What a CEO Needs

Close encounters of the déjà vu kind…

Fondling age-old memories can be slippery. Sometimes, you feel as though you caressed those events only yesterday. Then, at other times, you feel as if they have slipped away in oblivion. The elusiveness adds to the mystic feeling. And it is in this mysterious confused state that Oct 19, 2012 found me drifting back to this sleepy place in Uttaranchal after a hiatus of 25 years, a campus town called Pantnagar . The occasion was my silver-jubilee college reunion. How will it feel to go back to a place that at one point meant the ‘world’ to me, and then gradually became just a ‘point’ in my world? ….

Four from our group who have continued to stay in intermittent touch shared the six-hour car drive from Delhi to Pantnagar. As we were busy catching up, an amusing debate came up: How many of our professors might be still teaching? Upon reaching Pantnagar, the very first friend we ran into kidded: How many of our professors might be still alive? And when the alumni meet started with the keynote, we discovered that 7 out of our 157 batch mates were no more! And almost equally tragic, I couldn’t even remember the face of any of them!

To break the gloomy thought chain, I took a pause from the session and strode my way towards the hostel where I had first stayed as a freshman. I purposely walked alone, to be able to observe my first feelings at each encounter with a familiar sight. The distance seemed longer than I remembered. There was a reason for it, now I recollected. I used to traverse this lane on a bicycle given by my Dad—a very old one that belonged to my sister, with a stick welded in-between in a desperate attempt to disguise it as a gent’s cycle. A humble initiation, indeed, to life in college—a far cry from a big bang entry into adulthood that one grows up fantasizing.

I reached the hostel and headed straight to the room where I had first boarded. The room seemed more beat up than the way I had left, almost as if someone intended to preserve it in anticipation of its tryst with me in the future! This is where I had the first drink and the first smoke of my life. I was a balanced youth actually, had never dreamt of falling into any bad habit. Then in the very first month as a boarder, a whole gang of my new friends had once barged into my room. Everybody started smoking and coerced me to go for a ‘puff’. I surveyed around for an escape and picked the most innocent looking of the lot. “If Sumit smokes, so shall I”, I triumphantly declared. How was I to know that Sumit had already earned ‘chimney’ as his nick name?

File photo, Pantnagar 1986, my core gang from left.. Sunil (my best friend#1), SUMIT, Sanjay, Sandeep, Shahid (my best friend#2), Anupam. Don’t know what I am doing up there!

Bemused, I walked out of the room towards the hostel cafeteria, the place that held the most noisy and lively memories. I vaguely remembered the thank-you speech I had delivered there after winning the bitterly fought election as a freshman for the student union. I had sort of pulled a coup by managing to garner support from sworn rivals—Jats and Thakurs—thanks to my noncontroversial demeanor and diplomacy with both sides.

I walked out of the hostel and decided to take a detour on my way back to alumni sessions in the main college building. Not too far from our hostel was the girl’s hostel; the lane between the two hostels was a very popular road for obvious reasons. How many times I must have strolled here! Preparing to walk on that road itself used to be a weekend ritual—a jacket borrowed from one friend, shoes from another, jeans from the third one; there was no concept of shaming in sharing.

Then when I finally crossed the girl’s hostel, I paused for a minute in front of the locked gate. This is where I had first fallen in love and this is where my heart subsequently broke too. Twenty-five years ago when I last stood staring at this gate, there was an overwhelming sinking feeling. But this time, I could smile widely about the same memory. The episode was a part of growing up; life eventually took me to an even more beautiful romantic pasture.

I made it back to the alumni meet, and the boring sessions continued. However later that evening, when the cultural evening especially planned for the alumni was put up by the current students, the show simply took my breath away! Subsequently, when they requested me to propose a vote of thanks, I shared with the young students pretty much the same things that I have written above; of course, with my own déjà vu twist…

Historically, French and English aren’t exactly known for their mutual generosity; very few instances of gift exchange are recorded between the two cultures. The expression Déjà vu happens to be one of those rare (albeit underrated) French gifts to the English dictionary. So special that even in the present day, there is no exact equivalent in English for this wonderful expression. The Wikipedia elaboration of Déjà vu is—“The phenomenon of having the strong sensation that an event currently being experienced had been experienced in the past.” In other words, the event is different but the emotion being experienced is identical.

The emotion of a startup entrepreneur who drives several miles in search of the cheapest motel to stay during his business trip is analogous in its grounding nature to that of a young man riding an old camouflaged ladies cycle.

