Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The pulse of a Leader..

The pulse of a Leader..
It was one of the finest 30 minutes of technical exposition that I have had the opportunity to hear live in a long time. One often wonders, why CTO’s and CEO’s get paid so well, what exactly at their skill-sets that they make them eligible for a hefty paycheck, or made to blaze forth in the media as icons worth emulating. What is that charm - that tangible, palpable essence of who they are that makes us forget idiosyncrasies, arrogance, inconsistencies or madness so amply displayed in their daily life? The answer is not far: it is simply the vision, a holistic understanding of business, and a mysteriously ability to connect the dots in an astounding simple manner - that to a listener, it would seem almost insanely logical and coherent. It is not so much the detail (which obviously is a path they have trodden assiduously before reaching this level) but a piercing insight into how the juggernaut of their businesses rolls, and an uncanny ability to forecast, predict news paradigms and their implementation.
This week, I was in New York engaged with a bleeding edge technology company. It was a small audience of 8-10 software architects and a few customers as well. It was a workshop/class of how their niche product fits into its slot, and I was part of this gathering (straight from a 40 hour flight from India through Dubai) to spearhead Training programs for us in this product space. I also had to present a few topics, which I did. The company’s Deputy CTO (Dan, Name changed obviously) apparently was on business in the city, and chose it to attend all five days of this engagement. A short, fair, bald gentleman with a prince-nez kind of glasses dangling on his nose bridge; dressed in an informal Company T shirt, and slightly ill-fitting jeans; a charming, unpretentious smile adorned his face and never seemed to escape his lips, his fingers moved at break neck speed across the keyboard replying to emails, editing presentations, making briefs – but his ears were continuously registering the progress of the class, the questions asked and answers traded. He would occasionally pitch with a casual statement here and there, and all of us would be all ears (You may wonder how I know so much. Well I was sitting next to him, and couldn’t help noticing his multitasking ability). I learnt from Dan (during one of our Lunches) that he had joined this organization 15 years ago, as an engineer working 20 hours a day building these pieces that form this product range. And as the company began to grow, they also made strategic acquisitions that needed to be integrated with existing portfolio. And again, Dan was instrumental in the rewiring of those. Having anticipated the market years before it actualized, Dan and his team were ready to ride the wave when it rose. The last five years has been one of stepping back and re-consolidation, and they were nowl poised to lead..
A brief description of what this company does will be in place. It represents one of the few players in the market, who develop solutions that address an entire Software application stack. For those of us non-technical - all that it means is that their products help huge organizations across the globe manage their infrastructure and application availability better. They have various pieces (each one of them is a beast in itself) that fits into different parts of an architecture, and if orchestrated well, they could bring billions of dollars of revenue savings and software uptime to customers. This week, we were talking about one piece of this larger picture. And we had questions that came in from different angles. Our facilitator, though an accomplished professional in this specialized area, did find himself at odds juxtaposing various components together. And that is when, Dan stepped in on the last day for 30 minutes just before the session ended. It was a request from all of us, in fact…
He wobbled up to the white board, picked a marker a spent ten minutes drawing a picture with innumerable arrows and dotted lines going back and forth. Not a word from him until he had finished it, and then he swerved around with a beaming smile on his face and began “Gentlemen, this is the future of software, and here is how we see it unfolding……” He carried on for the next half hour methodically, clinically dissecting his intricate drawing with an artistry of a master who lives, breathes and pulsates with his work. As he kept speaking, we could sense the veils of ignorance being lifted from our eyes. The underlying connections, the thread that binds this complex web of products into one coherent whole began to surface and reveal themselves in a new light. The why’s and what’s automatically resolved themselves in the pristine flow of his erudition, detail and oration. The overall picture stood out from the miasma of details - which in turn, illuminated the details themselves in far greater depth than what we had heard over the last five days. All of us were riveted to his mesmerizing talk, and at the end of it, we involuntarily applauded. There could have been not better finale to this week. He put his marker down and with a wave of his had concluded” And so Gents, this is why we are so excited about the future, because we have preparing for it for the last ten years…”
John (the facilitator) and I rode the same cab to the airport, and he casually mentioned” Bala, now you know why Dan is one of our highly paid executives. He knows the gross details as much as the biggest picture possible, and that makes him quite indispensable and powerful… He is the right hand of our CTO… I could only nod my head in acknowledgement.
In my flight back to Atlanta, I closed my eyes and recaptured the flow. Everything that I had learnt in this week fell into place like a well-directed movie. And I also realized that this is what leadership is all about. It is not just speaking in the air without ones feet in the ground, but rather the opposite of it. One should have gone through the fire of working with details to emerge on top of it. One doesn’t become a manager or a leader by virtue of the number of years one has put in. The questions is: have those years counted in getting one to understand the pulse of the business one is into? Do we still have the guts to roll up our sleeves and get down to raw details, if need be? If no, then we may not become confident and successful leaders. And for every youngster, who sits through an appraisal hoping to get promoted, this is the question one should ask oneself: Do I love my current role enough to deserve this promotion? If I don’t have passion for what I am doing right now, then a step forward will only leave a weak link in the chain, and one would never be secure and productive in higher positions. A great Leader, manager, is one who can walk the ladder up and down with equal ease – in other words, take strategic decisions and understand the nitty- gritty of it as well. After all, a ladder collapses if we start burning its lower rungs.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,
Bala

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