The baton of leadership is passing to Gen X leaders from baby boomers. In the flat world leadership challenges have multiplied. In the Indian context, Gen X leaders have seen India as a poor country in their childhood, a closed economy in their youth and a global powerhouse from late 30′s. Now in their 40′s they have to take over the leadership in organizations or as entrepreneurs. Will they be able to effectively transition into leadership roles or will they be inhibited by their thinking? Gen X leadership is one critical factor that can make or break India’s progress into joining the big league countries. Let us contemplate the leadership skills and attributes that Indian Gen X leaders need to address to succeed.
In pre-independence India, Tatas and Birlas made their mark. Then Dhirubhai Amabani changed Indian mindsets about business. Narayana Murti and Sunil Bharti Mittal from 1990′s showed the way to Indians to lead in new technology areas. However, post it, their have no big movers and shakers who have held the flag of Indian entrepreneurship high. Unlike the west, there are no Mark Zuckerberg’s in India.
Recently, Ashok Soota, Phaneesh Murthy and T.V.Mohandas Pai, all from information technology industry were in the news for their entrepreneurial spirit. Phaneesh Murthy, CEO if iGate, went through a career disaster a few years back due to a sexual harassment case at Infosys. He came back stronger, formed his own company and acquired Patni last year. Patni was where Narayana Murthi’s story started. Ashok Soota started Mindtree, sold it to make a huge profit, and has started Happiest Minds. Latest entrant, Mohandas Pai has become the chief architect of a multi-discipline university cluster being planned by Dr Ranjan Pai of Manipal Education & Medical Group (MEMG) and opened an investment fund for entrepreneurs.
However, none of these path breakers are from Gen X, they are all older generations. Big family business names are searching for CEOs to run separate businesses for them, however, there is limited entrepreneurial talent in India. Does Gen X lack entrepreneurial spirit?
2. Strategic Thinking
While the west celebrates the success of college dropouts- Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg, Indians remain obsessed with qualifications. From school to college, education is all about how well a student can memorize and reproduce a teacher’s lectures. Critical and independent thinking isn’t encouraged in Indian education systems or social structures. A youngster is considered well-behaved when s/he accepts elders and seniors instructions unquestionably. Gen X from childhood haven’t learnt to disagree without being disagreeable. Hence, as leaders they lack strategic and innovative thinking skills.
This is apparent that Indian banking system is suffering due to requests of corporate debt restructuring (CDR). In this year, the CDR amount is nearly Rs 2 lakh crore (USD 36,722 million) . Key reasons being management incompetence and diversion of funds. This situation is when Indian economy is having a robust growth and was not significantly impacted by financial crises. The Indian CXOs are inexperienced in strategically managing diverse variables in a dynamic global environment. Hence, Indian Gen X leaders are losing out. Indian business houses are looking at expats and NRIs for future business expansions. Specially, since some are venturing into global markets and setting operations in other countries.
3. Social Conditioning
Gen X was raised by parents who were born in pre-independence era. Most urban middle class families were so conservative, that Gen X wasn’t even allowed to date or chose marriage partners themselves. Most lived with their parents, got married and continued to live in joint families. Women didn’t work and were the perfect house wives. Interactions from people across the globe were limited. There were a number of restrictions on socializing with people of different religions, castes and races. Now times have drastically changed.
Gen Y is raised on a staple diet of MTV, club hopping and speed dating. There is hardly any difference between youth of west and India. In most organizations, nearly 60% of the workforce consists of Gen Y. Around 20-30% employees are women. Significant amount of revenue comes from exports, hence dealing with international customers and cultures is a mandatory skill.
In such a scenario, Gen X leaders face challenges in people management. The war for talent is huge. Managing diversity is critical for success. From an autocratic work culture, organizations are shifting to consultative cultures. Indian managers have recently started focusing on building organization cultures. Most have limited experience in managing people across different cultures.
Multinationals setting operations in India have found this social behavior of Indian managers counter productive. It hinders global cultural integration, team building and smooth communication. Sometimes the personal bias can create huge problems. Hence, most of the multinationals look for Indians with international work experience for critical CXO positions. Here, the liberal thinkers in Indian Gen X group have made great strides.
4. Value System
Indian society holds family dearest. The family comes first even at the expense of society, and most Indians do not feel a responsibility for betterment of society. For instance, in US family and society hold equal importance, and most Americans voluntarily contribute towards social projects. Activism is high,and they hold government accountable and themselves responsible for improving society. Indian citizens on the other hand can be found lamenting about high corruption, poverty, lack of education, high crime rates, poor infrastructure etc. However, the apathy level is so high that they never try to find solutions, be responsible and take charge.
Some business houses have got inspired by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet’s pledge to donate their wealth. A few have started non-profit organizations, such as Premji, to contribute to the society. The business groups of CII, Chamber of Commerce, AIMA etc. have started lobbying with government to focus on growth. Nandan Nilekani joined government to run the UIDAI project. A few ex-CXOs have started consulting organizations to deal with social causes, lobby with government and bring change.
Gen X leaders have to carry this torch further. Singing unending woes and blaming the government isn’t a solution. They have to focus on corporate social responsibility and practice compassionate capitalism.
5. Running Large Operations
Indian managers are renowned for managing in chaos. Their jugado (Mr. Fix-it) skills are tremendous. However, that itself has restricted them from learning the advantages of well-defined processes, systems and procedures.
Gen X started working in organizations where the offices had 100-200 staff. Nearly everyone was a big fish in a small pond. An organization with 10,000 employees or Rs 500 crore (USD 91 million) turnover was considered big in India. Very few Gen X managers have worked in global organizations with billion dollar profit margins or over 100 thousand employees. Hence, most don’t understand the complexity of working in or running large scale operations in a cross cultural environment.
There are hardly any truly Indian multinational organizations, that have operations in more than 10 countries. Hence, the Gen X leaders fail to comprehend strategic and operational opportunities and risks that western multinational organizations are used to. The difference is so significant that Reliance Industries, a company of Ambani, has enjoyed high market capitalization for over a decade. But it is only half of Facebook 100 billion dollar value. Reliance Infocom and Reliance Retail both suffered hiccups in running operations for the first few years and customer service was pathetic. It took both companies nearly five years to straighten out operations despite there being no dearth of funds.
For Indian organization to grow to the next level, it needs leaders who can manage large-scale operations. Are Gen X leaders up to the task?
Indian Gen X grew up in a social environment where failure was ridiculed, dissenting views were laughed at and independent thinkers stigmatized. Not surprisingly, majority of the Gen X is scared of trying new things and failing. Though failure is the best teacher, and it is not easy to learn when one is successful. The paradox is that all the requirements of a successful Gen X leader are completely opposite to the values they were raised with. The fastest learners and adapters will succeed in this battle and they will lead India to the next level of growth. The point to ponder on is, whether India is in short supply of Gen X leaders with these attributes? If yes, will India be able to be among the top 3 countries in the next decade?