About the Guest Transcript

Steve Correa

We generally keep analysing, assessing and understanding leadership and related topics. However, we hardly look at it from a local lens and so we thought why not. We are talking about the Indian Boss in this episode, what guides them and what defines them, what makes them stand out and what makes them unique across the World. Listen to the episode to understand some very intricate details about the Indian Boss.
Steve Correa, author of the book Indian Boss at Work, was the CHRO at Diageo India in his last corporate stint. He is an XLRI Jamshedpur graduate and has a knack for using beautiful analogies from Indian mythology.


Shubham(00:01) -
My boss isn't in great. I so hate my boss. I really wish I had a different boss. You know, Indian bosses are so less efficient, I tell you. Now, these are often expressions you hear from employees across organizations. We never really satisfied with our boss, right? And there's always some of the other shortcoming that we have for ourselves. But have we ever looked at the picture from their shoes? Do we ever understand their perspective? We have Steve Correa with us, who has authored the book The Indian boss at work thinking global acting Indian, to exclude the Indian leaders, managers, and the team leads at length.

Steve(00:45) -
Hello, and welcome to secrets of storytellers. I am Shubham Agarwal. This is a podcast where I interview authors and writers from the world of business, literature and many more. Don't miss out the last section where we get to know secrets from the storyteller themselves. Hi, Steve. Welcome to secrets of storytellers. How are you?

Steve(01:04) -
I'm doing great. Thank you for inviting me to the podcast today.

Shubham(01:08) -
Pleasure. Well, before we begin, let me let me tell everyone that Steve and I share the same alma mater accelerate. But interestingly, he went to XLRI before I was even born. So, Steve, what is the most cherished memory from XLRI college days, and I want to really see if we have something in common or not,

Steve(01:27) -
I think it's for me, the Bodhi tree or right, we all got enlightened in that.

Shubham(01:34) -
In God, we trust in God we must was this the slogan back then as well?

Steve(01:39) -
Yes, it was very much.

Shubham(01:41) -
It was a great, great, great. So, Steve, let's begin with your reflections on you know, what I said in the in the beginning? For the Indian boss how or how we hate our bosses, what do you have to say about it?

Steve(01:56) -
So, you know, Shubham you talked about Indian bosses? I think University bosses are a source of hate and exasperation, irrespective of being Indian or otherwise, I think what would be more truthfully said that there are effective and there are not so effective bosses. Right, right. In fact, there was an HBR research, which said that 58% of the respondents, they admitted to trusting strangers, more than their own boss, wow, for that matter. 64% would rather trust a robot.

Shubham(02:31) -
Oh, my God. Okay.

Steve(02:32) -
Yeah. In fact, an MIT study in 2020 said that just 12% of global leaders actually have the mindset to lead forward in this new digital economy that we all know we're going to go to in the post in this COVID world, right. And another study just 70% rated thought leadership as very good or excellent for their organization. So, you can see that.

Shubham(02:58) -
These are troubling numbers

Steve(03:00) -
In a very troubling number in terms of how bosses are and coming back to India, some Indian leaders have earned a fierce reputation, right. Some of them work for the for the S&P 500 and are well known and reputed. There are there are many Indian leaders in India that are doing a fabulous job. But I dare say most of Indian leaders do not end up being able to reconcile they complete effectiveness and end up becoming three shankus. And that's really brings me a segment into my book, which is really about what leads to effectiveness in the workplace and hopefully Shubham we will explore that conversation here.

