The Principles – By Ajit Singh

As part of our “Get To Know the VC” blog series, Artiman partner, Ajit Singh, shares some Guiding Principles of Life and Leadership: 

I had the luxury of some great mentors – in life and leadership. Prof. Erich Reinhardt, my boss at Siemens for nearly 20 years shaped much of my thinking about leadership (and about life).  Sometime in the mid-1990’s my own approach and style started to emerge, and I began writing down my experiences – as they pertained to hiring, engaging, and developing my teams, as well as how we made decisions and went about implementing them. 

The Principles is a short, crisp, Cliff’s Notes version of my learnings of those two decades. The document is not exactly a stand-alone version, but rather, best used with a narrative of case studies and real-life examples; the story behind the story always tells much more. Nevertheless, The Principles has enough granularity to start a conversation.

Principles – of Life and Leadership

True Dialog is a pre-requisite for building Trust.

Trust is a pre-requisite for building a high-performance culture.

1. True Dialog in a relationship is extremely important. 

a. True dialog requires that both parties listen with a GENUINE CURIOUSITY to understand the other person’s viewpoint. This requires extreme investment of time (with the two parties making conscious effort to draw things out of each other), but it is worth it in the long run. More importantly:

b. True dialog cannot happen when you listen out of “generosity” (It is good that you are listening, but the intent has to be curiosity, and NOT generosity)

c. True dialog cannot happen when you pretend to listen

d. True dialog cannot happen when you don’t listen at all

e. Understanding the other person’s viewpoint – is not the same as understanding what they said. Rather, it has to do with what they wanted to say, or their perspective.

2. Trust is not some soft, fluffy thing. It also has four very specific, very tangible attributes:

Trust = (Reliability + Credibility + Intimacy)

                                   Self Interest

a. Reliability means you deliver what you promise, consistently

b. Credibility means you know what you are talking about

c. Intimacy means you are sincere in your commitment to the relationship, and are perceived that way. It also means making yourself vulnerable.

d. Self-interest is obvious (and is not a bad thing… as long as the numerator, i.e. Reliability, Credibility, Intimacy is high)

e. Net-net, true dialog is a pre-requisite for building trust.

3. High Performance Culture is not some soft, fluffy thing. It has FOUR very specific, very tangible attributes:

a. Very clear goals, very clear roles

b. Full transparency – all facts AND all intentions on the table. Full candor.

c. Understanding that artificial harmony breeds mediocrity. Embracing conflict generates new insights, and a stronger team

d. DIALOG: Full debate BEFORE a decision is made – No debate AFTER a decision is made. Just execute. (Dialog DOES imply productive conflict. Embrace it)

e. TRUST: Clear accountability and TRUST.

4. Your primary job as a leader is to:

a. Build your team (the keyword is team)

b. Prioritize. The best person to prioritize is someone who has a broader, as opposed to a narrower, purview. That’s you – the leader.

c. Decide.

d. Know when to trade a plan for an opportunity. Know when to not trade a plan for an opportunity. 

e. Communicate. This is CRITICAL. (Just think of the last 3-4 weeks, and ask: Which problems could have been avoided by ONLY communicating better, clearer).

5. FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS

a. Focus allows you to structure a problem, and to express it correctly.

b. Focus allows you to know what you are solving for. You cannot optimize for too many things simultaneously. Solve for “the vital few”

c. Mundane, but important: Don’t allow a meeting to be hijacked for some irrelevant, low-priority issue. (Speak because you have something to say, not because you want to say something).

d. Mundane, but important: Look at your goals at least once a week

e. Mundane, but important: Getting distracted by “fancy stuff” is natural. When in doubt, err on the side on NOT taking on new stuff.

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