An Edifice built on Trust

imageRecently a senior CEO remarked to me about how out of control Engro Foods seemed in its early days and outsiders had no idea what was cooking. This was a general perception, outside of EFL, and was borne out of a lack of knowledge about the philosophy.

Hence, I write this piece.

Management is a fine balance between giving passion and initiative enough freedom and at the same time exercising some control, so that things do not go off the rail. It is a fine art and not a science. You have to know your team well and the game well also…that is a starting point. And it takes courage to stay hands off or on the opposite end, interfere to put things right. There is a time for either end and during the course of a project, you will end up doing both. But predominantly, you tilt towards staying hands off and allowing trust and ownership to inculcate.

In the meantime managing is..

Ensuring flow of knowledge up and down the system
Ensuring flow of authority down the system
Ensuring flow of communication up and down the system
Ensuring flow of finances/resources down the system.

If you do the above properly, then the project should work successfully. When it does not, then it means that sincerity was missing somewhere in the system. Outside the above four dynamics, it is all humans who rule and drive the show. This is the biggest controller at the back. If your employees are driven and have ownership, then they will be sincere and work for the project goal. When all else is excluded and the project goal is owned, then team dynamics happen and when team dynamics happen, we just propel ourselves towards the goal.

It is absolutely fascinating, how fate almost conspires to cause success to happen, when teams work selflessly. I suspect that there is a lot of spirituality which is playing at the back. But unfortunately, there is no way to prove this, except to simply say “it happens”. I have seen this time and again during my own life and heard it from others. Think back simply to the World Cup 1992 and you will understand.

So, EFL was all about this. One created a home with a vision, and got a bunch of people to believe in it. Soon EFL mattered to them more than anything else. Hence they formed a very large family, and fought tooth and nail to achieve success. To enable them to achieve this success, they were given some freedom, and told that they were trusted. This edifice built on trust and ownership, ballooned into a massive company. Such a simple philosophy, but calling for a lot of belief.

* picture taken from

The nexus of Leaders and Operators

imageLeaders understand that rigour is absolutely necessary for success. Rigour has been mankind’s way from time immemorial. Nevertheless, leaders realise rigour is not their own forte and so delegate it to others. Leaders are much better at looking at the big picture; this is their strength and they never allow this visionary aspect to be muddied. They simply cannot! Their vision makes them what they are. They look at the world from a satellite level and see pictures which are large and pivotal, but not seen by others. So the smaller, attritional (but very vital) daily irritants, are left to other capable hands. It allows leaders to remain cool, calm and driving towards their objective. However, this does not mean leaders do not work diligently. Their mind is always working single-mindedly towards a goal, taking a more multi-faceted scenic route.

Operators are the rigour people. They love operations and love to dive into them. A lot of the rigour is within them and they drive others in their teams to ensure that they also apply rigour. They are tickers of boxes. In their mind, they have this check list of things to be done. The best operators will forever be ticking off these boxes in the check list. Somewhere during the project or in the operation, because of these operators everything running in parallel (simultaneously) will come together seamlessly. Operators are the capable hands of the leaders. They are the ones who have been trusted with getting things done. Such are operators.

Leaders and operators are like chalk and cheese, they are that different, but they are also a team. A leader will always understand and value the need of a few operators in his team. However, generally speaking an operator (while he/she will admire the gifts of the leader!) will never quite understand the leaders method. To operators it will look as if the leader is a flash individual, doing things irrationally, but by some element of luck, things seem to successfully end up in the right place. This is very natural, as the operators world is much more detail oriented, and if they do not handle that detail, the whole operation will come crashing down. So when they see a leaders lack of detail, it is totally contrary to the operators orientation.

Most leaders do not get to their level, without having been operators at some stage themselves. So while not all operators will become leaders, but almost all leaders have been operators. This too is an essential. If a leader is totally ignorant of method, then the big picture will not suffice, as it is built on thin air and will end in disaster. However, once they have been through some processes, leaders can break the big picture down into smaller operations and control them through their able operational colleagues. But what is significant is that, some operators brains are capable of graduating into a big picture brain of a leader. I personally have seen this change taking place in managers, as they climb the seniority ladder and eventually settle into a more conceptual and strategic role. The trick is to learn to delegate to others and then consider the strategic view, rather than a detailed work level view. But, this is easier said than done. For many operators this is a “road never taken”.

Another element here is about teamwork. As an entity increases in size, the do all entrepreneur, slowly hands over operations to others. Over time this entrepreneur will simply remain the slightly distant leader of this organisation. Once this change has occurred, several operators will interact in the role of assistants to run the organisation. This is what teamwork is about. Different orientations coming together to push forward the work of an organisation, under the guiding hand of a leader. If this nexus does not happen, one finds that the organisation growth stunts, due to either lack of capability and capacity, or due to a lack of the big picture element. It is therefore absolutely essential, that teams are formed comprising leaders and operators, who then are able to carry the load of growth and deliver sustainability for the future.

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