By Tom Flanagan & Grace Chiu, Talent Marketing, SAP
The first story in the SAP HR Thought Leadership Spotlight features TK “Ranga” Rengarajan, EVP of Intellectual Renewal. Ranga discusses a medley of topics around leadership, including the qualities of a great leader and the ways to inspire people and foster creativity in the workplace.
Q: What qualities would you say a great leader possess to inspire those around you to think more creatively and ‘outside of the box’?
I find that it is extremely valuable to show people a ‘glimpse’ of the possible. If you show somebody that they can achieve greatness –– even in a very thin slice, a very small amount – then what happens is they get really excited and they go beyond what anybody has imagined. And that I think is the trick to getting the best out of people, to show them a little glimpse and then leave it… bet on their creativity to do great things, then you step aside and let them run the show.
Q: What do you see as some of the challenges of getting people to enact those creative qualities now, as opposed to five years ago?
The biggest enemy of doing something amazing is the mundane. Day after day we have our stuff to do, meetings to go to, project teams, filling paper work, forms and other thing. I think it’s valuable to just set aside some time when people can have the freedom to think creatively, to think differently, have a time to play, and you will see the sparks flying. Once you’ve seen the sparks and proved that something interesting is possible, you can do the regular, every day work to make it happen. That’s the 1% inspiration. You have to find the time for that 1% inspiration.
Q: How would you say you establish or gain credibility as you moved into a leadership role?
To be authentic and to be credible I think, you just have to be who you are and make mistakes, stand up for what you believe in, and I think people will follow. There is another style of leadership which is sort of closed, and that is creating limits and boundaries. This appears to be successful in the short term, but it almost inevitably fails in the long term because you lose the trust and the belief of your people.
Q: What kind of workplace culture do you try to create for your team?
It has to be, first of all, an open, transparent work culture. This means that anytime somebody says you can’t share this information, it is usually a red flag signaling some closed mindedness going on there. But you can actually get ahead and create a much better work environment by just being open and sharing, and working hard towards excellence. There is always respect for that, and that respect is more sustainable in the long run, especially in today’s economy. It’s a small world we live in – everyone is connected to everybody else in some way, and reputation spreads pretty quickly. So I believe it is an advantage in the longer term if people simply remain open. That’s the most critical aspect.
Q: Do you think good leadership qualities are innate in people or do you think it can be taught? Or is it a mix of both?
I’m pretty convinced that every person has potential to be a leader. Leadership can be learned. We also have to understand that leadership doesn’t immediately mean the political type of leadership. It doesn’t mean a big talk by an extrovert, because an introvert could be a leader as well. I think it would be very beneficial for us to show our employees that there are many different types of leadership.
Ranga believes great leaders inspire people through showing little glimpses of the ‘possible,’ and this is best achieved by designating free time for the creative process. In his opinion, leadership credibility derives from the ardent championing of one’s beliefs while remaining humble and open. Fostering openness and sharing information are paramount for a workplace that seeks to produce excellent results. For Ranga, a great leader should also encourage their employees to demonstrate leadership in their own unique ways because leadership can be developed.
What other qualities do you think a great leader should possess? Do you agree with Ranga that leadership can be learned?