The mistake that a business executive commits every time he strays away from a data-driven methodology is no different than the perception blunder of a freshman who wrongly concludes a stranger’s traits by mere looks.

The art of maneuvering around in the business world abundant with peculiar customers and employees is similar in its diplomacy instinct to that of a student who amicably gathers election support from warring factions.

The realization by CXOs that ‘winning’ requires collaboration by all stakeholders—employees, customers, vendors as well as society—is quite akin to the wardrobe-sharing customs between college-going youth with limited means.

And, of course, the spirit of calmness that every successful executive is expected to maintain through the cyclical ups and downs of business is comparable to the extreme emotional coaching of the young lover’s heart.

It is my belief that as the future keeps on unfolding; virtually every feeling invoked within us has a repeatable pattern, almost as if everything that happens has happened hundreds of times before. Only if we can recognize these patterns and thus learn from our past, there is an opportunity to mold our temperaments to achieve more intended results in our daily lives. For instance, the above story highlights in bold ‘five’ predictable characteristics that hold great value, especially for grooming a CEO’s temperament.

Over the last several blogs, we have had a few interesting opinion polls on topics of varied interest. In this particular blog, I have a vested interest in hearing out the readers. Amongst the highlighted temperaments in the above article, there is one specific must-have trait that I believe is of paramount importance for a CEO to be able to efficiently execute his role. It would be interesting to see if the audience agrees with my assessment on the most pivotal trait amongst following options: a) Grounded; b) Data-Driven; c) Diplomatic; d) Collaborative; e) Calm. And yes, this time I promise to reveal my choice after I have heard everyone out happy.



Data, Leader, Original, Style

48 Comments

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  1. Being “Calm” is a must have trait for a CEO.
    He has to hold on to his nerves and patiently deal with lot of things that come across.
    You have very nicely portrayed the traits for a CEO through your own experience.

  2. Calmness !!!

  3. HIGH focused Intensity into equally important qualities where in there is attachment where it matters and detached where it is not required in order to attain peace and calmness along with the success(achieving objective “whatever it takes to with the RIGHT path”)

  4. Hello Arun,
    Although, all the traits outlined by you are a must-have for a CEO, but in my opinion, amongst all of them, being “Diplomatic” is of paramount importance. It really is very difficult to choose one from these options as a CEO would not be a “CEO” without all these traits, however, being “Diplomatic” obviously takes the front seat.
    Vishwas

  5. d) Collaborative

  6. CEO is the leader of the organization who works as the stimulation and role model but without team he is nothing. I believe collaboration should be in top in those five characteristics.

  7. Very Nice Arun. I am sure, this will take every reader to take a pause and look back in life, the lanes you left behind.
    On a successful CEO traits, though an individual needs all 5listed depending on the situation to wear and act accordingly, I think the most pivotal trait can be ‘CALMNESS’ that can help to think RIGHT on the call for that moment.

  8. I think it should be option e) Calm. As per my views, calmness is basic characteristic, which will initiate and support all other 4 characteristics.

  9. For me, it has to be (a) Grounded. It has a very basic reason that I deduce from the above.. One can perceive reality, learn from the past and keep his/her aspirations high and work accordingly knowing where they stand and what is the target and a dream in long term.

    If you are grounded, you can outrightly know what is required in tough times that challenge you. Half the world around in the corporate I believe are data-driven but reality at ground level is something they are hardly aware of, only a person who is grounded can understand the true challenges and a crack of opportunity.

  10. I think a Person becomes Larger than Life by just being Grounded and Calm, as it takes a full life to build something but it takes a second to Destroy it.
    So unless a Person is Calm and if he never forgets his roots and the Culture from where he eventually grew up [ Grounded to his roots ], he can end up reaching wrong Highway.
    The Best Examples – Rajiv gandhi and APJ.

  11. Good Morning! Sir
    Data – Driven is the most logical way of moving ahead which plays a very big role once we start multiplying (when a company like cybage becomes what it is today from the time it started in a small flat). Have you seen a Movie called “Moneyball”
    Diplomacy
    Example – There are people having some very good qualties, say his prefessional ability.but its not necessary that they are a good team member. Being diplomatic in such a situation helps you gain control of such being and get a better point of view from a indivisual member of a team, which ultimately bring collaboration (right amount of efforts from everyone).
    Calmness
    There is a disadvantage as being diplomatic as it could give us commercial success , but ones self keeps on bothering, so being calm helps us gain control of ourself.
    Bold
    There are times when we need to take some harsh decisions, it helps here.
    Grounded
    is very well explained above.
    Conclusion
    Its not just one characterstic, but all of the above, but harness them from one’s self is the most difficult part.