Shubham(03:43) -
Definitely. So, Steve, moving on what we know about leadership. Now there are some core principles, right? We read about them almost everywhere. But how does Danesh Karlin Patra have relevance to this, which I think you've brought it out in the book is really quite in depth. But if you were to share some insights into it

Steve(04:00) -
Shubham you use the word core principles, which itself is fundamentally flawed as a concept. Let me explain why. Okay, most of the literature on leadership that you're studying in XLRI , I have studied Yeah, has come mainly from post Second World War largely from North America and Europe, right, written by males. And coming out of academia, I get it. And actually, with what I call weird participants, we are being Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic. But Shubham is the rest of the world weird. And what about feminine principles? Yeah, that must also be included in the workplace. Right. So, one of the things that as you said code, they come under the word of Universal theories. And by creating a universal theory, the culture, which is specific to a country is completely taken out of the equation. Okay, so what I'd like you to just think about the fact that as human beings, all of us face common imperatives, right, but how should we respond to these common imperatives are actually cultural?

Shubham(05:46) -
Right, right.

Steve(05:47) -
So now come back to your question. When I refer to the call, which is the existential time I'm referring to the social character, the dominant ideas of our times both traditional and modern, right, when I refer to desh, I talk about the regional characteristics of our country, and Patra, which is the force the the temperaments of the person in the country, and all of these forces influence in brackets, not cause the context for action and forms the basis of how leaders think, feel, and act, okay. So, in India shoe bomb inside you, for instance, yeah, there are two concurrent processes happening in juxtaposition for one, either consciously or unconsciously, the fact that you come from a 7000-year-old living civilization, right, and there is a traditional kind of an orientation. And then there is a postmodern world, which is the workplace, which has, obviously be built on Western formats, and so on and so forth. And the fact is that, while we wish to ape the West and follow a Western correct way of thinking, inherent in us, is an Indian nature in the way we act. And if these two processes, Shubham I argued my book are not in integrated or not co held, right, they can lead to effectiveness and fragmentation, and create organizational and human waste. So, just to conclude, I just wanted to say that these universal core theories, as you talked about, might essentially be fabulous seeds of thought, and good for inter operable and inter comparable data points. Yeah, but they are not absolutes. And we need to examine the soil in which these seeds are planted, to be able to fully understand its success. And that's the reason why, if that's not fully understood, yeah, it could, it could lead to a great problem.

Shubham(07:54) -
Well, I really like how you have, you know, brought together the two things. And interestingly, with almost every case that I've spoken on my podcast, we talk a lot about the Indian Navy, because you know, the context is so much different when we talk about our culture's our systems, our structures, so I understand it, I think there's a lot of value in what you said. So, Steve, let's take a step back and probably look at what makes a good boss, then, you know, are the bosses in the West better or worse, because we keep comparing with that.

