Fifty years back, on this day (12th January 1971), I walked into Johari Bazaar Jaipur Branch, Bank of Baroda (BoB) to report as a Directly Recruited Officer (DRO). I was nervous and unsure about my decision to take up a job in the Bank as I had no qualifications to build a career in banking. Having obtained Chemical Engineering degree from the Harcourt Butler Technological Institute (Now a technology university), Kanpur and in the midst of doing my MBA at the University of Rajasthan, it was more an act in zest than a well-considered career option. I had applied without the faintest idea that I would someday lead the Bank (2005-08) as its Chairman and Managing Director. I now realize that my ‘taking a road less travelled’ has made all the difference. It has been an amazing and fulfilling journey.

There have been several turning points in my career. From probationary officer to personnel officer to a senior personnel functionary for 4 years in a private bank and again returning to BoB as a core faculty and later becoming the Principal staff college, Ahmedabad. This was followed by a mainstream HR job at the corporate office to a risky (and eventually crucible) plunge into Banking operations at the lateral level and finally as Chairman and Managing Director first at Dena Bank and finally coming back to my alma mater BoB. As I reflect, my shaping as a HR professional or a trainer or a business manager or a member of Board and finally its Chairman has been all in my nursery called, the BoB. In each job, I tried to learn, change, challenge and move on. I learnt the essence of leadership in all the assignments from day one. I challenged the status-quo and carved a new rejuvenating agenda for change in my various roles. I could succeed only because leadership culture within the Bank was supportive of creative and fresh ideas. It helped me to experiment with many process innovations.

Based on my experience in various jobs, I have listed 15 leadership lessons, which I want to share with aspiring leaders. Our economy (and also other spheres of life) need good leaders and I hope the following may be useful.

15 Leadership Lessons

  1. People are not only assets but the only assets in the organization , who can make all the difference.
  2. Only knowledge, data and insights work in bringing about change not the opinions.
  3. Convictions and ethics may not sometimes pay in the short-term but they count. Character and reputation are critical for leaders.
  4. Tough love – Be tough on performance and show compassion and love to your employees.
  5. Be credible- Your people should believe in you and show trust. Always be conscious of 'Saying-doing; gap and work to correct this.
  6. Diagnose a problem before you attempt to solve it – understand what is causing what.
  7. Be a 'People Person'- communicate, engage and build emotional connect with your people. Be energetic and optimistic.
  8. Use power and discretion carefully and prudently. Be fair, very fair, in dealing with various stakeholders. This is a major test of a leader’s fitness for the job.
  9. Create the magical 25th hour for reflection, learning and personal growth.
  10. Choose a mentor who can tell you about your inadequacies, shortcomings and engage with you.
  11. Pursue change persistently and relentlessly- understand your vulnerabilities and deal with them.
  12. Use Field Wisdom. Be always Responsive to everyone. Respect your customers, operating managers and foot soldiers. Communicate, listen and act smartly to solve problems.
  13. Try to work on your fears to be more courageous and become a driver of change.
  14. Be decisive, avoid procrastination. You are on leadership position to move ahead not backward or stay at the same place.
  15. Never risk your self-respect just for taking the fast elevator of promotion.

Leadership is living one’s life in an integrated manner and creating impact in whatever one does. I have always believed that leadership position is a huge responsibility and about accountability. It is not merely reaching the top position but how you conduct yourself, what impact you make, what legacy you leave and what you learn. Leadership is a disciplined practice. Each one of us has a story of leadership. It is rarely linear. I had my phases of thrills, excitement, rejections, adversity and even personal humiliations. Each experience made me more resilient, wiser and better prepared in my mission to ready the Bank for the future- Technology Fit, People Fit, Process Fit and Service Fit. We all make mistakes, I too have made many. As long as we learn from them, we are on the right path.

On this day, I acknowledge that all my achievements and recognition have been possible due to the privileged opportunity to work in the Bank of Baroda and its excellent culture. The Bank has facilitated my leadership learnings and growth where I observed some great leaders working with relentless passion. The staff of the bank at all the levels have always inspired me with their zeal and ‘ready to learn’ attitude. This was in abundant display during our technology driven business transformation (2005-08). Our executive team of that period has given to PSBs about a dozen CMDs/EDs. I am happy that even today, the Bank is in full swing of a new transformative phase making it as one of the most admired banks - a modern and a progressive bank with a proactive culture. It is a leadership factory for the Bankers.

My life story vindicates the fact that great organisations are great because of great culture and their relentless quest to develop people. Thank you, Bank of Baroda.

Post retirement, I have devoted my major time in writing. My book, Dare to Lead(sage2011) encompasses the transformation story of BoB alongside my life story. Another book, CEO Chess Master or Gardener (Oxford University Press, 2018) is mainly based on my research in IR and provides a road map of CEOs role in HR. My eighth book (fourth after retirement) Transformational Leadership in Banking – Challenges of Governance, Leadership and HR in a disruptive world (SAGE) is due for release in Feb 2021. I am also pursuing my other hobbies like Travel, Reading and Music. Overall, life has been a blessing.

Thank you all those, I have come in contact over these years for their grace in accepting me as their friend and colleague. Truly, it was impossible to achieve whatever little, I could without your support.

I wish all a very happy New Year- safe and meaningful.