IIM Ahmedabad launches Centre for Leadership & Organisational Development; Meet Prof. Vishal Gupta, Chairperson of new IIMA centre

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Updated: June 29, 2021 5:54 PM

'The Ashank Desai centre for leadership and organisational development is getting initiated into its activities at this crucial juncture and we hope that it will be able to create and disseminate knowledge that is relevant, contextual and impactful.'

IIM Ahmedabad, IIMA, IIM-A, Indian institute of management Ahmedabad, Ashank Desai Centre of Leadership and Organisational Development, Prof. Vishal Gupta'IIMA's Ashank Desai Centre has been set with a vision to conduct research as well as inform practice in the domain of leadership and organisational development.'

IIM Ahmedabad has a rich legacy in management research. IIMA recently announced the launch of Ashank Desai Centre of Leadership and Organisational Development. The Centre aims at creating a group of faculty and practitioners to conduct rigorous research and to initiate dialogue about leadership and organisational development issues in various kinds of organisations: public, private and social sector.  COVID-19 has led to the various disruptions, with several challenges there is a dire need for rethinking of leadership and organisational behaviour. The centre is chaired by IIMA Prof. Vishal Gupta who plans to drive research in various identified themes related to leadership development and offer training and research and consulting services to leaders at various levels in Indian and multinational organisations.

With regard to this, Financial Express Online caught up with the Chairperson, Ashank Desai Centre and Associate Professor of organisational behaviour at IIMA, Prof. Vishal Gupta. The professor shared his vision about the Ashank Desai Centre, major focus areas and roadmap of the centre, its plans to offer training and consulting services to leaders at various levels in Indian and multinational organisations and more. Excerpts:

The advent of the pandemic has brought in many volatile organisational changes. What kind of leadership management techniques work in the current scenario?

I have coined the T-R-E-A-T framework of leadership that I believe is relevant for new-age organisations in the post-COVID world. Leaders need to demonstrate effective task-orientation (T), including clear vision, monitoring progress, solving problems and suggesting actions for improvement, stimulate ‘on the job learning’. 

Leaders with relation-orientation (R) and social skills demonstrate that they care about their employees, encourage them to support the organisational mission and vision by helping them find meaning in their work as well as develop loyalty and admiration for the organization where they work. Leaders who demonstrate empowering behaviour (E) trust their co-workers and value their expertise. Professionals working in high-tech and knowledge-intensive organisations value autonomy as a necessary condition to display their talent and creativity in innovative ways, thereby enabling higher performance and organizational productivity and competitiveness. Authenticity (A) and leading-by-example enhances employees’ trust in the leader and the organisations, builds wellbeing and stimulates innovation and continuous improvement. Last, by displaying team-building behaviours (T), leaders can enable continuous improvement of team members through knowledge-sharing, and collective learning, growth and development. Google study demonstrated that high performing teams feel higher levels of psychological safety and are better balanced allowing all members to participate in conversations and share information in a trustful work environment without fear of disrespect or bullying.

Leaders today need to adapt to the ever-changing scenarios. How would you suggest leaders build morale amongst their group?

Employees like to work with leaders who show empathy, promote a positive workplace climate, inspire through lofty visions and are fair. Leaders must show concern for the wellbeing of their employees. This is especially important for remote and hybrid work. They must show greater acceptance for risks and must encourage subordinates to be optimistic for a better future. Inspiring leaders instil a sense of pride through lofty visions and assist employees understand the benefits associated with working with their organizations. Lastly, leaders must strive for the collective’s achievement, be fair and authentic in their actions and emphasise teamwork in order to create a psychologically safe and an enjoyable workplace for their subordinates.

What are the topmost leadership challenges facing leaders of Indian public sector undertakings?

