There are moments in time, moments which change the course of corporate events, which change the career paths of people — such moments occur in the commercial world whenever a daring and dashing CEO is in his element. The reality in any company is that only 20 per cent of the people do 80 per cent of the work. It is a dynamic CEO who drives the other 80 per cent to do the remaining work.
In order to facilitate outstanding performance by his executives, the CEO must create an enabling environment; and provide a permissive and participative culture in the organisation. The executives must believe that the organisation belongs to them as much as they belong to the organisation. Culture is not just one aspect in the profile of a corporate; it pervades and permeates the entire organisation — it is the organisation itself.
When the expectations of the CEO are positioned pretty high, the executives also rise and respond in an equally valiant manner. This phenomenon is known as the Pygmalion Effect, or the self-fulfilling prophecy. (Pygmalion, a sculptor in Greek mythology, is supposed to have brought a statue to life by his sheer efforts, will power, and perseverance). Executive performance is in direct proportion to the faith, trust, and belief that the CEO inspires and invokes.
Michael Useem, a professor at the Wharton school, has coined the concept of “upward leadership”. It is about taking charge of a crisis, when the CEO is not around. It is not usurping authority; but it is the initiative of offering some strategic insights to the CEO, which may have escaped his attention. It is the unflinching loyalty to step into the breach and stem the tide, in order to save the situation. “If you want to command, you must learn to obey” is a famous military dictum, which when translated into corporate context puts a premium on executive excellence as a prelude to progressing higher in the organisation. In substance, this is the central theme of the book under notice.
Writing in the preface, the author, R Gopalakrishnan [aka Gopal] says: “The management world is replete with articles and books on… how to be a great leader. But the literature is thinner on how to be a great subordinate … The idea of this book arose from trying to fill this gap.” An uncommon feature found in this book is that there are three forewords, unlike the usual one. These forewords, written by three eminent CEOs, bear ample testimony to the calibre of the author, his rich knowledge and, therefore, to the contents of the volume.
Forty-five years of wide and varied experience of Gopal in management, to quote Ratan Tata, “in India’s most Indian multinational company” [Hindustan Unilever] and now, “in India’s most multinational Indian company” [Tata Sons], reverberates in every page of the book.
Making an extensive use of the case-study method, Gopal elucidates the nitty-gritty of working with and winning over the top management in a down-to-earth manner. His narration is also interspersed with his own personal experiences in the profession, from the first level of management to the boardroom as vice-chairman.
The book contains five sections. The first section explains how a new entrant will wade and walk through several milestones in management before eventually reaching the top. The four attributes essential to bring about the transformation from a trainee to a titan are accomplishment, affability, advocacy, and authority — the four As, as christened by Gopal.
The subsequent four sections expatiate on the virtues of these attributes, one by one, delving deep into the details as to how they will enable the aspirant to climb the ladder. The focus is on the expectations of the CEO — in what ways he expects his executives to help him deliver the results. “Help me, to help you” is the main message of the book. The experiential methodology employed by the author is bound to create ripples and reside with the reader for a long time.
Keywords: corporate lifestyle