The title of R Gopalakrishnan's new book What the CEO Really Wants From You – The 4As of Managerial Success, a book on tips to be a good subordinate, comes as a surprise at a time when books on leadership and how to lead abound. What should an employee do to make the boss a partner rather than perceive her as an extractor of work or an adversary? That sets the book apart from his other best selling books, The Case of the Bonsai Manager: Lessons for Managers on Intuition (2007) and When the Penny Drops: Learning What is Not Taught (2010). The business environment is one of change and ambiguity, says Gopalakrishnan, and it is no easy task for any manager to negotiate the journey to success. As Paul Polman, Unilever's CEO, points out in his foreword to the book, partnerships with others, but above all your direct boss and organisation, are more important than before. Gopalakrishnan, backed by 45 years of corporate experience—31 in Unilever and 14 in Tata (he's now a director with Tata Sons)—summarises the wisdom in the four As, Accomplishment, Affability, Advocacy and Authenticity, and illustrates them with real-life examples in a talk with MG Arun. Excerpts:
Accepting to follow a middle path forms an underlying tone of your new book – like, how to get a work done without upsetting the employees much, or how to speak the truth without offending your senior and so on. How challenging is it to put this into practice?
The outcome of any endeavour must be to change things according to the capacity of the object that needs to be changed. Unless there is an emergency, the appreciation of the problem lies in the middle of the so-called 'bell curve' (mid-way between the two extremes) or at its end. Most of us plan our life so that most of the time we are at the middle of the bell curve. To be at the middle, where you are allowed the time to think over the various aspects of a problem, is the middle path.
Is middle path a virtue that defines you in your managerial life?
It defines not just me. None of us wants to lead a life that is reckless. The middle of the bell curve is the natural outcome of the way the human evolution happens. The surgeon in the emergency department will have a different approach