Thursday, February 6, 2020, my day started with the following headlines;

Coronavirus concerns: India Inc in a cold sweat as lockdown in China continues

Industry officials say trade has already been affected and unless Chinese supplies bounce back quickly, it would lead to scarcity and higher prices in a few weeks.

The coronavirus outbreak is giving industry the jitters, especially sectors heavily dependent on Chinese imports such as consumer electronics, automobiles and pharmaceuticals. Seafood and spices exports are also vulnerable as Beijing absorbs a big chunk of the $10 billion these shipments bring in every year.

ET Bureau  |  February 06, 2020, 08:12 IST

Agra footwear industry stares at losses due to coronavirus

Every year, leather shoes worth over Rs 3,000 crore are exported to European countries from Agra. The US and several African countries are also important destinations for Agra footwear, say industry sources. 

In Agra, which is the largest footwear hub in India, the industry is adversely impacted as manufacturers imports several components such as laces, shoe lining, buckles, ornaments, insoles, outsoles, cellulose board, shank board, foam and packing material from China.

Deepak Lavania  |  TNN  |  February 05, 2020, 12:29 IST

Coronavirus: Surat diamond industry stares at Rs 8,000 cr loss

Hong Kong is a major business hub for the Surat diamond industry, but schools and colleges have been closed there till the first week of March and even the businesses are seeing a dip in view of the outbreak of the novel coronavirus.

The Surat diamond industry is likely to face a loss of around Rs 8,000 crore in next two months as Hong Kong, which is a major export destination, has declared a state of emergency due to the coronavirus outbreak in China, say experts.

PTI  |  February 05, 2020, 14:10 IST

The above three isolated incidents are perhaps micro specks on the tip of the Coronavirus iceberg and as time passes by, we are seeing the virus becoming mankind’s worst nightmare, taking a heavy toll on the global economic front. Being highly contemplative by nature, I couldn’t help visualizing the broader global impact of the virus on business and what I envisage is nothing less than  an economic holocaust.

As markets opened in China on Monday 3rd February after an extended new year festival, it was anticipated that there will be a sell off, but what happened was pretty severe forcing the government to pump in over 170 billion dollars to prevent a free fall and restore investor confidence.

China is already witnessing its lowest growth in the last three decades and as the impact of the virus gains momentum, a very serious trouble surfaces for China and the world, to name a few that come to immediate notice;

  • The demand for oil in China will slump thereby forcing OPEC to cut crude output to pre-empt fall in prices.
  • Hyundai and Kia factories in South Korea will be badly hit as it is not certain how long will the part suppliers in China remain closed.
  • In the face of uncertainties of reopening of factories, consumer markets all over the globe that depend very heavily on Chinese suppliers will see their supply chain going for a toss and consequently many retailers may cancel their orders lest risk unsold inventories due to delayed supplies.
  • The downsizing of exports from China will have severe consequences on the logistics and global freight movement.

Simply put, as it looks, Coronavirus is going to cause a global impact that no one would have ever imagined at its outbreak. With every passing day, comes the news of it spreading to other regions across the globe, thereby causing greater turmoil.

Such challenges that feature high stress and extreme survival pressures will be a tall order for the best of organizations and the highest performing executives. In view of extreme uncertainties, it will not be easy for leaders to develop any strategies that will help them deal with the aftermath of the virus attack.

Looking from an organizational management and leadership perspective, dealing with such extreme situations will entail uncertainty, improvisation and spontaneity replacing predictability, command and control. Leaders will have to apply very radical approaches to planning and managing situations, an approach that is tolerant to such extremeness and is innovative, adaptable and agile.

While leaders plan or strategize corrective action,  “reality” will happen on its own and we will have to learn to respond  to it for reality cannot be changed as it has a mind of its own. Every plan that has been made will have to be changed to fit the situation as we encounter it right now as situations may change tomorrow and so also the plans.