  12. Hello Sir,

    Nice Article!!
    “Calm” and “Diplomatic” are must have tratis for CEO.

  13. An entrepreneur is one who must have all the above traits to reach heights.
    Agreed that these all play a very vital role in upbringing of a mere person into a CEO since this is not an easy role to be played.
    Data-Driven, Diplomatic, Collaborative and Calm these are the traits which one can learn experiencing ups n downs in their journey. But being grounded has to be a part of one’s nature. This cannot be thought by making someone realize. Understanding the root from where a person has come from and not forget in having reached the goals and planning for new ones has to be from the heart. Being grounded in my view is acceptance of struggle one has to put in following their path of choice.

  14. I think calmness is a prime characterstic, which will trigger all the remaining characterestics.

  15. Calmness
    Because it will help one to get all rest characteristics and make person like a wall that does not collapse even after facing millions of tides..
    And its really the best article yet…

  16. a) Grounded and e) Calmness

  17. Being “Diplomatic” is the most important one.

  18. The above mentioned characteristics are the primary requirement for any Person. There exist various characteristics in different people and one needs to bind them in a thread. For a person to be well grommed he needs to be dynamic and so his characteristics must be.we always seek the dynamic contents and so one needs to alter his behavior as per the requirement.

  19. Collaborative

  20. I fully agree that life is repetitive. An average person, by the age of 30 has exhausted all his/her quota of new experiences. What follows is the same pattern in all new activities. I also am of the opinion that how a person reacts to such situations very rarely changes. Those who have reacted correctly to such situation will do it right in subsequent encounters too and those who reacted inappropriately first time will do the same again. There are very few who improve themselves and go on to become great person.

  21. Arun, excellent post once again. Just like events in life, writing excellent articles is a repeatitive trait for you as well :).
    In my opinion, most important trait for a CEO in today’s world is Collaboration. Teamwork is the key to success in today’s world. Businesses have become extremely competitive and complex. Inclusive growth in case of employees and business partnering in case of customers is the best way to achieve success.

  22. I believe Data-Driven is most important trait for a CEO. As a CEO, One has to take strategic decisions based on relevant data, which determines future course of an organization.

  23. It has to be Data Driven methodology, it supports the CEO to take unbiased decisions.

  24. Truly Inspiring! The blog post has a mass appeal. Among the traits, Calmness, seems to be the trait that is at the core of all. One can’t take well-informed decisions, be diplomatic or stay grounded unless he or she is at peace and in harmony with the facts and surroundings.

    Thanks for sharing the treasure.

  25. Really Inspiring Article !!!
    I believe Calmness followed by Grounded are the basic hence important traits.

  26. It is ‘data-driven’.

  27. collaborative and team work

  28. Very nice post!!!!
    Definately “Grounded” is my choice because when you reach heights you should know from where you started, and how you reached there… then you will treat others in that way

  29. I think being Grounded is the key trait which can drive the other attributes seamlessly.

  30. This by far seems to be the most popular of your blogs. I enjoyed reading it too 🙂

    Calm is the winning trait for a CEO. While spearheading a team or a group or a corporation, a calm mind enables the CEO look at situations with the right perspective and arrive at correct and objective decisions.

  31. Once again, a great one
    I believe calmness is very imprtant trait for a CEO.
    By being calm in a situation thats tearing you part not only infuses a sense of confidence in yourself but also gives a boost to all working along with you.
    It helps you to relax while in disagreement with anyone.
    Helps one to stay stable in unfavourable situations. Calmness always helps you in being very confident in times of extreme change and stress.
    Its help you to always be cool and composed, and also at times puts people at ease in approaching you without any second thoughts or hesitation in their minds.

  32. COLLABORATIVE
    You have to take everyone along with you, then only you are the leader.

  33. Hello,
    This is my first day in cybage ;). I really enjoyed this blg. I was experiencing all the incidences which you have mentioned in this.. Really great experience.
    I think clam & grounded are most important things among rest.
    Thanks.

  34. Thank you SIR for the good article.
    I think calmness is the most important trait. The reason, even if you have all the traits required to become a good CEO, all these traits will vanish in the absense of calmness.

