Letter from Managing Director, PMI India   |   Download a PDF version     

India's journey into space research is reaching new heights with each launch, earning the country's scientists accolades, and positioning India as a destination for both space exploration and commercial satellite launches. However, the beginnings of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the agency that is at the center of it all, were rather humble. S. Nambi Narayanan, retired ISRO scientist who is known for his work in the field of liquid propulsion and cryogenic fuels for satellite launch vehicles, provided delegates an intimate look at the leadership styles of some of India's pioneers in space research. Giving an account of his experiences of working with the four doyens of ISRO - Vikram Sarabhai, Satish Dhawan, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, and U.R. Rao, Mr. Narayanan said, "These leaders showed that when a leader has an emotional connect with a project besides deep knowledge, the project is bound to succeed." He spoke about Mr. Sarabhai's ingenuity, Mr. Dhawan's cando spirit, and Dr. Kalam's dream that became his life's mission, and how together these legends helped build ISRO in its early days.

Mr. Narayanan recalled that initially when Mr. Sarabhai invited Indian scientists from other parts of the world to come and work for ISRO, he had no job descriptions for them. Job descriptions and project definitions came to ISRO much later. When the agency couldn't acquire technology know-how from other countries, the scientists launched a "know why" project to get around the problem. When Mr. Narayanan was told he couldn't fly a satellite launch vehicle before it was tested on the ground, he negotiated hard with his seniors to convince them that it was a calculated risk. Such unconventional working styles and deep conviction were critical factors that helped India get its space research program off the ground.

The Chennai boy who became the toast of the country in his youth and continues to be the foremost name in chess in India had some handy tips for project managers. Speaking from his experiences in playing at high-pressure world tournaments, Vishwanathan Anand stressed on the importance of being positive, focused, and motivated, to be a champion. In 1985 when he set his sights on the Grandmaster title, he had to fight not just battles on the chessboard but a psychological warfare - often with himself. "Back in those days, being a Grandmaster was like winning an Olympic gold today. We felt anyone with a Russian-sounding name was better than us in chess. There was a huge psychological barrier to cross," said Mr. Anand.

During that time, he kept missing the title by small margins. And then a coach advised him to not keep thinking of the half a point that he missed, and said that if he was strong enough, he would cross the barrier easily. Mr. Anand then decided to give chess a break for three months to study for his 12th grade board exams.

"When I came back to chess, there were some more disappointments. And then I became the first Asian to win the World Junior Championship - and like predicted, I became a Grandmaster by a comfortable margin," he recalled. Some lessons from his long and successful career: winning is the best feedback; no amount of motivation is good enough; once you've reached your goal, recalibrate your targets and aim for something new; self-awareness is important, but sometimes step back and don't over-think; when you lack certain strengths, build a team of people who have those strengths and work on them together; take risks; and keep learning.

Dilipkumar Khandelwal spoke about the need in today's competitive market for a company to innovate continuously to differentiate itself from its competitors and survive. But, rather than having pockets of irregular innovation, businesses should strive to have a continuous series of innovation, he said. Businesses should start out with incremental innovations that add value to an existing product or process, and then aim to create disruptive innovations that create new markets.

Mr. Khandelwal's advice is for companies to center innovation on the end-consumer rather than the industry. "Now we are involving the end-consumer in product development. This is an economy driven by consumers, thanks to the wealth of data available, and digital technologies," he said.

But, for this to happen, companies need to build a culture of innovation. Mr. Khandelwal, who heads SAP Lab's development center in India that is the second largest R&D center for the company globally, recommends the following measures to create that culture: start with a clear purpose; give space to people by giving them access to a platform and allow them to come together to create new ideas; deconstruct boundaries where technology and people intersect; and place the customer in the middle of the innovation agenda. On a concluding note, he said that innovation should not be the job of just the top management. Innovation takes place when employees are allowed to think, create, give suggestions, and are included in the innovation process.

Taking a cue from Charles Darwin, Mark Dickson said it is not the strongest of species that survives nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change. He made a fervent plea to project managers to make continuous learning a central pillar of professional development, since it is learning alone that will help them to adapt to change and advance their careers.

