Prasad Kaipa is the CEO of the Kaipa Group in California and is a thought leader in the areas of innovation, leadership development and change management. He is considered to be one of the top management thinkers of Indian origin and was inducted into the Happiness Hall of Fame in October 2014. He has been a visiting professor and was the founding Executive Director of the Center for Leadership, Innovation and Change (CLIC) at the Indian School of Business (ISB). Prasad has also taught in executive education programs organized by INSEAD, LBS, USC, Tuck and IIM Bangalore. Prasad co-founded the Entrepreneur Institute for TiE in the Silicon Valley in 2002 to assist entrepreneurs develop soft skills and connect, engage and co-create effectively with others in the ecosystem. Over 13,000 entrepreneurs have gone through TiE Institute programs. In a conversation with Anand Mishra, Editor, and Rajesh Mehta, Consultant Editor, Governance Today, Prasad talks about his latest book, leadership qualities and wisdom of ancient Hindu scriptures. Edited excerpts:
Could you please tell readers about your latest book “You can” which you have co-authored with Meera Shenoy? How is the book different from your earlier book “From Smart to Wise” which you wrote with Navi Rajdou?
My latest book is “You Can” written with Meera Shenoy and it is about stories of disabled entrepreneurs and people who facilitated such entrepreneurs. The key message is that if they can do it, you can too. Doing so makes you smarter (entrepreneur) and wiser (human being). It has been inspirational for us to hear the stories and write and we are getting feedback from the readers that they are inspired to act as well.
What is your advice to startup leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators in India? What should be their strategy for growth?
India is where Silicon Valley was 30-40 years ago in terms of entrepreneurial climate. The market is ripe for disruption and the opportunities are high. I feel that entrepreneurs should connect with organizations like TiE and get mentoring from other successful startups. I believe when you are an innovator start up is the best way you can leverage your innovation and the climate in India is just right. Don’t wait any longer and jump in and make a difference to others and yourself!
Who are wise leaders? What are their characteristics? Could you share some examples?
Wise leaders leverage their intelligence for larger good knowing that working for a larger purpose allows you to benefit as well. For example, look at NR Narayana Murthy and his colleagues who started Infosys and created several thousand rupee millionaires. Think about Ratan Tata who encouraged creation of Tata Nano for people who cannot afford expensive cars. They put India on global map of IT and Automobile industries.
In addition to them, there are several wise leaders around the world. In politics, I would consider Angela Merkel of Germany, King Wang Chuk of Bhutan, Suu Kyi of Burma, President Obama of USA to be wise leaders. Similarly, in business, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Indra Nooyi, Alan Mulally, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw in addition to Ratan Tata and Narayana Murthy stand out.
In our book From Smart to Wise (written with Navi Radjou), we identify six capabilities that wise leaders demonstrate:
- Wise perspective — they have a noble purpose for doing what they do and not just profit motive. They are more inclusive and systemic in their point of view.
- Action Orientation — they know when to act quickly and when to act thoughtfully. They don’t let their hurry to get in the way of prudent risk taking and don’t let their cautious and methodical approach stop them from making quick decisions.
- Role Clarity — They know when to lead from the front and when to let others lead. For example, Narayana Murthy stepped down when he was 65 and gave chance for other promoters to be CEOs in Infosys. Then when the organization was floundering he stepped back in. Again, realizing that he is not being effective in second round, he brought in Vishal Sikka from outside.
- Decision Logic — Each of us have certain biases towards making decisions. We make decisions using either logic and data, or emotion and instinct. Some of us even focus on intuition. Wise leaders are not stuck to one way of making the right decision. They are open to using any or all approaches to make decisions and most of their decisions have larger purpose in mind.
- Wise Fortitude — Wise leaders know when to let go of the point of view that they are holding and when to hold on to it even though many people oppose their view strongly. The key to their decision making again is noble purpose and how it is being served by their existing plans and actions.
- Enlightened Self Interest — They realize acting out of enlightened self interest, their circle of influence and growth are enhanced at the same time, others are benefiting from their good will.
These characteristics can be used in governance and project management irrespective of the field — politics, business or execution.
How do you ignite genius in individuals and organizations? How do you help clients in finding their next significant step?
Igniting the genius of people requires us to connect their decisions, actions and communication to a larger purpose and helping them to have role clarity so that their egos do not get in the way of their actions and impact. In Organizations, the process is by creating a culture change focused around larger purpose, energy in the organization and its core incompetence. Core incompetence is inappropriate use of their core competencies or signature strengths.
I help my clients through coaching, advising and facilitating their executive meetings. I also work with them to identify dysfunctional habits, behaviors and cultural characteristics that are limiting their growth and help them to unlearn and selectively forget them.
How do you compare Indian CEO’s with the CEO’s in the US and in the Europe? What can they learn from each other?
Indian CEOs are, in general, more intellectually rich and cognitively well developed than their western counter parts. It is because in US, experience and skill are more valued than education and people jump into work as soon as they can. On the other hand, in India, academic diplomas, degrees and certificates are somehow more valued and that makes leaders in India to be well read and well developed conceptually.
They learn a lot from each other — Indian CEOs can learn about execution excellence from their western counter parts and western CEOs can learn the creativity and jugaad approaches from Indian CEOs. In addition, Indians are conceptually rich and good in coming with new and appropriate frameworks.
You have worked a lot on the ancient Hindu wisdom and its application in today’s life. Could you share your opinion on how ancient knowledge and wisdom can help us in our modern life problems? What can we learn from Bhagavad Gita?
I believe that ancient models of wisdom from India — from Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism in addition to Parsee wisdom can be of rich source of new models, frameworks and processes for managing people, organizations and innovation. They focus on systems thinking and wholeness more explicitly than western models so there are less number of side effects or negative consequences if properly designed and applied. Human development, self mastery, strategic thinking, creativity and innovation, change management and transformation are some of the areas that get addressed in ancient Hindu and Indian wisdom in significant depth and models that integrate Indian and Western approaches become more effective and impactful.
For example, in Gita, we talk about concepts like role clarity and detached engagement — based on a powerful way of doing work called Nishkama Karma. It means, you do what you do without letting your ego get in the way. Where does the ego come from? It is either from positional power, personal power, role based power or relation based power. When you separate who you are from what you do, then you can objectively make better decisions, communicate without bias and act without personal agenda. The Bhagavat Gita mentions that when you are detached from emotion but engaged with commitment — your work becomes focused, meaningful and impactful.
Similarly, the concept of wise leader for our book “From Smart to Wise” is based on Stitha-Prajna model in second chapter of the Bhagavat Gita. Wise leader operates with larger good in mind and not caught up with ones attachment, knowledge, emotion or past experience. All the six capabilities I wrote above are taken from the 18th chapter of Gita.
I am actively focusing on bringing more concepts, frameworks and models from Upanishads, Gita and other wisdom literature from India to the west. I would love others to join me by comparing and contrasting western models with that of Indian wisdom.
You have been a coach on innovation and leadership for some of the most valuable companies in the world. What are the most important lessons you think innovators and leaders should learn and master in order to be successful?
Focus on customers and bring empathy to understand and appreciate what they are going through. Use what you learn as the basis for innovating. It is such an old lesson but cannot be ever ignored. Leaders have to recognize that others are not followers just because they listen to you. They are also leaders in their domain and it is up to you to recognize their capability and help them to lead by listening to them and their skills.