Sustainability will require of leaders to develop a new way of thinking and acting, one that’s appropriate to situations that thrive under the extreme conditions of high turbulence, high change and high uncertainty, maintaining control and delivering value in the face of volatility. And on their part, organizations will have to look for complex, high-speed, self-correcting processes during which people interact in pursuit of a common desirable objective, under extreme conditions of high uncertainty, high stress and high change.

Leaders will have to adopt a new paradigm which will help them in;

  • Reinventing the leadership model in a contemporary context
  • Shifting their perceptions of realities and how we relate to it
  • Being comfortable leading at the edge of chaos
  • Having the foresight in anticipating rapid changes
  • Having the courage to steer the organization through volatility and chaos
  • Having the competency to see patterns in chaos and take control
  • Having the ability to take bold actions and safeguard interests of the organization
  • Being prepared to alter strategies
  • Having the agility to stay ahead of the volatility curve
  • Having the ability to spot opportunities through rapid upturns and downturns
  • Having the ability to adapt to ever changing internal and external factors while maintaining the strategic focus and core vision.




Organizations, businesses and individuals around the world are experiencing sweeping, rapid changes alike,  in what they do, how they do it and even why they do it. Mastering current and future business realities requires deep learning capabilities. The people who will thrive and flourish in the future are those who will embrace new learnings and are motivated to acquire new skills and competencies. Such is the disruptive force of the fourth industrial revolution that it will spare none, be it  organizations, businesses – large and small and even entrepreneurs.

What has emerged from my decade long studies of how to deal with the business and leadership challenges of the 21st century is that organizations and its leaders will have to learn to be adaptive, innovative and agile in order to remain relevant, resourceful and sustainable in the 21st century. Whereas organizations  enjoy the privilege of having a leadership structure in place to deal with the challenges, it is the entrepreneur who is left to his own devices to manage his affairs and that  is  where he will confront the most formidable challenges and his worst fears. For organizations in their quest for performance under such challenging conditions, may start working on developing diverse curriculum and activities around LEARNING, DEVELOPMENT AND TRAINING in a contemporary context of individuals, executives and leaders in various aspects of Business and Strategy Management, this may just be out of bounds for individual entrepreneurs.

About six months back, I was approached by a MSME consulting firm to help them unravel the causes of failure for a number of their entrepreneurial clients. From an academic perspective, more than abundant articles have been published on the causes of entrepreneurial failures, the most common being ;

  • Lack of vision
  • Lack of proper planning
  • Not having enough capital
  • Failure in marketing
  • Pursuing too rapid a growth
  • Hiring the wrong people
  • Poor business plan

Surprisingly, my studies revealed a very different set of causes that led to entrepreneurial failure in the above case and very much like leadership, the studies gave a very clear reflection as to the causes of failure that were very relevant in the context of the challenges of doing business in the 21st century.

I am much thankful to my client ( name withheld on their request) for letting me share a part of the findings of the study in the best interest of entrepreneurship development and produced below are a few of the findings of the causes of entrepreneurial failure;

  • A lack of understanding of the disposition, tendencies, strengths and weaknesses of their unique entrepreneurial character
  • Inability to create a clear and compelling vision of their ultimate business success
  • Not being able to uncover hidden and underlying challenges that hinder their progress and growth
  • Not being able to renew, re-energize and inspire themselves to take their business to the next level of growth, thereby being subject to stagnation and decline
  • Inability to understand and develop a growth mindset
  • Not being able to identify their business in a perspective of their individual strengths and passions
  • Not being able to craft a breakthrough strategic plan for sustainable business growth built around their unique talents
  • Not being able to reinvent their business model to have better stability, security and scalability

Business isn’t anybody’s hobby, it’s a life blood. One works really  hard and keeps doing good, maybe pretty good, but there’s always a chance that one can do lots more.

