Coverage by Bhat Dittakavi of Variance.AI on “Future Leadership” by D Shivkumar of Aditya Birla Group on 11th May 2019 at ISB alumni meetup.

As an IITian, IIMer and Whartonite, Shivkumar comes up with great academic credentials. Add to them his work experience at global businesses as well as Indian MNCs. As CEO for the past 17 years or so, he has distilled his past leadership experience to arrive at how to rethink leadership journey for the future. Shiv is authentic and hence trustworthy. Authenticity and Trust are the two attributes he recommends every leader shall carry. His content is very simple but it just sticks. His powerful throw in his voice makes the audience wanting to listen to him more.

Rethink your Leadership Journey

D Shivkumar, Group Executive President, Corporate Strategy ABG

How to get ready for the future of leadership?

MBA degree is a business visa with an expiry date. It is not a green card. Yet, many people look at it as a guarantee! Even after you got the visa, remember that an immigration officer has a right to reject your entry!

The MBA is a rational degree. It is set to teach critical thinking skills, hence not a degree that embraces emotions. All the case studies you have studied in ISB are never about emotions but thinking algorithms. Unfortunately, that is not how the world works.

In a future world, results matter. I just don’t worry whether the person is from ivy league or not. I asked people to reward those who bring results. Concepts of results keep evolving. Today result is also about sustainability, impact, diversity and taking care of people.

Let me talk about three economies.

3 economies

Industrial economy

Knowledge economy

Creative economy

1.Industrial Economy

What wins: Machine efficiency

Leadership style: Command and control

Behavior: Formal

Relationships: Human to human

Role models: Army

2.Knowledge Economy

Leadership style: Connect and communicate

Behavior: Informal

Relationships: Human to machine

3.Creative Economy

What wins: Ideas

Leadership style: Collaborative and co-creative

Behavior: Facilitator

Role model: Startups

Leadership: Values-led

Now a days, you see New, Smart and Digital are the three buzzwords in every talk or article!

Old Leader versus New Leader

Old leader: Drives on highway and he is the driver. Few ups and downs. He never falls off the car. Few pitfalls.

New Leader: Look at a surfer. Fall many times as a surfer. Being on a surfboard is the new thing for leaders. Huge adrenaline kick and huge energy with huge risk. Many pitfalls. We will fall. Get back to the surf board again. Continous success doesn’t exist. Biggest disruption is the waves.

You have to rethink your leadership style because there are no role models for surfboard leaders. You have to do it yourself. You have to reinvent yourself. Emphasis is on you. Leading news papers leading you to a role model is no longer the paradigm.

10 suggestions

These are my suggestions of the future. It is up to you.

1)Every job will change with technology. It is changing the business model. Business and technology are merciless on the middlemen. The middlemen can be professors or agents and more. Middleman’s shelf life is in danger. Are you innovating with digital? Digitize the way you are working with people.

2.Be an all learning leader, not an all knowing leader. Think about the situation and come up with the best. Leaders are not answer pills. They don’t know the answers for followers to implement. Talk to a few people outside of your industry every month. Ask them how their industry is and how is it going. Good ideas travel across industries in a snap. Pace of change is so quick. Learn by the minute and by the hour.

3.Move from a hierarchy to network. Old leader marshalled resources with command and control. Imagine the conductor of the orchestra who plays no instrument. Each music player watches the baton on orchestrator’s hand while he is facing them and showing his back to the audience. He provides two things to his team. The glue and The energy so his team marches on.

4.Stop micro-managing and start micro-sensing. Talk to folks in your industry and they know more about your industry than you know. Leaders have to dig deep in the firm and pick up the worries of people and feed them to the right people to fix them. In hierarchy, this can’t happen. Sense what’s happening as a good leader.

5.Stop giving answers and really ask good questions. Throw light based on which new direction comes. Practice to ask these good questions. Great questions lead to fantastic direction.

6.Don’t throw meaningless data points, instead seek wisdom and insights. 90% of data is unused. 60% of the reports are not used. “What is this report for? Sales, ecosystem, Finance and so on. 200 reports. Only if 50% of the intended recepients open, we will continue the report. Else, shut the report. “When I want I will open” is not a good way. Saving a report just won’t help. Click and see. Seek insights. We are data rich and insight poor. Build wisdom. Shelf life of wisdom is very short. In mobile phone business, we used to measure growth month on month.

7.Your current company will not be the last company, be loyal as long as the company is loyal to you. If the company is not loyal, you owe them nothing. Lifespan of your career is bigger than the lifespan of a given company.

8.In a meeting discuss and debate and do not have death by powerpoint. Be the best prepared person in the room. Discuss in the meetings.

9.Go and seek learning versus expecting learning to come to you. You have to go and seek learning all the time. Reflect on your day and meetings.

10.Simplify, not complicate. Indian leaders tend to complicate. Leader asks out of syllabus questions in the meeting! Ask yourself “are you simplifying”. You can do it if you think simply and clearly. There is a premium on speed. Speed comes with clarity in thinking.

Performance variables

Performance variable might vart from geography to geography.

Good results aligned with powers: Rare. Alignment is an outcome of a good culture. Good results not aligned with powers: Headwinds. Bad results aligned with power: Deliver results else you can’t last. Bad results not aligned with power: Exit.

Nokia was in red box. Board wants Microsoft and results are bad.

Western model has money as currency. The more turbulent the world is more variance on money. Money lasts as long as results last. You plan your career based on this.

Eastern model has job security as the currency. Results and loyalty are the variables.

Exchange variable in India or family model gives job security. This is what happens in India and degree goes even higher.

Be aware on the model and play the variable accordingly.

Final three nuggets

Be a good human being in a digital world. Leaders can never be robots. More automation makes people crave for interaction. We can read through the eyes of the people. Be a good human being and it is a premium. Digitized world makes it more rational than an MBA.

Leadership will not be a competency checklist, it will be about authenticity and trust. People March with you if you are authentic and trustworthy. Trust is one common parameter. When he is not authentic, he will lose trust.

Be good at strategy. Be better at execution. Be great at inspiration. In most industries, strategies are the same. Execution is the differentiation with people and resources on hand. Execution required predictability and flexibility.

Distribution of workforce

Give tail wind to stars, 5% of the staff. Leave politicians who move with the wind. Most MBAs take the 10% risky route instead if the star route. There is another 10% who get the good support of the senior management. The middle 50% are the weight bearers because of whom the business runs.

Switching jobs

Switch jobs when you are happy, never when you are unhappy. When you are unhappy, every offer looks good. Remember life span of your crewe is bigger than lifespan of a company.


Accountability in red is a threat.

Accountability in green is like try it out. If it works, fine. If not fine.

Bad news

People first. Bad news should reach you the fastest. Bad news is not like pickle that gets better with time. It stinks with time.

Pride moment

16 years of role as CEO resulted in 60 of my direct reports eventually turning CEOs.

Micro management

Nothing wrong in this style. Say it if you are a micro manager. Be authentic. Stay true to your leadership style. In a crisis, you micro manage.

Lies on ET

Every CEO says

1)We are people centric.

2)We are innovative

3)We double turnover in four years.


Seek feedback after each meeting. Then you know whether they could get what you want them to get. Leaders display self-awareness.


Some degree of unreasonable-ness is good and you shall have propels trust for this to work.


Number one thing that turns off the women is language. It is about nunber of small things.

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