Leading with Head, Heart and Soul

In conversation with N. T. Arunkumar, Managing Director & Country Head (India) and Head of Innovation, Telstra

Leadership means many things to people, but for practising (and aspiring) leaders, it is mostly about learning and serving. Leadership is service, and service is best rendered when we constantly learn and share.

The three hard lessons I’ve learned – continue to learn – about being a good leader are about the way of thinking (head), the focus on doing (heart), and the achievement of the purpose (soul).

N. T. Arunkumar, MD & Country Head (India) & Head of Innovation, Telstra

From where I stand today, these are my reflections:

1. Listen to everyone but do not accept everything.

Filter out the external noise and tune in to the internal voice. If your objective is clear and your intent good, then what you do outshines and outlasts what people say about what you are doing. Margaret Thatcher once quipped that even if she walked on water her critics would say she can’t swim and that’s why she is walking! In building the Innovation & Capability Centre (ICC) in India, we stayed convinced on focusing on new skills for the future instead of ‘Insourcing’ and ‘Offshoring’ to cut costs. We knew we needed future capabilities, not solutions that worked in the past for others, and stayed away from ‘conventional wisdom’ of the India Offshoring industry.

2. Focus on the mission and care about people.

Not the other way around. When your mission is bigger than yourself, you will attract the right people. When you care deeply and genuinely about your people, they will own and execute your mission. Passion and action go together. Steve Jobs embodied this in building Apple, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do – it’s not faith in technology, it’s faith in people”. When the pandemic hit us, instead of waiting out the storm, we decided to accelerate building our 5G Testing Lab in Telstra-ICC India. The result – An industry-leading infrastructure & innovation platform with hundreds of talented engineers changing how we deliver networks and product engineering. The team now believes – knows – that it can deliver the impossible!

3. Who you are becoming is far more important than what you are achieving.

This is perhaps the most difficult metric to self-assess your leadership success. The purpose of leadership cannot be at odds with the purpose of life. “Our prime purpose in life is to help others”, says H.H. The Dalai Lama, adding that “if you want others to be happy then practice compassion; if you want to be happy then practice compassion”. The pandemic exposed the human aspects of leadership in more ways than one. The leader’s focus on ensuring the well-being of everyone, got us at Telstra to serve our employees & their families, putting them first. And a soaring productivity with all-time high engagement was a result we didn’t have to ‘chase’.

Business, management, and all the functions that make them work well have become a science. But greatness comes from blending human art, and the art of leadership is all about inspiring people to do more than they believe they can.

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