Entrepreneurial success is all about developing a  value creating enterprise that translates sustainability, entrepreneurial responsibility and social impact to help create a successful business in a highly competitive landscape. The core strategic challenge faced by an entrepreneur is the decision of choice and by their very nature, entrepreneurs have limited resources. How do entrepreneurs explore alternate strategy options for commercializing their ideas and exercise their decision of choice  has a very big and direct bearing on their success.

When one looks at the business challenges of the 21st century, one cannot help thinking that given the complexities of the fourth industrial revolution, new start-ups, budding entrepreneurs and existing entrepreneurs will have a formidable task at hand of preparing themselves to thrive on the everyday chaos and rapid changes.

Coming from my leadership experience of more than 25 years and from a business coaching perspective, going forward, I see further and larger challenges for entrepreneurs and  that if not addressed correctly may become the cause for entrepreneurial failure;

  • Lack of contemporary and a radical management approach and set of management, business and leadership skills necessary for performance results and delivery of entrepreneurial success
  • poor entrepreneurial mindset, attitudes, skills and behaviours that are needed for professional and business success including initiative and self-direction, risk-taking, flexibility and adaptability, creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving
  •  poor conceptualization, development and execution of  the roadmap from startup stage to continuous growth stage
  • inability  to develop and foster a fitting work and business culture that fosters sustainability, innovativeness, growth orientation and a high adrenaline competitive spirit
  • not being able to clarify business goals, objectives and inability to develop/acquire skills and resources needed to operate a successful enterprise
  • not being able to experience clarity of what business success means and the means to create that success

Today, business rules are being rewritten by technological advancement and technology is fast becoming more than a business enabler, it provides what can be called the heart of every business in a contemporary context, massive and rapid scalability and efficiency. No entrepreneur will be immune to such unprecedented disruptive forces and for him to stay relevant and resourceful in such choppy waters of rapid technological and business changes, will have  to adapt a very different style of entrepreneurship and develop a mindset that can embrace and address all the complexities, uncertainties and vagaries that will come with the everyday business disruptions.                


“Why building a resilient organization is a must for business sustainability in the 21st century.”

Sustainability has always fascinated me, be it the animal species, the human race, civilizations, individuals, corporate entities, cultures, technologies, business models, etc. Last year, I gave up my corporate position, became a professional trainer and a coach, only to pursue my passion for helping develop “ SUSTAINABLE HUMAN CAPITAL” and to work towards developing “ SUSATAINABLE LEADERSHIP &  ENTREPRENEURSHIP ” in the 21st century.

Whenever I think of business sustainability, I cannot help thinking about the following organizations;  Walmart, Kraft Heinz, Coca Cola, Nike, Exxon, J & J, etc. What is most impressive about these organizations is the ability to prove, time and again, their strong resilience to economic recessionary forces.

Before coming to an understanding of the importance of resilience in an organizational context, what needs to be explored is its  relevance in the 21st century and why is it a leadership imperative?  

The world is witnessing rising economic and business uncertainties as never before. After riding a wave of  strong growth and expansion, many major economies are now experiencing significant slowdowns. The world of business is now  feeling the heat from global trade disputes, repercussions of political and economic tensions and the  growth ambitions of economies from United States to the European Union,  from China to India.

To add to this very few industries have been spared the disruptive impact of rapid technological advancement. The internet of things and the emerging digital technologies are rewriting the rules of doing business. The biggest challenge thus, for many organizations is learning how to sustain, remain relevant and resourceful in a world of continual turbulence.

The current business environment is characterized by  highly volatile and uncertain times subjecting the organizations to frequent unexpected happenings such as technical obsolescence, economic downturns, natural disasters, or terrorist attacks. The source of the unexpected happening may be from within or outside of the organization and the magnitude of its impact on the business of the organization could be beyond imagination or comprehension.

