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The ABCD of Leadership

When I started in my first ever job as a part-timer in the late 1990s, the workplace environment was one of rigid hierarchical structures and authority - it was one of command and control. They- the leaders- told, you did. They led, you followed. They reprimanded, you bowed in agreement. And in return you got job security and the promise of a future pension.

But the world of work in 2020 has moved eons away from this relic of a management style. It is such a far departure from current employee expectations, that not even the military follow it anymore. So how does one step into the current expectation of a servant leadership - an empowering leadership that “does not create followers, but creates more leaders”? Based on extensive conversations with current leaders and leadership experts, I have termed it the ABCD method of leadership – the basic behaviours and actions that will help our companies be more agile and productive; and retain our employees with a sense of purpose and ownership.

Here’s a summary of the ABCD leadership expectations:

a. ALIGN – Your quintessential role as a leader is to tell THE story- of the organizational goal/ vision/purpose and how this matters to each employee. Draw the big picture for your teams, showing the clear lines of alignment between where the organization is headed to what the team does and then to what each individual provides as essential skills and services to meet the top line and the bottom line. Knowing why we do what we do allows for greater focus towards a set goal AND greater flexibility when the goal has to change due to market or environmental reasons.

b. BELONG – Employees give more, do more, innovate more when there is a sense of belonging. All of us have heard of how “employees don’t leave companies, they leave their managers.” The converse is also true. Your people will stay because of a great leader who makes them feel that they are important. How do you do that? Your starting point is one of curiosity. You start by asking, by providing space for conversations with your team that are focused on their strengths, areas of interest, learning, growth and development. If you are a leader that is invested in developing your people, they will be willing to put in that discretionary effort for you – that extra time, that extra mile, that extra mind for you in return.

c. COACH – John Maxwell, the guru of coaching, rightly says – “Leaders become great not because of their power, but because of their ability to empower others.” And we empower our employees with the direction and support they deserve. Reframe the conversation around problems, errors and challenges as learning opportunities. Spend time with your team members. Allocate regular 1:1 catch up time with your employees, where the conversation is driven by their needs and challenges. This will allow for a smoother road to employee autonomy and mastery.

d. DISSENT – Want a team that is innovative and adaptable and geared for change? Get your people to disagree with you and each other. As a leader, let go of your own fears and insecurities of being shown up by your team. Allow them a safe space to have productive conflict by challenging “what is “ to create “what could be”. Solicit multiple perspectives, guide people towards a culture of respectfu dissent. As a leader, put on your elephant ears and actively listen to what your team is saying.

Lead from the heart, with mission, passion and compassion. And with this constant process of clarifying, connecting, coaching and celebrating, remove obstacles and create freeways of success for your team.


Nich Pai

Head of Learning, Douglas Pharmaceuticals


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