  35. I think collaboration is the most important charcteristic for a successful CEO.

    Being collaborative means that the person needs to be diplomatic(take everyone forward), grounding (needs to be neutral before taking any decisions). The data-driven & calmness quality will always be there in a person who is the CEO of a company.

  36. Deplomatic and calmness are most important things..!!! It is a best blog sir..!!

  37. Calmness is most pivotal for a successful CEO. All other traits follow automatically with a peaceful and calm mind.

  38. As usual, I was a pleasure reading this one too, Arun. All traits are very important but not everyone will have all combined. Not baised by what I see in Cybage today, data-driven is one of the most important traits, I feel. The usage of data driven analysis in the year 1994-95 to find projection of production for a month (with seasonal impact) combining raw-material, sales, inventory and WIP data using Exponential Smoothing statistical technique was my first realization what data and analytics could do in the business world. Realization came later, initially it was a complex calculation only. I was working on the peripheral support side of software and later responsible to manage and maintain that but I was never able to write a mathematical model of that caliber. However, that didn’t stop me to respect the learning and power of analytics in decision making.

    • Data driven, is one of the most important traits CXO’s should have along with FOCUS.

  39. d) Collaborative
    Most crucial trait which is required in an entrepreneur.

  40. Very Nice. This is the first blog I read and it took me down the memory line.. my school days.. wonderful.

  41. According to my point of view ‘Data Driven’ and ‘Grounded’ is the key peculiarity of perfect CEO

  42. Hi Arun,
    I am reading your post first time as I joined Cybage just before few days.
    Very nice post!!!!
    Definately, a perfect CEO should be “Down Towards Earth” because when you reach heights you should know from where you started, and how you reached there. A simple example, if a company does not have any Good Software Engineer (junior most assest in IT company) then that company can’t compete others.

    He/she should have clear understanding of his/her Short term and long term goals.

    He/She should have a progressive and innovative thinking.

    Thanks..

  43. Hi Arun Sir,
    Read your blog for the first time & simply liked it.
    You have effectively portrayed, through the feeling of “Deja Vu”, the learning we get in the college & how we can use the learning while facing the real world. I think collaboration & calmness are the 2 most important traits ofl a CEO.
    I am proud to be a alumni of the same college “Pantnagar” as you.
    Thanks & Regards.
    Amit.

  44. I strong think Collbaration is of paramount importance among the five traits.

  45. As per my opinion, one important thing missing is healthy relationship.

  46. Interesting perspective and you raise a number of valid points. But the question remains, which one is of critical importance?

    Calmness will help you to see things more clearly but in itself is a passive action. In fact, it’s an adjective, used to describe. Certainly there is a need to stay that way but it’s not actively going to solve a problem.

    Grounding (noun) and data-driven are information sources and the filter through which one is able to problem solve but again, are not inherently action oriented. Data-driven in particular is a way of looking at situations and making decisions without emotional context (i.e. looking at bottom line profits before deciding to lay off workers rather than finding another means to improve profits).

    That leaves diplomacy (noun) and collaboration. Diplomacy is the process of negotiating. Collaboration is by definition working together to do a task. In addition, the base word “collaborate” is a verb, which makes it an action.

    Based on which one would achieve actual results, I believe collaboration to be the answer, as no one person can do everything by themselves. In many cases in life, in fact almost all instances, having a team working toward a common goal is going to be far more successful than trying to do everything by yourself. In fact, I’ve learned and lived this lesson my whole life.

    In my young adulthood I was forced to rely on myself for survival because those around me would not help. I struggled to achieve a college education and ultimately failed because of lack of financial support despite having government loans and grants. I learned to be very independent but in adulthood this was to my detriment. I could not collaborate as part of a team nor could I effectively lead one.

    In personal relationships, I was forever taking charge often despite input from others. Then I had my daughter and now understand that by working together, you’re stronger, not weaker and can achieve more. As a result, I built my marketing firm on this principle and it has served me very well for many years now.

    So there’s the long answer, in as logical of a form as I can present it. Collaboration is key. That being said, all five have an important part to play in leadership and I admire you for so succinctly presenting them.

    Based on the fact that this article is almost seven months old, I hope my response will prompt you to post your answer as you mentioned in the article. I’d be curious to see if we agree or disagree and what your reasoning would be. 🙂

  47. Hello Sir
    Don’t know what happens whenever there is a mention of Pantnagar that I come across. There was a something glue-like in that place. Liked your post very much…..drowned in memories

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