It is my great pleasure to bring you this insightful discussion with Karan Verma. Very recently, Karan joined Amazon’s strategy group breasting the tape ahead of a lot of very smart and tough competition. Not only was Karan selected by one of the 20 most difficult companies for interviews, but he also graduated from Columbia Business School, ranked 5th amongst the top business schools in the world by Financial Times. Karan’s success rate was so high that he got interview calls from 11 out of the top 18 management consulting companies that he applied for. This very high success rate highlights the effectiveness of over-preparing and quality networking.
The following transcript of the discussion with Karan brings out these qualities in more detail, from an expert practitioner of these qualities.
Kay: What, in your experience, are the most important qualities of a leader?
Karan: A leader must have the following two qualities:
1. Highly competent – knows the nuts and the bolts of the job.
2. Inspiring & Visionary – makes you feel like doing something for that person.
Kay: Is leadership overrated? Aren’t good managers enough? After all, you have a certain task that needs to be accomplished
Karan: Leadership is not over rated. Managers make the strategies dictated by the leader come alive. Managers are efficient.
Leaders are inspiring. Managers work within the organization boundary, the leaders push those boundaries – be it new customers, new geographies, etc.
Kay: What would be your advice to a budding leader? Which areas to concentrate?
1. Learn the nuts and bolts of the job thoroughly. When you are young, you will have very little margin for error.
2. Respect experience. You cannot replicate it, however bright you may be.
3. Be a great follower, only then can you become a great leader. Find a mentor. Life will be easy. I am still searching for one.
Kay: Is there any technique or something that you´ve deliberately practiced to hone your leadership skill?
Karan: I did start noticing myself in business settings by tracking my performance in a diary. I didn’t do this for long. It is only over few months that I have been conscious of this area. After tracking it for a while, I should be able to bring about improvement.
Kay: How would you categorize your leadership style?
Karan: I may be classified as “collaborative/democratic”.
Kay: Who is your idol? Who did you look up to? Why?
Karan: My previous boss who was highly competent and very gifted. He was an amazing strategic storyteller – hilarious and magnanimous.
Every meeting started with a story and then a deep dive into real facts and strategy.
Kay: What are the things that you try as a leader to avoid?
Karan: I try to prepare to the maximum - this I can control – that I can in order to avoid looking incompetent. I also do not exercise inappropriate authority. I make sure I have earned the right to speak.
Kay: Would you consider anything that is still in progress with your development – if you had the time and resources to develop just one
more skill to add to your repertoire, what would it be?
Karan: Wow.., great question. I am so incomplete, there are so many. I would love to communicate more effectively.
Kay: What is the biggest challenge you ever had to face as a leader and how
did you overcome it?
Karan: Competence with age. I tried to be more competent than I could at a very young age. That made me realize the value of experience.
Kay: What would you advise budding leaders to guard against?
Karan: Remember some things come only with age. As long as you understand that you will be fine.
Kay: You mentioned “earning the right to speak” – can you elaborate this please?
Karan: People talk about being nervous when presenting or discussing topics. It all comes down to your preparation. If the rest of the group manage to study 10 pages, you do 100 pages. That may take you all night. But in your mind you will know that this is your topic to blast through and its then you would have earned the right to speak. In short, overpreparation is the key to confidence.
Kay: You also coined the term “quality networking”. What exactly is this
and how can effective leaders deploy this concept?
Karan: Quality implies genuineness. Don’t network on the surface. Befriend and love the other person. Let them speak about themselves, agree with them whenever you can, look genuinely interested and spend time with them. Treat them as you would a friend, and that will take the pressure off you. And then the person will give you your chance to speak about yourself.
Kay: Any other skills that future leaders should pick up, in order to be effective?
Karan: Always keep it basic.
Kay: Thank you very much for some great insights and for the phrase “earning the right to speak”! Wish you many more successes.