The three most critical challenges facing leaders of Indian public sector undertakings are: 

  1. Political interference and lack of autonomy: Keeping political bosses happy and being in their good books is a challenge that public sector leaders face. Often, politicians are the chairpersons of the governing boards of public sector organizations. Such boards do not have sufficient representation of professionals. Politicians pressure leaders to make non-profitable/non-professional decisions that undermine the effectiveness of public sector organizations. Due to excessive political interference and rigid rules and norms established by the government, many leaders of PSUs lack of autonomy and freedom in decision-making. 
  2. Rigid rules and poor human resource management practices: PSUs often work under rigid rules and policies of the government. Leaders face many constraints in redefining the human resource management practices of their firms. Training and development of their staff members is often a concern. There is lack of provision of training and orientation of employees for upgrading their skills. There are tedious, redundant rules, and business processes and employees are bound by old rules of working. The monetary incentives to perform are often fixed and managers of PSUs cannot change them to motivate their employees. Another challenge that was reported is the hiring of qualified professionals. Participants noted that the hiring of well-qualified managers and employees is a daunting problem in PSUs 
  3. Lack of employee motivation: Employee unions as a big managerial challenge in PSUs. PSUs often have large number of employees, making them prone to labour unions. These unions form pressure groups inside the company owing to their affiliations to political parties and hinder the efficient functioning of the company. Poor mindset and habits of employees in public organizations is a deep-seated obstacle and leaders need to motivate with incentives other than money. There is a huge mismatch between the manpower that exists and the talent that is needed in such organizations. “Making people accountable for the failures as well as the success” remains a major concern. Employees in PSUs have limited decision-making authority and they are often fearful of taking risks. 
IIM Ahmedabad, IIMA, IIM-A, Indian institute of management Ahmedabad, Ashank Desai Centre of Leadership and Organisational Development, Prof. Vishal GuptaProf. Vishal Gupta, Chairperson, Ashank Desai Centre and Associate Professor of organisational behaviour at IIMA

What important factors attract and motivate individuals to work in different sectors of organizations?

Different sectors will have different kinds of factors. They will be specific to organisations. However, the following qualities will largely attract individuals to organisations: 

  1. Having a socially useful purpose/mission: Organisations that have a mission that is development-oriented and social-development oriented will be more attractive to employees. This is especially true of Indian employees. Organisations that are seen to be ethical, working for the benefit of the society and follow fair practices are more attractive.
  2. TREAT leadership: as mentioned above, the leadership of the organisation must follow the principles of task-orientation, relation-orientation, empowerment, authenticity and team-building.
  3. Investing in growth and development of employees: organisation that encourage employees to have a learning and growth-mindset are more attractive. Such organisations invest in training and development of their employees and foster continuous growth. 
  4. Communication, fairness and accountability: management of organisations must provide a fair workplace culture to work, be open and transparent in communication and must hold employees accountable for their performance. 

What was the need to launch a specific centre for Leadership and Organizational Development? Also, tell us about the focus of the Centre.

The Ashank Desai Centre has been set with a vision to conduct research as well as inform practice in the domain of leadership and organisational development. Our vision is to be recognised as a centre of excellence that can building on indigenous research and knowledge to create long-lasting impact on leadership and management of organisations in India and around the world. As of now, the centre has 12 faculty members from varied disciplines such as communication, education, economics, human resource management, law, organisational behaviour and strategy who are interested in or are working on leadership and organisational development issues at the institute. 

As we are all aware, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in an unprecedented disruption in economic activities in India and globally. The widespread nature of the event and the scale of the crisis has also placed pressure on leadership and management of organizations. The pandemic has led to complexity, ambiguity, and contradictions that the organisations will have to manage in the post-pandemic world. Normal and established ways of working have been disrupted and some rendered obsolete overnight. Just to cite one example, the pandemic has changed the way we work. 

Remote work is, perhaps, the most significant organisational design shock of our lifetimes. For leaders and managers of organisations, the great uncertainty created by the pandemic and the associated challenges require creative, flexible and adaptive responses, those that are usually not associated with leadership during ‘business-as-usual’ times. The complexities and challenges posed by the pandemic are leading to conditions of plurality that the leaders and organisations will have to manage in the near future: leading, managing and navigating business by showing resilience, ensuring ecological sustainability as well as employee well-being in the post-covid world. 

