Ideas for Leaders #057

Inspiring Indian Business Leaders’ Development

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Key Concept

The most effective leadership development breakthroughs for business leaders in India come from events during their lives and on-the-job experiences; and not necessarily through classroom learning. This Idea explores that research-based notion, and the important role senior leaders have to play in becoming inspiring bosses and positive role models.

Idea Summary

The global growth of a company depends on its developing effective leaders. Questions, such as where and how are the most important ‘lessons of leadership’ learned, and what are those lessons, have become more relevant for managers in corporate India in recent years, as it has witnessed massive growth.

To investigate these important issues, the Tata Management Training Center (TMTC) and the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL-Asia) jointly undertook the Lessons of Experience—India research project in 2006. They interviewed 100 top and senior level Indian business leaders, selected from eight home-grown Indian companies that have established themselves globally.

The major finding here was that the essence of leadership is learned from specific job experiences, and not primarily from business and management schools or from ad hoc training and development programs. In addition, leadership learning involves new behaviours and perspectives for running oneself and one’s relationships, not just for running the business organization.

The findings of this study suggest that in India, leadership capability development has two drivers:

  1. Challenging assignments; and
  2. Inspiring bosses.

Business Application

The experiences that drive learning and change ‘key events’ have been sorted into four clusters:

  • Challenging assignments: i.e. from a posting, promotion, or task assigned to the manager by their organization, which is typically difficult and requires struggle. These sharpen different leadership abilities;
  • Inspiring superiors and bosses: directly and indirectly support learning and the learner;
  • Adverse situations: often imposed by the environment. Usually, the difficulties experienced during the event are not within the control of the organization or its executives; and
  • Personal events: includes life experiences and personal career choices. These events are outside company control.

One of the most interesting findings was that coursework and training seem to have significantly less impact than the more frequently cited events clustered under ‘challenging assignments’ and ‘inspiring superiors and bosses.’ These findings suggest that for developing future leaders, it is more important to emphasize and leverage on-the-job experiences over coursework and training.

Senior leaders of business organizations in - or with interests in – India, can be advised to take two important steps. First, pay attention to which events or on-the-job experiences are more developmental, and then provide those more intentionally to managers in their organizations. Secondly, pay attention to which lessons are the most relevant, and match the subordinate’s developmental needs with appropriately challenging assignments and inspiring support.

Overall, educating superiors/bosses on how to inspire subordinates is key in this respect. Companies committed to accelerating leadership development should focus on the intentional use of challenging assignments and a variety of approaches to helping superiors/bosses to become inspiring.

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Idea conceived

  • 2008

Idea posted

  • January 2013

DOI number



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