard professor Ranjay Gulati’s latest research indicates that 70% assets of Fortune 500 companies are relational assets built by affective abilities. But unfortunately, our myopia has blurred them out. A conscious balance of cognitive and affective abilities is essential in leadership. Business is a dynamic social phenomenon and there is no good reason for us to make it mechanistic.

These affective abilities are overlooked for two reasons. First because they are intangible, difficult to contain, measure and businesses don’t like anything ambiguous. Second because as Annie McKee of Teleos Leadership Institute states, `leadership abilities are linked to leader’s relational skills, self concept and the world view which are deep seeded’ and hence difficult to change. Since it is easier to learn cognitive abilities, tools & techniques than confronting behavioural patterns in self that are anyway non-measureable, there are very few takers for such leadership interventions that foster leader’s personal transformation. Annie McKee further asserts, `no significant business transformation is ever possible without leaders transforming themselves first’.

This bias in leadership education is a big leadership challenge.

Leave a Reply