Indian Leaders are short on Emotional Intelligence! (says Management Next)

  lshape MNJohn Knights finds Indian leaders to be on par or even better than many global leaders in most aspects of leadership, yet, according to ManagementNext’s interpretation of his article there’s something amiss which make them behave the way they do – centralize decision-making, don’t respect other’s time, hence don’t confirm schedules, among a few. If Indian leaders were to invest in acquiring emotional intelligence, they have the opportunity to maximise their potential.

EACH TIME I LAND in Mumbai or Delhi or elsewhere in India, I feel a rush of adrenalin. I am here again to meet business leaders ranging from elite companies to start- ups – but they all have one thing in common; they are interested in how ‘leadership development’ can improve their business performance.

As I
 drive to my hotel to get some shut-eye before the first meeting I reflect on
the fact that only 30% of my agenda is confirmed but I know from experience that it will all work out and I will have a number of interesting meetings I
am not yet aware of. The mood that engulfs me is immediately optimistic, enthusiastic, friendly, open-minded and can-do. That is the effect India has on me – and these are all important characteristics for a nation on the up
– and also necessary to overcome the many serious challenges it faces.

So what about leadership in Indian businesses? And critically, what about its impact on sustainability? I see three themes that are particularly important for India at this point in time. They relate to ‘structure’, ‘process’ and, most important of all, ‘behaviour.’

Perhaps the most immediate observation of Indian businesses is that most are still very centralised and hierarchical. This means that most of the people are being told what to do rather than being encouraged to develop their own solutions and take responsibility. The system can work quite well in a stable world where there is little change. But in a 21st century that is changing faster by the year and where organisations need to be increasingly nimble. A decision-making process that has to go all the way up the organisation and all the way down again is just not sustainable.

The popular solution for those who realise this is a real issue is to put a keen focus on Performance Management together with a de- layering of the hierarchy. However, this is not sustainable either without a decentralisation of decision-making, responsibility, accountability and a genuine engagement with all the employees in the company. All this requires a well-developed workforce that is trusted by the top leadership. It needs a servant leader rather than alpha-male approach to leadership together with the right behaviours to oil the wheels.
The solution here is not clear-cut and I debate it often with my Indian colleagues. Consider this: I know 
that if I was travelling to Northern Europe or even North America for a week, when I arrived 80 – 90% of my schedule would already be confirmed and things would work out pretty much as planned. In India that just does not happen – but it all comes together in the end, and often in a more exciting and enjoyable way. In a way the Indian approach is more suitable to the current world where we live on the edge of chaos and we have to be flexible at all times. But it does not match the MBA principles of planning and target setting (that were designed in 1970s America) that Indian firms tend to implement. Combine this with the structural issue described above and decision-making can become almost moribund – which unfortunately gives leaders a very good excuse to revert to the neuro-default to make all the decisions and keep things centralised. In a high asset based organisation with few employees this might be sustainable, but not in a location-diverse service based organisation where the people are the key asset.
I am continually impressed by the intellect, knowledge and business skills of Indian leaders, board directors and functional specialists. In this arena, India can compete with the world. Also special is the high level of consciousness (spirituality) at which many Indian business leaders at all levels hold their values and their aspirations to do good beyond their own self-interest. This includes their concern for their employees and the community.
So why does it not all work more perfectly?
 This relatively overt spirituality (which does not exist to anything like the same level of consciousness in most societies, cultures and countries) combined with a strong intellect can actually severely mask a development need in the area of emotional intelligence – the glue that connects the intellect and spirit to maximum effect. Emotional intelligence is observed through a series of subtle granular behaviours that enable people to manage their personality and directly affects the sustainable performance of both the leader and the people around them.
To put it another way, there are fundamental competencies that connect the intellectual and the spiritual; self-awareness, self- management, social awareness and relationship management – known as the four competencies of Emotional Intelligence. Without this connection the spiritual aspirations (all the elements of sustainability!) will never become a reality.
We know that the neurons in the brain connect in three different ways; serial, associative and synchronously which is the neuroscience behind our rational, emotional and spiritual intelligence. The good news is that the associative connections that deliver our emotional intelligence can be rewired through practice and focus and this can be enabled through interventions such as coaching and action learning.
Typical granular behaviours that need some improvement might be fairly basic like “listens attentively to what people say” or more subtle such as “involves individuals in the process of making decisions that will affect them” or “spots potential conflict, brings disagreements into the open and helps de-escalate”. The specific development needs of each individual can be identified through the right kind of 360o assessment. Our experience and research shows that embedding change in just two or three of these granular behaviours can have a major impact on leadership competence and organisational performance.
A focus on developing emotional intelligence in this way, to its full potential in business and society 
will provide the foundation for the spiritual capital of India to deliver a sustainable and successful nation that is a positive power for the world.
John Knights is Chairman of LeaderShape, a UK based leadership development specialist – He has led Leadershape’s entree into India and visited many times since 1979. India
Contact: Nikhil Nehru

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