Steve(08:23) -
Um, so, you know, here we go back to Shubham, the point you raised about core principles, there are fundamentally certain leadership principles that have been articulated in terms of, you know, the literature that we have, and, you know, it talks about many elements. But I think fundamentally, if you look at the elements, they pertain to the intelligence, the IQ, right? managing people, which is the EQ and managing the context, which is the strategic thinking. And I think what makes a good boss is when someone is able to move depending on where he is in terms of the maturity of the company and the maturity of his role, in terms of straddling as being an individual contributor to be able to manage teams to be able to strategically lead the enterprise, right? Because as Marshall said, what got you here won't get you there. So, there is a need for continuous movement in terms of defining the leadership geared to the level that one is, so I can't speak about I can't speak about the West in terms of, you know, what's the other is the West better or worse. But I did share with you a little while back about you know, the fact about strangers and about robots and write about these various services that gives you an indication that what ails India is also ailing the world. And clearly, there's a guy called juice. g us who has confirmed that many of the universal theories actually are Even failing and failing to be relevant in today's context. So, in that sense, so, if I were to come back to the question what makes a good boss like I hinted earlier, a leader is one who is able to manage the two polarities, the contradictions that is there. So, for example, in India in particular, we are working in let me give you an analogy. So, Bob So, imagine you are in a in a watching a Shakespearean play in the New York City Theatre and Mumbai, right the audience is Indian, the actors are Indian, the stage is Indian. And yet you're talking Shakespearean language. Yeah. Now, let me clarify, the context in which we work is a very Western background, foreground, yet the actors are in the in the background. And therefore, there's always a simultaneous Indian is no, and a foreground, which is very messed in. Hmm. And that those two elements need to be complemented. And let me give some flavour to this. For example, during COVID times, do I fire people? Because that's what you need to do in a PR image is result oriented and outcome driven? And which is rational? Or should I value loyalty and, you know, be sensitive and be human and be empathetic? And some of these, you know, polarities come and need to be reconciled? Do I put my boot on your neck to drive performance? Or do I be diplomatic, or these are some of the kinds of value systems that come at odds with each other need to be integrated? In India, in particular, some of the models of leadership like charismatic, in my own experience, I have found them to be actually that of a narcissistic leader. The laissez faire leader, for instance, is almost like an absentee landlord. And I would dare say to them that in India, the studies are showing that jvp sinas model of what is called the nurturing task model leader, where he's is, is what seems to be working well in India. Yeah, yeah. And that comes from the fact that this is almost aligned to the model of the carta. The carta, being the eldest member in our family, who is supposed who is strict disciplinarian, has values at the same time is protective, caring, nurturing, etc. So we need to so we, in India, look for a leader, who is like the kurta and we have both the Audi car and the Anurag. And there is a some to learn. And if he ends up with too much over the car, then we start saying it's too harsh, and he's a dictator, right? If he's too soft, we start ending up thinking that he's a union leader, and he's too soft and then sibling that rivalries may come through. But the kurta model that allows for the power distance seems to be contextually relevant for India. So, what I'm trying to say Shubham is that when you talk about good deeds or bad leaders, you ought to be looking at leadership in terms of the context of the seed in terms of the soil. So rather than just take the seed as an absolute, I'll just conclude by saying that with the current COVID, that is that ails all of us globally. Yeah. Some of the leaders, traits that are coming up in the fall are things like empathy, sensitivity, humility, right. The world is one family has timeless wisdom show up for where leadership ought to be going. And therefore, India has much to offer the world in terms of model.

Shubham(13:48) -
Wonderful, two things. One, that no, I love how you've connected the Indian wisdom, the age old Indian wisdom to the modern world, and how you present it with analogies is beautiful. The second is the what I could, you know, probably derived from the analogy of the theatre that you shared. And I could really relate to that experience when I while I was there, you know, as an audience, watching the Shakespeare play, I think then the Indians are doing much better. You know, we as people locally just trying to analyse them from a very local lens. We're not looking at what is exactly happening. We're just looking at stories, but we're not really looking at what is happening outside. And globally. We have much ahead because given the western context or the western foreground, we're still doing great as Indians

Steve(14:31) -
Yes or no, like I said, there is enough of data too, for some Indian leaders who have earned a fierce reputation and know also because there is much to be done for Indian leaders to be truly global thinking and acting Indian, right, right.

Shubham(14:49) -
So, what is what is different about the Indian Wars then you know, can you can you probably give a few examples from your own experience. We have been chro with India and many other states, if you were to share some experience

