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‘What’s the point in being successful without being significant?’

Mar 12 2007, 00:00 IST
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With two law degrees, he is today a world-renowned authority on organisational and personal leadership, coaching billionaires, CEOs and celebrity entrepreneurs around the world, as well as companies like FedEx, Nike, IBM and GM. Author of seven bestsellers, including the celebrated The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, 42-year-old Robin Sharma was in India recently to hold leadership workshops in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai as part of his The Greatness Guide tour. The Toronto native took time out from a busy schedule to speak with FE’s Varun Soni. Excerpts:

Tell us about your India connection

My father grew up in Jammu & Kashmir and being of Indian descent, I definitely have a great association with the country. The last time I came to India was in 2005. This time, I am visiting Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore conducting leadership workshops. It feels like coming home.

What is your workshop all about?

The underlying essence of the workshop was ‘lead without title’, supplemented by discussions on topics including the art of being an extraordinary connector, an extraordinary performer, lessons for personal leadership, achieving significance as well as success. With cut-throat competition to reach the top becoming the norm of the day, the workshop is an interesting blend of how to demonstrate one’s leadership behaviour at the workplace as well as in one’s personal life. The sessions deal with real world best practices and breakthrough ideas I have shared with organisations across the world like Nike, FedEx, IBM and Panasonic.

How best would you describe yourself— a self-help author?

(Laughs) Not at all. I would rather be known as a father, an author who writes about leadership skills, but most of all, as a good human being.

What importance do leadership skills hold for individuals and organisations?

The interest in leadership has grown tremendously in India, more so after the growth of the economy as well as globalisation. Becoming a great leader enables people to lead better lives and companies get better managers. This helps both become world class and extraordinary.

What are the ingredients to becoming a successful manager?

Humility, kindness and passion. Balancing compassion and courage is another attribute for becoming a great leader. If people at the top put the organisation before their ego, they are bound to move up the ladder pretty fast. The best team leader is one who cares about team-mates rather than personal ambitions. Like somebody said, and I quote, ‘Great people build monuments by the stones thrown by critics.’

The key to getting to world class and sustained success within your marketplace can be found in helping your people demonstrate leadership behaviour regardless of their position or title. Success is about being true to yourself every day, and being in the process of creating great vision. It involves realising the potential and talents that reside in each one of us, living in your moral compass, staying healthy, having loving ‘human connections’ and leaving behind a legacy. For, what’s the point in being successful without being significant?

When individuals begin to think, feel and act like leaders, they become part of the solution rather than part of the problem. And when each of us shows leadership behaviour, we elevate our personal lives, our families, our organisation, our communities and our world.

What is the difference between Indian and global leadership?

In the west, leadership is understood to be about developing people and cultures. In India, on the other hand, we are moving from an authoritarian approach to a more modern one. The mantra nowadays is innovation and how to add value to the organisation. In business, everyone needs to show leadership whether they run the company or work on the front line. When everyone throughout the organisation takes personal responsibility for results, drives innovation, seizes the opportunities that change the present, and becomes part of the solution rather than part of the problem, the entire enterprise wins.

How important are leadership skills in an age when Indian companies are expanding globally?

Competition boils down to one thing—winning in a global environment. Hence, it is necessary to develop a culture of leadership if you need to succeed in this business world. Other attributes needed to sail through in this age of competition are a great attitude, building teamwork, committing to excellence, being authentic and taking pride in what you do. Further, managers should promote employees by appreciating them and giving them a sense of direction.

What is your source of inspiration?

My son (12) and daughter (10). In the corporate world, however, I am totally enamoured by Richard Branson and Bill Gates. Belief in the principles of Mahatma Gandhi is another source of constant inspiration for me.

Being a trained lawyer, how did you get writing books on leadership?

I became a lawyer for all the wrong reasons—and was always unhappy. I made a lot of money, but internally was never satisfied. After doing some soul searching, I became very philosophical. I self-published a book and stored 2,000 copies in my kitchen. My first seminar was attended by 23 people–21 of who were family members. My second book The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari was also originally self-published until former HarperCollins President Ed Carson discovered me in a bookstore. My dream started slowly and it took me ten years to realise. Most people tend to give up early, but my mantra is to work hard and achieve the best, come what may.

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