The 4Cs of leadership

Sushma Rajagopalan, a global leader in the IT industry, reflects on her 4 Cs of leadership.

Photo by Diz Play on Unsplash

The Aha moment:

It all began back in 2007/2008. I was interviewing for the role of a Chief strategy officer with the chairman of a large conglomerate. I was asked my opinion on what would make a good leader? I remember being energized by this question and waxed lyrical on all the virtues of a good leader. Long-term vision, customer and employee centricity, abundant capability to read the markets well, quick to implement changes and more formed the long list of attributes. A few months into the job, leading a team of about 50, I was asked by a young strategy associate, the same question — “who is a good leader”? I needed something that was simple, succinct, powerful, universally applicable and easy to recall. Something I could put to use myself and immediately as the Chief Strategy officer. I agonized over a long list of adjectives and attributes and had to find a way to whittle it down.

The 4 Cs are born: It was then that I remembered something my father, who was a chemist by profession, had taught me. He had talked about the virtues of a diamond and how they were assessed. Diamonds are assessed along 4 dimensions — the 4Cs — The Cut, Clarity, Color and Carat. Armed with this analogy, it didn’t take me long to come up with the 4Cs of a good leader.

  1. Constant Curiosity & Clarity of Thought. In an ever-changing business world augmented by rapidly evolving technology, a leader has to have an insatiable curiosity to learn and the clarity to decide. Life is full of choices you have and choices you make with umpteen constraints, some known and most unknown. Most entrepreneurs & leaders will not have all the answers to most questions, all the time. It is clarity of thought armed with adequate knowledge and ample curiosity that will aid decisions. Most good entrepreneurs and leaders are acutely aware they don’t know everything and surround themselves with people they can seek the answers from and are curious and constant learners.
  2. Courage & Conviction to Act. Let’s consider the following scenario: You are the owner of a menu-card printing business and you employ a team of 5 and you have been in business for the past 5 years. Suddenly the pandemic hits and your clients are going out of business. Do you apply for government funding or do you lay-off your staff or do you repurpose your business? This happened to a friend of mine who called me on a Friday evening saying she is going to have to shut down her business. She had talked to her staff and they all understood and awaited the inevitable. We talked about various avenues open to her but nothing seemed possible. A week later, my friend — her exuberant self, called me to say that she has repurposed the business to manufacture face shields. She could not afford all the 5 employees full-time but was able to keep all of them employed part-time and she had managed to get a local hospital to give them their first order.
  3. Charisma & Communication. Change in most situations is faced with anxiety and disbelief. Most employees in organizations, most of us for that matter, are wary of change. A leader has a choice of enabling change with a “My-way or the highway style” or be the charismatic communicator to carry the team with her. Unless you have the clarity of thought and the courage of conviction, it is extremely difficult to convince and carry others, let alone be charismatic. Clarity of thought makes it easy to face questions and provide convincing answers and enables you to incorporate suggestions and thoughts. As a new CEO of a company, when I revamped the strategy that led to structural changes, role changes, new focus areas, new markets and policies, I met employees across all levels in a “ Coffee & Conversation” session to communicate the changes. These were interactive sessions either in person or via video conference and done in a very conversational style.
  4. Consistency & Character. Finally, as a leader, whatever decisions you make, and in good times and in bad, more than facing your employees and your stakeholders, you have to face yourself. That’s where consistency and character come in. The “Why” of your actions are more important than the actions itself. Do your actions vary based on the individual or the circumstances? The speed of decision making has to be quick but without compromising the core principles with which you operate. Consider this scenario and see how you would act and ask yourself what if any would make you change your decision — 1. You discover that one of your key employees is overbilling a client. — what do you do? Do you wait for the client to call you and then act or, Act on it yourself? And when you do act, do you fire the employee or reprimand the employee? Clearly you can be consistent but need not be fair. That’s not the desired outcome.

Parting Shot Ask yourself this question- “Does the 5th C — Covid or any Crisis” change or accentuate any of these. And hopefully you will come to the same answer as I did, that the 4Cs should only add to your confidence in dealing with any business situation under Covid or any other Crisis.

Sushma Rajagopalan is a Global Leader in the IT Industry, with over 25 years of successful track record in Transforming Companies. She is a Venture Partner at Rittenhouse Ventures out of Philadelphia. She actively mentors startups & is on the boards of various technology startups, MidAtlantic Diamond Ventures & Jenkins Arboretum & Gardens — a non-profit organization. Prior to this, Sushma was MD and CEO for ITC Infotech, a fully owned subsidiary of ITC Ltd, one of India’s most admired companies. And prior to that she was a partner at LiquidHub (acquired by Cap Gemini) and a Chief Strategy officer at Larsen& Toubro Infotech. Sushma has an MBA from Carnegie Mellon University & A Master’s Degree in Personnel Management from Tata Institute of Social Sciences. She is a resident of Devon, Pennsylvania. Please reach out to her for leadership advice.

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