Steve(15:00) -
Okay, so earlier I said that a boss needs to go through IQ EQ and be strategically relevant. So, these are some of the basics. But I think what makes Indian boss distinctive in brackets not unique is that he is really like, you know, a stranger, a man of many forms. He's like a, like an Indian thali. He's like a garam masala. He's like a cooler full of arrows. If you take the gin affair concept of Anika, which is multi sided, that's what the Indian leader is. He brings together the traditional dance of Shiva, the tandem. And he also brings together the postmodern world, which is the modern kaleidoscope. So, you know, this guy, AR Rahman Asian men, he explored the whole notion of Indian ness, he found that Indians are very context sensitive. They're not context free. Okay. So, in the in the Western world, you will hear things like a rule is a rule is a rule and everything has to be equal for everyone, right? In India, we believe in equitability, not all five children are treated the same. One is given milk while studying one is given back to play cricket. Because equitability is considered to be important. That's why Indians always say it all depends. It all depends because we don't follow rules for its own sake, we follow Dharma, the way of living and Dharma is India's word to the world. It is it is a way of looking at what station you are, what kind of vocation you are, it has got cool dharma. And it also has a way of working during an emergency, which is called the Dharma. Now, we, Martha Gandhi famously said, and also, despite being a lawyer, rejecting the British supremacy by saying that I follow the supreme dharma the supreme law over the law that you put over V right. Now, but coming back to you know, like for example, what is the Indian boss? First of all, you know, Shubham I don't believe that man is a noun, like you study in college, he you know, he's introverted, and he is thinker, thinker is judgmental. Man is not a noun; man is a word. He's constantly with his artistic being, constantly refining that, and in the process of unfolding, which is the becoming, and this being and becoming is a continuous dynamic situation of flow. So, if I was an analogy, I love using analogies. Let me take the story of the Ganges. Now imagine, if the water personifies the human spirit, then coming from Gangotri the water will be very fast and rapid, depending on the slope at Rishikesh, because the banks widen, the water will also widen itself, right? Then the water starts to meet some rocks and becomes a rapid, suddenly it will plummet and become a waterfall. So, what I'm trying to say is, the human spirit is contextual. I can be, you know, a very passive and fun loving and peaceful guy with my friends. But if a robber comes to my house with arms at night, to attack me and my spouse, oh, my God, I could be violent. So, I'm contextual. In other words, the Indian leader is this. And that, and more. He's this in that envelope. And that's one of the reasons why if you like, yeah, I have used a diamond model, which is, he has got four sets, he has not got trades, he's got four sets, and these sets show up, depending on what the situation is. And like any Branding Guy, I've decided to call that those the diamond model, D S, I, L, E, D, R, and D, for example, D, for example, stands for the first one, I talked about carta, for example, directive, right? and nurturing directive and nurturance. And I go on to explain these various facets of the Indian leader, right in my book by giving examples and talking about these various facets that come up, depending on the various situations. I hope I've answered your question, Shubham.

Shubham(19:30) -
Yeah, yeah, quite in detail. And I think I understand what you're saying. I think that they see leader structure will really help. So, thank you. Okay, so, Steve, I think we you know, during such podcasts or during an interview or during discussions, we really look at some positive sides and what are the rights of a particular aspect. I want to look at some of the dark sides of Indian voices if you can share that. I know that's against, probably you know, how you feel about it. But I still want to know if there are some dark sides to it. No, in fact,

Steve(20:04) -
I don't feel anything about it. In my book I have said two things I neither wish to condemn. Okay, the Indian leader, I simply wish to state what is happening great. I neither wish to condemn the West nor do I wish to glorify the east. Okay, I simply wish to bring in integration. There are obviously plenty of shadows and dark sides of Indian muscles. So firstly, we are the world's oldest living civilization, 7000 years, the Incas, the Mesopotamia, a Tamia, the Greek the Romans, they've come and they've gone but ours is the oldest living. So therefore, we have got a richness that has come from that years and years of antiquity, right. However, that richness is not often practice. There is a tremendous amount of duplicity in what we say, and what we do. We talk about some people, you know, being fundamentalist in their thinking, and you know, getting into yet if there's a slight dent in ARCA, when someone when someone is playing cricket and there's a dent, we start ourselves going into an into a rage look at our behaviour in a road rage. So, we have a big difference between what we espouse as funders, versus how we actually practice them. Let me give another example. This is a society that has reified women, Lakshmi Saraswathi has taken them as goddesses. And yet, you and I both know, the abuse and the rape and the violence and the and the discrimination and the lack of access and opportunities that we give women in the society. So, it's really double standards. Yeah, we talk about a lot about show blob and the world is one family and we talk about collectivism. But on closer examination, there is a fundamental kind of a narrowing of the border of boundaries, which we call up now and the opposite of not being pariah in groups and out groups, right. So, there is groupism, there is regional collectivism, a large part of India is actually a border around this closely defined. In a bowl, it can include just me and my family or my, my community, or it could expand to if you're in Bangalore, they are CBT when we are playing the IPL or maybe can expand to the whole of India, when we go to war with the warring nations. So, it's a collapsible and yet an expansive kind of a bubble in that sense. And if I look at the dark side, in a more of a template, I think, you know, the Indian leader is constantly oscillating, between being in a world of wanting to be part of a tribe being part of a group, at the same time wanting, feeling repressed with being in a in a group and wanting to break free, and, you know, flexing his muscle and therefore, he's constantly like a loose cannon when he's on his own. So, there is this constant pendulum, where he swings from being beautiful, to sometimes being absolutely fancy, free and impetuous. Does that make sense?

