Stepping Back and Looking Within
Executive Networks invited Hitendra Wadhwa, founder of the Mentora Institute and an awardwinning professor at Columbia Business School, to join for a unique April 7th installment of the
ongoing COVID-19 Virtual Roundtable Series. Hitendra’s work and teaching focuses on personal leadership development. Along with his Mentora colleague Raghu Krishnamoorthy, the former CHRO of GE, Hitendra invited members to spend the hour stepping back from the tactical pressures of the crisis to look within themselves to become more effective leaders.
Humanity Rising to the Challenge
- Hitendra opened the conversation by pointing to the truly heroic efforts by those in the medical profession, the police, and other frontline jobs. Employers are redirecting resources. Everyone is
coming together in the face of a shared borderless invisible enemy. The crisis reminds us that we share deep connections with each other and that we must work together to make things happen. As Raghu put it, HR leaders have moved from a “find out” world to a “figure it out” world. Whatever playbook we had in the past isn’t applicable, but that has not slowed heroic action.
- Capturing the energy of this moment: Volunteerism and collectivism are at all time highs. We have an opportunity to harness the energy of this moment and build upon it. The
questions for leaders now become, what can be sustained going forward? How are we memorializing this shared experience? What are the habits we are developing now—like increased speed of decision making—that we should try to take forward? How can we prevent ourselves and our organizations from settling back into old routines once this has passed? What are the stories being written today that will define our organizations in the future?
- Turning the lens inward: The crisis provides us with an opportunity to reflect on our own behaviors. Hitendra referenced Abraham Lincoln’s second presidential inaugural address,
delivered amidst the Civil War. At the time, the Union held an insurmountable advantage on the battlefield, but Lincoln chose to speak instead about the North’s culpability in a centuries-old economic model dependent upon slave labor. Hitendra encouraged members to similarly ask themselves how their actions helped create a global economy that is so brittle in the face of a crisis. How are you responding to the pandemic on a personal level?
- Throwing away the bell curve: Hitendra dismisses the classic bell curve of performance as a relic of the 20th century. As he puts it, the truth is everyone moves within the bell curve on a near-daily basis, performing highly in some areas and poorly in others. As individuals bring more of their whole selves to work—a trend amplified by people working from their homes with families in the next room—leaders are connecting more deeply with their
employees and must draw out the better parts of themselves and others.
Inner Mastery, Outer Impact
- Leadership is often approached as a set of outer behaviors. His research has led Hitendra to the conclusion that leadership is even more fundamentally about inner mastery—about mastering
thoughts, feelings, intentions, values, beliefs, principles and identity. He believes that a leader must anchor herself in an “inner core” to face the challenges and demands of this moment. The great leaders from history share a remarkable ability to draw out the inner core of others. Hitendra defines the inner core through five universal human “energies:”
- Purpose: Everyone’s passions and strengths are grounded in a purpose that itself is grounded in reality. The purposeful path is paved with values and goals. Today, our purpose is to accept the pain, uncertainty and challenges that lie ahead, while also reassuring people that in ten years we will be proud of the choices we are making today. We will be able to look back at how we behaved with grace and passion during this time of need.
- Wisdom: There is a critical need in crises to direct all emotions and thoughts in the service of purpose. Wisdom re-directs emotion into a space of productivity and empowerment. It
can come from anyone. Truth could be knocking on our doors unexpectedly.
- Love: Take joy in others’ joy, and find success in their success. Love demands empathy, but emotional empathy is not very helpful for leaders. Cognitive empathy is. It gives us the
opportunity to understand others’ challenges and respond from a place of grace and wisdom—not emotion.
- Growth: Leaders pursue excellence by working to unlock the vast potential for growth that exists in themselves and others. Through the right kind of thoughtful investments, we can
draw out positive traits in people that they never knew that they had. An average leader sees people for who they are. A good leader sees people as who they can become.
- Self-realization: Hitendra encourages leaders to operate mindfully from the tranquil, joyful, and intuitive spirit within and to strive to recognize that same spirit in all. Rational guidance can only take us so far. Every choice—every option—has a cost. When we calm ourselves and step away from the battlefield, we can draw out flashes of insight that help us perform as our best selves.
Thank you to all who participated for your energy and enthusiasm! And thank you to our friends at Mentora, Hitendra Wadhwa and Raghu Krishnamoorthy, for joining us.
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