Akhil Shahani , Managing Director of The Shahani Group says that most great leaders have believed in the power of ‘servant-leadership’. He speaks to Business & Economy about his leadership style and shares the secret of his success.
“The king shall consider as good, not what pleases himself but what pleases his subjects. The king is a paid servant and enjoys the resources of the state together with the people.”
The Sage is self-effacing and scanty of words. When his task is accomplished and things have been completed, all the people say, ‘We ourselves have achieved it!’
When you read the ancient texts of Asia, you will realize that the secret of great leadership has been known for thousands of years. Most of the great leaders from Raja Harishchandra to Mahatma Gandhi, were believers in the concept of Servant Leadership.
A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of people and the communities to which they belong. While traditional leadership generally involves the accumulation and exercise of power by one at the “top of the pyramid,” servant leadership is different. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.
have personally found that being a servant leader has worked well for me over the last couple of decades. The simplest way this works is to identify talented people who share my vision of the need to revolutionize India’s education system. I then hire them, give them the overall goals they need to achieve for the quarter and then get out of their way. I never micromanage the day to day working of my team. My role is more of a coach and mentor to help them to grow as leaders and achieve their vision, which coincides with mine. This gives them a strong sense of ownership in our organization and enables them to perform at their best.
I constantly update myself on the latest developments in education, business and technology through voracious reading and meeting with people who are smarter than me in these areas. I share the most relevant information with my team, so that they can apply these ideas to their work, if applicable. This enables the full team as a whole to learn together and grow in our capabilities.
I have also found that speaking regularly to the students in my colleges, helps me keep upto date with new trends and enables me to understand the mindset of the millennial generation. This understanding helps my team and me keep developing better techniques to educate our students.
One of the key requirements for being a servant leader is to have control over your own ego. If you can focus on the overall good of your organization and team instead of what is good for yourself, you will be able to build a truly loyal team of supporters. For example, we have won awards and been featured in the press for the innovative work we are doing in education. Quite often, I encourage my team members to accept the awards on our behalf or be quoted in the press. This is important for our team to feel that the organization is jointly owned by all, and they are each responsible for its success.
Servant Leadership is not always innate. It can be taught to others. In fact, I believe that modern colleges should not shy away from referring to ancient texts from India and other countries while teaching their students. Shorn of all religious aspects, many of them have useful advice on how to live and lead others.
Along with my leadership style, there are a couple of regular practices I follow to achieve success.
The first is being clear on my goals for the year and how these are subdivided into monthly and weekly goals. Based on this I look at any activity or meeting that I potentially need to do in a week. I look at these through the lens of checking if the specific activity or meeting advances me towards my goal or will not be helpful. Based on this, I take a call if I want to do them or not. Most of the successful people I know about are better at saying ‘No’ to opportunities then just blindly accepting all of them, which could lead to loss of focus.\
Another practice I follow is to find small gaps in my schedule to learn something new everyday, for example reading an e-book or listening to an audiobook in my car etc. I also take off for a couple of hours every week to be by myself to ideate and plan what needs to be done to achieve my longer-term goals.
When I turn to the advice I can give future leaders, here are some thoughts.
Firstly, never be afraid to fail. The only people who don’t fail are the ones who never attempt anything. Most success is a result of learning from the failures you’ve had on the way.
There are plenty of famous leaders in history and the current world that you can admire and emulate. However, also look for useful leadership learning from less known people closer to home. For example, what can you learn from a proactive principal in your college?
Lastly, we believe that the next generation of leaders could be different from our current generation. I believe that each generation has its great and mediocre leaders. Regardless of technological change, human nature doesn’t change. What motivated and inspired people a hundred years ago will do the same a hundred years from now!