Shubham(23:39) -
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And I'm, I relate to it. Yeah.

Steve(23:42) -
And I think Finally, from historical perspective, the fact is, and I talked about it in the book, there is a deep-seated inferiority, right, that we have bought into amplified and continues to stay with us, that has come from the colonial rule.

Shubham(24:02) -
Right. In fact, you know, Steve, my next question was related to what he said at the last, that you might have an inferiority complex or something like that. I will ask you what happens when an Indian boss steps out and starts functioning in the West? And I'm sure you've seen it across your career. what's your take on that? Um,

Steve(24:22) -
You know, there is some data that we in India, liberally put up on Facebook and LinkedIn celebrating the Indian origin leaders who have made it in &P 500. Right. And we therefore feel that they do fabulously Well, when they outside the country. I want to just share with you some statistics that will broaden this, this this conversation. Sure. For example, Indians makeup, less than 1% of the population but have a median income of over 100,000 US dollars which is significantly higher compared to all other immigrants of other nations. Okay. Okay. So, then we have to ask this question does therefore, being in a foreign soil ensure success, that's doubtful because China again, would have had the same success and we would have had other sports music research sector, so that's not true. What's true is that 77% of all Indian American adults have a minimum college degree. And compare this with Shubham 29% of all immigrants and 31% of native-born Americans who are graduate, so we are disproportionately more advantaged than others. Plus, Indians are Firstly, double distillates. They are mostly perhaps engineers, right? Then MBA come from affluent backgrounds. And they skip what I would call, as in it in inverted commas, the ghetto stage, okay? That's common for most immigrants. So, they're almost literally stepping onto an escalator. Right? You know, there was an MIT study that that asked the question, how come East Asians are not doing as well. And they found that unlike Indians, the East Asians suffer from what they called was a bamboo ceiling. That is that they are less assertive, unlike the Indians who are quite assertive, okay. So, if you then put everything into perspective show up, when you do look at fortune 500, then they are just about 18 or 19, CEOs who are Indian and Indian origin, which comes to about, say, 3%. And I hope that gives you a perspective about, you know, the ones who've made it, right. But I but I would like to, apart from the fact that I talked about the nature of this triple distillate, I want to come to some other characteristics, which are very, you know, dominant for Indians, like you and me, we've always had to face adversity. Coming from middle class families not having enough for everyone. There was always almost every day, there were some hardships on bus to catch or some classes to attend or so there's always not enough of a paucity of Yeah. And as a result, you know, Shubham for you and for me, we've always had to do social hacks, which we call jugaad. Correct. And innovation to be able to manage. So, one guy buys a book, the other guy borrows a lot and you know, manages to do that. Right? So, I think, fundamentally, as Indians, we have learned how to be creative, innovative, I've seen adversity, we we are self-committed to our studies, we need very little maintenance in that sense, correct. And when we become leaders, I think we are also very much in touch with the carta, in terms of being, you know, loving and caring and family based. And if you look at many leaders, Indra Nooyi and others, and so on, they will give fabulous examples of how they treat the organization as if it was a privilege, as if it is a family, and they take a lot of care on the people side of the business. Now, I must tell you, that Indians in the core are very private and have a fixed entity and a very core principle. But in the office and in the workplace, they are fairly flexible, adaptive. And they are great critical thinkers at work. But they're also awful team players. And this kind of combination is what makes them succeed.

