The Manager’s Map

(My piece for Outlook Magazine’s B-school Annual issue)

All our lives we have been told that if we are to “make it”, you ought to:

(a) have a degree from a very reputed B-school?

(b) be among the lot who is grabbed on Day Zero by the biggest MNCs at the fanciest pay-packs with all of the perks that go with it; and

(c) be willing to switch jobs if there is somebody bigger and better who makes you a bigger and better offer.

I have a few submissions to make. First, if you think all the above are true, it makes you no different from a mercenary. Second, by every which yardstick in the world we live in, the B-school you graduate from does not matter. The organisation and pay-pack you manage to wrangle on Day 1 does not either. Third, how quickly you switch jobs to get into a bigger and better organisation is a redundant idea as well. Allow me to explain all of these.

Very soon, Indian business will be looking for leaders who can operate across boundaries, thrive in uncertainty and combine creativity with hard logic

The world has changed. The skills and capabilities required from a great manager are undergoing a dramatic shift, globally and even more so in India. In the past, business leaders were rewarded for skills in a defined area. They were rewarded for taking a ‘linear path’ — some joined firms as management trainees and spent the next two decades climbing the ladder. But that has changed. The rapidity with which technology and global influences are driving change demands a new class of managers to lead our enterprises.

How does it change things for you? Now, the ultimate career ambition of a manager is to get an opportunity to ‘lead’. So, rather than think of how much a job pays you today, you ought to think of how well it positions you to be a leader tomorrow. What set of experiences will give someone the confidence to handover the keys of a business to you?

Given all these, it is pertinent you reframe your career. I have seen too many young people caught in the I-deserve-to-be-paid-more-or-I-will-quit syndrome. They end up optimising for a job and not for their career.

  • See yourself as a buyer of experiences that enrich you, as against a seller of skills to the highest bidder, for the next 10 years. You may need to forego a fatter pay packet — do it. And while job-hunting, find yourself a job that offers you the maximum chance to add to your repertoire of skills.
  • Stay in a place long enough to prove that you made an imp­act. If you have taken a corporate job, stick around till you can show that you were responsible for a project and took it to fruition. Ask for more — not more money, but more responsibility and more exposure.
  • Start-ups are a great way to shortcut the experience cycle. They are compression chambers for learning. They are riskier — but being thrown into the deep end is often the best thing that can happen to you. They thrust responsibility, not pay cheques. When the time is right and it is due, the money will follow.
  • Technology. For this generation of managers, the biggest skill in demand will be your native understanding of technology. Spend a lot of your time learning about how technology works and changes over time. Volunteer yourself for technology projects and think about how it can be used creatively. In 10 years, technology itself will no longer be a competitive advantage, but how it is used as a weapon will be.
  • No matter what assignment you work on, keep expanding your boundaries in other areas too. Spend time every week watching a TED talk or reading about new business models. It’s all effort that will pay off manifold when the time comes for you to be considered for leadership. Always be learning.

In 10 years, Indian firms will place a premium on people who have cross-functional experience, people who embrace uncertainty and ambiguity and can meld business logic with creativity and common sense. There is no need for a picture-perfect CV. Entrepreneurial stints will be applauded, and failures will not be considered a handicap. Firms will require people who are curious, and have developed a flexible and collaborative mindset, and more importantly, understand the role technology can play in shaping their firms.

And meanwhile, if you have it in you to launch the next billion-dollar start-up. Go for it. At best, you will succeed; at worst, you will have the best experience of your life.

(Haresh Chawla was founding chief executive of the media house Network18. He is now a partner at India Value Fund and mentors several start-ups.)

Originally published at