Every year, 2.2 million new project management roles are opening up around the world. In India, the number is 700,000. However, organizations are struggling to find talent with the relevant skills for these jobs. "Project management is not a single skill but a system of competencies. PMI calls it the Talent Triangle - technical project management, leadership, and strategic and business management skills," said Mr. Dickson.

With projects becoming multi-phased and multi-national, project managers need more than technical skills to succeed. Leadership skills such as problem-solving, adaptability, communication, innovation, and emotional intelligence are highly ranked in this project environment. "It is equally important for project managers to understand the business benefits of a project and how it contributes to the strategy. Project managers need to speak the language of business. Project management needs to evolve from a backroom function to a mainstream, business function," added Mr. Dickson.

For project managers to develop into project leaders, they need to invest in developing these skills over time. "Follow the 70:20:10 rule for your learning - with maximum investment into workplace learning, followed by social learning such as informal coaching and mentoring, and structured learning such as resources provided by PMI," he added.

PMI research shows that practitioners with Project Management Professional (PMP) certification in India earn 36 percent more than those without it, he added.

The disruptions the world faces are such that they have impacted countries, industries, and professions across the board. Mohandas Pai underscored the importance of leadership to manage disruptions and stay relevant. He called it "leadership by thought" where leaders re-design strategies; "leadership by action" where enterprises draw up new action plans; and "leadership by outcome" where steps taken have a positive outcome for everybody.

"The cumulative impact of disruption today will be more than what the world faced after the invention of the steam engine," he remarked.

To illustrate, he pointed to geo-political, technology, and industry specific changes that have had a domino effect across geographies and sectors. He spoke about the transfer of economic power from the West to Asia; demographic changes slowing down big economies and powering new ones; new exploration technology and geo-political changes impacting oil prices and the balance of economic powers; the push towards alternative energy changing dynamics in the energy market; autonomous cars impacting not just the automotive industry but also the insurance sector; 3D printing disrupting manufacturing; stem cell research and big data analytics impacting life sciences; and blockchain technology giving a new flavor to finance services.

Mr. Pai made a strong case for leaders to step up to minimize the negative fallout of disruptions and make it a win-for-all situation.

The nature of sport is such that you can't do it for money or fame alone. "My relationship with sports is largely defined by my love for adventure and my relationship with nature," said Anu Vaidyanathan, an entrepreneur and author of Anywhere but Home: Adventures in Endurance.

She was the first Asian woman to complete Canada's Ultraman Triathlon - a three-day, 515-km race consisting of an ocean swim, a cross-country bike ride and a double marathon.

Ms. Vaidyanathan attributes her positive attitude towards sport to the women in her life who inspired her to chase her dreams, and the men who encouraged her to keep going. She said, "At home, intellectual curiosity and physical exploration went hand-in-hand."

When she started running Ironman marathons (a one-day, 207- km multisport race) in Bangalore, she was confronted with potholed roads to run on, cold pools to swim in, and unsolicited advice from coaches who believed "a 20-year-old woman had no place in a swimming pool."

Women athlete friends taught her valuable lessons on 'faking her cool' even if she wasn't feeling it. "Words matter," Ms. Vaidyanathan said. "Use them well, especially in relationships with others." Her decision to relocate to New Zealand for a PhD was a thorough line - a turning point - for her. Soon after, she ran her first Ultraman in Canada in 2009.

Remembering all the times she ran races in wornout track pants and a 10-year-old pair of running shoes, Ms. Vaidyanathan calls herself a minimalist athlete. "Triathlons are not about making a fashion statement."

She stressed that she had no secret sauce to success: "Just a little dose of optimism and a heck of a lot of training." Thinking back, she feels that her life was like a river, with ebbs and flows of good and bad.