Shubham(28:57) -
Wow. Great. Wonderful. Thank you so much for describing that in so much detail. I'm sure that's going help a lot of people who couldn't listen. So, Steve, this brings us to a different section, a new section that you've introduced in the podcast. And I must tell you, you're the first one will be starting this wait. So we starting a rapid fire section. And I'm going to ask you a couple of questions. And you can quickly you know how a rapid-fire works. Yeah. All right. Right.

Steve(29:27) -
Absolutely. Get set Go.

Shubham(29:30) -
Great. Okay. So, Steve, to what extent do you match the image of an Indian that you've portrayed in the book and in emboss.

Steve(29:37) -
So I clearly have the duality that exists for me. I am acutely aware of my Roman Catholic, Western, educated, urban Indian Western background, aping the West, as one orientation, you know, brought upon lots of Western literature and fiction. That's one part of me, right and i Also acutely aware of my Indian orientation. And for me at all points of time, there is constantly that Dharam Sankata that I have to deal with within myself.

Shubham(30:13) -
Great. And what are your hopes from this book? What would be highest level of satisfaction for you

Steve(30:19) - Want the reader to really think about the timeless and eternal wisdom of India? I want them to feel proud. And I want them to act in a manner that they can discover their own national leadership within themselves.

Shubham(30:44) -
Wonderful. And what gap? Are you trying to fill with this? Or you know, probably, that you realized while you started writing the book,

Steve(30:51) -
I want to prove Rudyard Kipling wrong. Okay, that East is east and west is that the train shall never meet. Okay, I believe that my book can blend the Harvard and the Indian Rishi and create the Rajshree model of leadership, a model that assures us the prosperity and the ecological balance right, for the world that we are moving into.

Shubham(31:19) -
Wonderful, great. So, I think you did really well, or probably I did anyway. So there's one last question, which is common across all the episodes. And this is. So as you know, we call the show secrets of storytellers. I want to ask you one secret about the book, or about you know, the journey while you're writing the book that probably you've not shared on any platform until now.

Steve(31:47) -
Now, this might sound very fluffy, okay. But the fact is, when I was writing this book, I actually had a visitor. I call her inspiration. Okay. She was a cheerful spirit that hovered around me looking for me to host and welcome. You know, she approached, knock softly and waited and announced the idea of the bookshop and she invited me to blow into the Ember and to start a raging fire. I didn't know what I was doing when I started to join the dots. But as I did, she revealed herself each day more like a silhouette, gradually revealing herself even larger, bigger. to her. The creative engine, I owe my deepest gratitude. Because she stayed by my side. There were there are also Shubham Earth Angel, okay. two wonderful women, Manisha and Nia, my commissioning editors, who believed in the message of the book, inspiring me to be bolder, the first-time writer, so they pushed me demanding a style that they knew they expect. I have been very exasperated at times, but they offered practical advice. And I must thank you, Nina, my editor who edited my words, but not my voice. Wow. So, I think the book is formed itself, almost like magic. It was like, you know, I was writing it. But they were voices within. And it sounds very spooky and very tough.

Shubham(33:24) -
That's the idea of this section. It's a beautiful secret, I must tell you, it's a very deep thing that you generally brought. I don't know if you know, people are not really comfortable sharing. So that's the entire idea of this question. And thank you so much that you could go so deep to share that.

Steve(33:43) -
Thank you, Shubham, for inviting me. I've really enjoyed this last half an hour with you. And thank you for your question.

Shubham(33:49) -
Thank you so much. Thank you so much. It was a pleasure to have you. And I hope that the listeners enjoyed the session as well as the book. It's out and people can go out and check it out. Thank you once again and thank you to all the listeners until the next secret and the next storyteller, signing off. Bye

The Indian Boss at Work with Steve Correa


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