Tuesday, December 27, 2005

What are leadership lessons from BITSConnect?
BITSConnect (http://www.bitsaa.org/giving/bitsconnect.html) was an incredible journey for me personally. I drove the project from inception to completion, and everything in between. At the end, BITS Pilani students across the world (not an exaggeration) had bounded together to fund and build $1.5M worth of state-of-the-art communication infrastructure at the alma mater. As a leader, here is what I learnt - a template I hope to refine and use in my career.
(1) Communicate vision and incentives: This is perhaps obvious and self-explanatory. To the inexperienced leader, it may not be immediately evident how hard this truly is. To the end, I don't believe 100% of the participants really understood the vision for BITSConnect. Incentives need to be tuned for individuals - some people joined BITSConnect to contribute to the alma mater, others did to get introduced to highly successful alums who could help them elsewhere, yet others participated because they were coerced and couldn't say "no". You need to recognize these differences in individual motivation, and speak to each one of them.
(2) Assemble teams with complementary skills: "Doers" - people who can be relied on to get things done without specific instructions and follow-up within the assigned time - get things done, they're execution artists. "Thinkers" are people who can see the bigger picture and come up with ideas, solutions ... like most other team efforts, BITSConnect needed a healthy mix of both. Many of the senior folk were thinkers who addressed questions us doers brought to weekly meetings, besides which they focused on fund-raising. Primarily a doer, I would turn thinker in our weekend meetings - an example of a need to play both roles depending on the occasion.
(3) Set and track short-term goals: Execution is essentially an excercise in discipline, and BITSConnect was no different. We met each weekend, assigned goals to each sub-team, and tested progress the following weekend. Breaking a large task like BITSConnect into 18 months of evenly spread weekly goals was probably the smartest execution move we made.
(4) Lead by example: You can both inspire and shame people into doing things by setting an example. The good part is that you dont need to do anything more than doing your own job exceedingly well ! In BITSConnect, I believe I set a really high bar by doing my very best at my specific assignments - and I was often inspired by the examples of others who pushed hard when I started to slacken.
(5) Use the carrot and stick selectively: I have seen people who excessively use one method than the other, and it's more often the stick that gets used. I recall two occasions when I needed to pull the vendor team up by threatening (once actually following up on the threat) by bringing in senior management from the vendor firm. But I used positive motivation a lot more often.
(6) Reward better than expected: We ended BITSConnect on a high note, and most everyone felt rewarded (I am painfully aware of exceptions). Well aware of differing individual motivations, the team overdelivered on rewarding people on criteria that the individual valued. An example is how I was rewarded on the one thing I valued - recognition - and how far the senior members of the team went to give me a place in their midst as a reward.
As I discovered from my classmates' varied responses to readings in our core leadership class at Wharton, unless you have been through a significant leadership event yourself, this sounds like a bunch of BS. I wish for you, reader, experiences that force you to think as hard about such experiences as some of us have.


Blogger Mallika said...

bound instead of bounded?

12:00 PM  
Blogger Aanand said...

Hi Mukul,

Excellent post and some important lessons on leadership that I am experiencing first hand as a product manager.

The only aspect of leadership that I'd like to add is the concept of negotiation and conflict resolution amongst team members. I've often found that some people (cultural bias has a definite role to play in this) tend to shy away from head-on conflict while some others bring out their best when conflicts are resolved out in the open.

Something to think about when the chips are down and the project's just screwing up all over.

7:27 PM  

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