Challenges are not unique to a sector or field – whether you are a start-up, are scaling your business models or modernising your business systems, you’ll face many barriers that will challenge you to overcome them. Be inspired by the leaders featured in The Global Power & Energy Elites 2021 that were able to overcome many of these obstacles and thrive.
What do you think makes a successful leader?
A successful leader is someone who can provide and communicate a vision and execute it. Dr Abdul Kalam, a former president of India (2007-2012) is an example to me. He was a scientist coming from a very humble background in rural India and became the person who realised India’s position in space technology. He helped take the country from nowhere to a very respectable position. Nowadays, India is a very reputable country when it comes to space technology. This was a dream of the country of a billion people, but you needed someone like Dr Kalam to take that vision and execute it over decades. In my opinion, he was a true leader.
Which of your leadership skills was the most difficult to develop?
Changing my mindset from working independently to managing a team. During my first years in management, I needed time to build self-confidence and to delegate – not micromanage! – and take on team failure. I learned this from working under different leadership styles and approaches for several years. For example, today I would hire college graduates to join the team in our technology department and feel comfortable in giving them large tasks and responsibility.
I’m not setting them up to fail but rather I see it as giving them responsibility with sufficient tools and training to learn and excel. Allowing yourself and your team to fail is the key founding principle of delegating. After a failure, you need to learn together. Although this process may take time, it builds self-confidence. And confidence in your team, colleagues, suppliers, and even customers.
What industry challenge keeps you awake at night?
Working in the renewable energy sector, our focus is on helping our customers with their energy transition. The gap between understanding and the ability or the intention to transition is something that keeps our team ‘awake at night’. For example, people understand the impacts of climate change; however, asking them to make real-life changes to their day-to-day routine to help mitigate these impacts is a real challenge.
Everybody is worried about the future but people are more worried about putting food on the table or what the next quarter holds. When we approach our customers, we educate them on the personal benefit first and then follow on with a greater benefit, such as environmental benefits. This lack of awareness or inertia in society is huge. I feel that sometimes there is a general lack of courage to take a step forward. Eventually, something is going to happen. It keeps me awake that the speed at which we are moving is not what it should be. I don’t want to wake up someday and realise that it’s too late.
What are your and your team’s greatest blind spots and how are you improving these?
Being an idealistic person, I sometimes face practical hindrances in the execution of new ideas. With my team, I find people are mostly constrained by their departmental boundaries. When they are performing they are limiting themselves to their departments or functional role, which does not help them to see the bigger picture.
If we change our focus from output to outcome, which is a general requirement for any business process to be effective, we can get great results.
For that change to happen, one needs to articulate some real-life examples so that people understand how change impacts and benefits them.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
Professionally, the biggest risk I took was to design the smart grid pilot programme in 2011. At that time, India was at a very different stage where the majority of people did not have access to electricity, with a low per capita consumption of electricity. To implement smart grids, large investments were required for technology intervention and information
The question was how to keep the balance between short-term priorities of energy access and futuristic technology interventions for sustainable economic development.
My focus was on how we would be able to leverage the latest technology innovations and meet some of the country’s priorities. Based on the objectives and outcomes, we needed a design and country-specific use cases around smarter grid functionality.
Utilities in different areas could select from the suggested use cases and corresponding smart grid solutions to address their specific requirements. This allowed connecting their needs with the best technology options – a vital part of that smart pilot template design.
That was a big risk in terms of how we designed the pilot, and the way we communicated with the stakeholders and evaluated the right partners to accept and implement the innovative smart grid solutions.
We had some success stories of pilot implementation at CESC Mysore, UGVCL Gujarat and many more, that are also globally acknowledged.
On a personal note, in 1985 when I had to choose a career, females in India were only pursuing medicine or teaching as their career option whereas I was considering engineering, a big risk in a male-dominated sector in those days.
There were a lot of negative feelings towards females in the engineering field. But there was a great desire in me to
pursue engineering as the career I had dreamt of, to contribute meaningfully to the country. Ultimately, I came out with flying colours.
What’s the most important leadership lesson you’ve learned and how has it proven invaluable?
One needs to persevere irrespective of whether the short-term rewards are there or not. As someone said, we do not live in bungalows, duplexes or flats, we live in our minds, which are unlimited areas. We should keep our thoughts sorted and uncluttered in our mind.
To perform well in life and every arena, one should be able to control the quantity and quality of the internal dialogue, as our performance equals potential minus internal conflicts.
When meeting other leaders, what do you ask them?
I would ask them: What is the one situation that you wanted to run away from? That, to me, is the starting point for every leader. I would never run away from a leadership position.
Running away means that you no longer have anything to offer or are too afraid to own up to your mistakes. All human beings will make mistakes at work!Another big trait of a leader is to not only focus on the good things but also be someone who can accept honest mistakes and be willing to take remedial steps so that these mistakes won’t reoccur.
What do you think makes a successful leader?
Every leader should possess sincerity as a quality.
Taking the first step instead of letting others do so is the second quality. Thirdly, I would say you need to stand by your decisions as a leader. If you are leading a group, try to give them the kind of confidence that if anything good happens, it was the whole team who made that happen. If anything doesn’t go to plan, stand behind them as a leader to help take corrective measures. Having worked in a bureaucratic system where in a high position, people presume that automatically it means leadership. For me, that has never been the case. You have to provide leadership to people, your peers and even people who are ready to move on.
What tips do you have for keeping a team motivated?
Firstly, we are a government organisation so I am not able to set monetary incentives. Therefore, I struggle to answer this question. But I’ve been thinking a lot what other, non-monetary things I can do. What I’ve seen is motivation based on doing something for the community and getting the best out of it.
For example, I still remember the joy on people’s faces when we visited villages during our LED bulb programme back in 2014-2016. This is a big motivation for me. Also, because we grew fast and our EESL projects became increasingly relevant in India, people at a more junior level started getting the attention of the state and the municipal bodies. This is also something that is motivating them. We also made sure that if there is a good idea, regardless of age, gender or location, this person got the full support of the management and encouragement in front of everyone.
Lastly, we try to motivate people by actively creating new opportunities abroad, but these are solely given to people based on merit and performance.