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Flexibility in leadership approach - Learnings from Flipkart and Housejoy

Saran Chatterjee
13th Jun 2016
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My role at Flipkart was very different from that of Housejoy. I was heading products and specifically looking at consumer products at Flipkart. Here at Housejoy leading the company comes with its own unique challenges. So with this varied experience and learning, here are five tips for leaders at startups to consider in their leadership approach.

Leadership

Be ready to be answerable to everyone

From a flexibility standpoint you will realise that most of these companies, whether it was Flipkart or it is Housejoy, the current style is for you to be very hands-on from a people stand point. The structure followed by large companies in the old days doesn’t work anymore, where you sit in a room and set target on something people have no clue about. At startups, people want you to be amidst them on the floor having discussions, encouraging anybody to come and question you, it doesn’t matter if you are a CEO or a Founder. Anybody can question. This is the current need. Thus, from a leader’s standpoint, one has to be flexible and be able to adapt to answer the questions without getting defensive about it at any given point in time. I feel that it is the biggest change that has to happen in leadership approach.

You will make mistakes

It’s very important to set the right example. You will make mistakes. But from a leadership standpoint, it is important how quickly you recognise the mistakes openly, own up to it in front of the employees, and then demonstrate that you are reversing it and actually changing it. I feel this takes a lot of guts. I think as a leader you need to be flexible to own up to the mistakes. Mistakes could be people-centric, strategy-centric, operation-centric, etc.

Inclusive communication to get at the plan

The other leadership trait is about how you arrive at the strategy or the execution plan. It’s usually a very top down approach. It’s almost like you have decided what is to be done and then you are push it down to the organisation. It could be inclusive or exclusive. Then you disseminate it thinking that you are communicating. A lot of people think that leadership is about communication. But the question is what are you communicating and how did you arrive at that? Whether you come up with a product strategy or you changing or trying to change the direction of the company or you trying to change or transform a certain way of doing things instead you thinking in a bit of an isolation and pushing it down. It’s not about you arriving at an answer. But, you are letting people arrive at that answer and just facilitating that arrival versus you just pushing it down. I think leadership is when you are able to facilitate the team to come up at the natural conclusion point. The consequence of that is hiring a higher level of ownership in that conclusion or approach.

You are not naturally motivated in a startup

You may think that just because one works in a startup and the fact that they have a higher level of responsibility, they will naturally be motivated. But that is not the case. The motivation factor is about responsibility that a person has plus the recognition and the feedback they receive. It’s like everything. It’s not just giving away a lot of responsibility and say, “Hey listen you have so much more responsibility, you should be naturally motivated.” This doesn’t happen.

Set a good example to others

One-ways communication will never work. It’s like going up there and saying, “Hey guys listen I need X to be done in a certain time frame.” Just by saying such things it is not necessary that X will happen. The question is how are you facilitating that and setting an example yourself, which is again an on-going learning for me in a good way.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory)

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