Monday, November 30, 2009

Emerging Leaders - Thought Leadership

I've always encouraged, in my head, the rather simplistic negative stereotype of a b-school as a place where people are taught to be jargon-spewing, self-selling go-getters. Coming in contact with profs Ashwin Mahesh, Trilochan Sastry and Rajeev Gowda over the last few months contributed significantly to alter that perception. Whatever prejudice was left were washed away in the last two weekends of the Emerging Leaders program by Prof. DVR Sheshadri.

Over the last month we have been in the middle of a module titled Thought Leadership in which we have spent time analyzing cases - both obscure and well-documented- from the business world. While the choice of cases has been smart for the most part, it sure has been a pleasure watching Prof S bring his humility, effortless wit, and rich collection of personal anecdotes to these sessions. What really had me nodding, though, was the healthy proportion of time that we spent on thought leadership in the social sector. The fact that I sat up straighter when dealing with cases pertaining to the social sector as opposed to those dealing with business, has to mean something. It's lurking in my head but I'm too afraid at this moment to give it words. I'll come back to that.

The most noteworthy session in all those classes happened last Saturday when we had a whole afternoon dedicated to the madness of Dr. Ashok Rao. I've been unabashedly leftist in my beliefs and harbor deep suspicions about a growth-obsessed inflationary model of economics. I usually gratify my confirmation biases by closely following some fringe commentators of, what I thought, was an inconsequential sub-culture. To hear those views expressed in the classrooms of one of our prestigious business schools was indeed a surprise, one that I'm welcoming with open arms. Dr. Rao initially came across as a technophobe who was polemic just for kicks (which is hard to reconcile with when you realize that he has a PhD in Digital Signal Processing). How do you deal with someone who uses Infosys as a metaphor for everything wrong with our society? However, as he ranted along, provoking everybody and leaving heads a-reeling, his method started to reveal itself. I couldn't help feel that he left everybody infected with a little disenchantment over how society has distributed wealth among its denizens and what a beating Quality of Life has taken in the process. Despite his distinctly unsophisticated style you can tell that he is no phony. This morning he would have returned to his lonely home in an unmarked village near Gubbi. I vowed to pay him a visit around Christmas time.

While that session pumped up the tumult, the prize-winning epiphany came this morning. As a fun thought-exercise we did a little poll among the 20 of us for the question "What percentage of the collective talent of the employees are we effectively harnessing in our company?". As a group we arrived at "20%". Wow!
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