The Ashank Desai centre for leadership and organisational development is getting initiated into its activities at this crucial juncture and we hope that it will be able to create and disseminate knowledge that is relevant, contextual and impactful. The centre will provide a platform where academicians and practitioners can come together to discuss, deliberate and conduct research on leadership and organisational development issues. Also, we would like to see the centre become a vehicle through which the knowledge being created at IIMA in the domains of leadership and management can be disseminated to the world of practice. In order to do this, we will be conducting various events such as workshops, speaker series, panel discussions, and an annual conference that will provide opportunities to academicians as well as practitioners to exchange ideas, voice concerns as well as to jointly explore contextually relevant solutions to problems posed by the times we live in today. 

What kind of research studies the centre aims to take up?

The centre plans to drive research in various themes related to leadership development and offer training and research and consulting services to leaders at various levels in Indian and multinational organisations. The proposed centre aims to conduct research and knowledge development in the following broad areas.

  1. Leadership for Knowledge Organisations

Knowledge is the greatest leveller of our times. Knowledge work is defined as anything where the acquisition and exploitation of knowledge is central for an organisation’s competitive advantage. The principal capital of knowledge workers is ‘information’. The centre will aim to conduct research on this area in R&D organisations, technology firms, and consulting firms to understand how leaders develop power and influence and exercise power downwards and sideways.

  1. Leadership for Public Sector Organisations

Public sector undertakings (PSUs) contribute significantly to any country’s economic development as their services are aimed at its overall welfare. They also play an essential role in supporting other vital institutions and businesses of a nation. Under this theme, the centre will examine critical management issues that Indian public sector undertakings are faced with. Specifically, we aim to work on four research questions: (1) What are the topmost leadership challenges facing leaders of Indian public sector undertakings? (2) what critical leadership skills senior managers and leaders of Indian public sector undertakings need to be effective leaders/managers? (3) what are the top concerns or priorities of the human resource management function in Indian public sector undertakings? (4) what important factors attract and motivate individuals to work in Indian public sector undertakings?

  1. Leadership for Non-Profit and Social Enterprises

There is a long and distinctive operating history of not-for-profit organisations in India. The objective of the centre is to engage in knowledge creation with respect to the leadership concerns in the social sector, including issues of designing and managing social sector organisations, financial sustenance concerns, governance issues, and developing and nurturing of human capabilities. At the same time, the centre aims to develop and embrace newer leadership capabilities, models, and frameworks, in addition to traditional models and frameworks, for addressing some of the most pressing social issues affecting the society currently.

  1. CEO Personality and Strategic Leadership Development

The centre will deliver evidence-based offerings using a wide variety of pedagogy, including self-assessment, experiential activities, lectures and cases tailor-made to leaders’ requirements in India and the Asia-Pacific region. The centre hopes to develop and run workshops and executive education programs on self-assessment for leader personality, negotiations, and transition from a middle-level executive to strategic leadership. A related theme that the centre faculty would like to explore will be the challenges being faced by women leaders in India, leadership development for women, and women entrepreneurs. Over time, the centre would like to develop training programs as well as research material (journal articles as well as case studies) on issues related to women leaders in the Indian context.

  1. Leadership in Constitutional, Legal and Regulatory Organizations

The organization of the state and its arms, be it Central or State or Local level, reflects largely the organization of the Indian constitutional text. The centre will work towards understanding the design and purpose, and functioning of these institutions. We will begin the work with 1) Studies on Judiciary and Tribunals, and 2) Institutions like Central Information Commissions and Central Vigilance Commissions etc. Second part of the work will be to understand how legislation (statutes) and law of torts helps or acts as a barrier in terms of facilitating decision making and ensuring effective leadership. Third part of the work under this section is on Regulatory Agencies.

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