Unpredictability is one of the biggest challenges in rescue and rehabilitation projects. The success of such a project depends largely on the direction that the project leader provides the team and the ability of team members to respond to crises. The Indian Armed Forces that train its personnel to work under the most difficult and volatile situations have earned global admiration for their rescue and rehabilitation work in different parts of the world.One such mission was undertaken by the Indian Navy in Sri Lanka after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Commodore G. Prakash, who led the mission to Galle in Sri Lanka, spoke about the highly complex circumstances under which his team worked. He had only broad guidelines for the mission: "Assume command and control of all Indian elements in the Galle region."

Soon after INS Taragiri docked at Galle, Commodore Prakash got a request from his Sri Lankan counterpart to help restore the local naval base that was devastated by the tsunami."Within days, our sailors, along with the Indian Army personnel who were already present there, started working as a homogenous unit and performed tasks in which they had no prior experience or training. Our men were clearing the ground, cleaning wells, setting up camps for those displaced, and building roads," said Commodore Prakash.

In the brief period that the team was in Galle, they set up over 700 tents, provided medical aid to 2,300 people in special medical camps, cleaned over 800 wells, tested 17 bridges for safety, distributed water, dry rations and cooked food, repaired boats, helped restart a school, and more. Commodore Prakash and his team were felicitated for their contributions by the then Sri Lankan president, Chandrika Kumaratunga. Commodore Prakash spoke about the careful selection and training of officers of the Indian Armed Forces that enable them to handle the unique demands of unpredictable situations. He also highlighted the overarching military value system that teaches soldiers to work under the most challenging circumstances.

"More people die of lack of clothing than in earthquakes, but we realize that people need clothing only when a natural disaster strikes," said Anshu Gupta, who besides organizing disaster relief drives, runs an innovative infrastructure building program in villages across India. In 'Cloth for work' initiatives that his organization Goonj organizes, villagers work on projects such as digging a well or building a road in their village, and in return for that, they do not receive cash but kits as rewards. These kits include clothes and household necessities. "People are more willing to work for cloth than get it free. We focus on the receiver's dignity rather than the donor's pride," he remarked.

Over the past 18 years, Mr. Gupta has taken up the issue of the lack of clothing, which is considered a "non-issue," and showed how a piece of cloth is much more than keeping someone warm - it is about dignity, respect, and hygiene. Another initiative, 'Not just a piece of cloth,' has seen Goonj make and distribute four million cloth sanitary pads. In rural India, where a piece of spare cloth is hard of find, sometimes several women share the same pieces of cloth during menstruation. Washing the soiled cloth is also a problem since there are only public taps in some villages. Goonj's initiative is aimed at breaking the culture of shame and silence around menstruation, and making women's dignity and hygiene a priority. Mr. Gupta ended on a powerful note by comparing two photos - one of a man standing in ragged clothes and the second showing the same man in a new set of clothes. "Clothing is the first visible sign of poverty. We would not show respect to the man in ragged clothes, but when the same man comes wearing good clothes, we would," he said, to a standing ovation.

It was the end of two days of learning and the delegates were ready for some unwinding. Gaurgopal Das provided them exactly that - life's lessons packed with a healthy dose of humor, puns on common life situations, and some real and imaginary stories.

He unveiled to the delegates what he called his "masterstrokes" to lead a happy and fulfilling life - have a passion, invest in people, have a purpose, and apply a process to find a spiritual connect and fulfillment.

"Create a balance between what you 'have to do' and what you 'love to do'. And if your work falls in the 'have to do' category, start liking what you do. Hence, the first masterstroke is to discover your passion. Remember, happiness is not about getting what you want, but liking what you get," he said.

Next, value relationships and invest in people, he advised. He stressed on keeping aggression down and paying attention to the tone of speech while communicating with someone. He told delegates that for a satisfactory life they must "have an ice factory in the head, a sugar factory in the mouth, and a love factory in the heart."

Fulfillment also comes from living a life with a purpose. "I say money can buy happiness - but when you use money to give something to someone. Then you can be a candle in someone's life (dispersing darkness and negativity)," said Mr. Das.

Giving new meaning to common words, he defined "handsome" as someone who offers his/ her hand to someone and "compassion" as the coming together of passion and purpose.

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