Survival in such hostile environments and to be able to sustain business success makes it necessary for organizations to develop the ability to handle all of the manifestations of the unexpected. Organizations and individuals need to embrace resilience  to enable them  to cope effectively with the unexpected happenings and to be able to bounce back from adverse conditions and foster future business success.

For a common understanding, resilience is the ability to bounce back from an adverse situation. From an organizational perspective and in the 21st century context, “RESILIENCE” is an organization’s ability to sustain itself, remain relevant and resourceful, keep generating growth and profits in the face of rising uncertainties and unexpected adversities.

In practical terms, resilience is the firm’s intrinsic ability to have  a high component of productivity  and  flexibility in its operations so as to be able to protect its margins, adjust to unexpected changes in the market place, be able to ride over the smaller unexpected challenges and have the necessary muscle and money power to respond adequately to the larger ones.

Although organizational resilience is not a new phenomenon, it does seem to not have got the necessary attention, both in academics and practice.  However, in all my interactions with the leaders of most organizations I do see a prevailing  understanding of the critical role that resilience can play in overall business performance in the current business environment. Many do believe that organizational and leadership resilience is the next  frontier for many companies looking to developing or transforming their business model that gives them the abilities to withstand sudden  unexpected shocks,  or capture rapidly emerging opportunities before their competitors and be sustainable in face of rapid and uncertain changes.

As I look back, I see organizational resilience more as being a defensive approach of resistance or recovery in an adverse situation. But, in today’s times the paradigm has to shift to being an aggressive or offensive approach of anticipating, coping and adapting, and that, in combination can lead to growth in the face of adversities.

As we progress in the 21st century and the fourth industrial revolution intensifies, organizational resilience, i.e. the ability to anticipate potential pitfalls, capitalize rapidly emerging opportunities, cope effectively with uncertainties and be willing to adapt to changing circumstances will be critical for business success and sustainable competitive advantage.

Resilient leadership entails nurturing and fostering a culture that enables the organization to;

  • Be flexible enough to adapt quickly to sudden market shifts
  • Be steadfastly focused on and aligned to the business strategy
  • Be forward looking and self-correcting
  • Be proactive in responding to changes
  • Have a distinctive, immediate, and constructive response to any unexpected situations
  • Foster a stimulating work environment that attracts motivation
  • Empower the people with necessary resources and authority to solve complex problems
  • Nurture a high degree of collaboration and commitment across the organization
  • Develop a distinctive culture based on credibility, integrity and relationships

Within the organization, resilient leaders will have to be capable enough to maintain the physical and psychological well being in the face of adversities, have the skills to adapt and recover quickly from stressful situations and be able to thrive under extreme pressures. They will not tend to dwell on the mistakes of the past but readily acknowledge the situation, learn from the mistakes and move forward. They will view obstacles and difficulties as challenges and try to turn adversities into opportunities for growth. They will be ever ready to embrace change, maintain a positive outlook and envision a bright future.

Resilience is a critical trait of high performing leaders and is a  must have for executives to be able to survive today’s tough times. Sustainable leadership is only possible if leaders and their teams have the ability to  consistently recover from unexpected crises and move ahead in the face of all adversities.


Is ENTREPRENEURIAL LEADERSHIP the answer to the leadership challenges of the 21st century?

What the world of business has witnessed in the last decade is a transformation that was never experienced in any period before. For the leaders of today, coming to terms in handling the everyday challenges calls for a different set of characteristics and skills to survive and navigate through the volatility and economic uncertainties.

As much as the role of entrepreneurship in dealing with business complexities may have drawn extensive attention, in an organizational context the concept of entrepreneurship by itself is yet to establish it’s assertiveness for the simple reason that by nature it is an interdisciplinary domain, multidimensional and subject to many variables.

Individuals with entrepreneurial qualities are self-controlled, self-confident, self motivated, competitive, have a great imagination, nurture an intrinsic need for achievement and are not averse to risk taking, all traits that define the leadership necessary for business sustainability and growth in today’s rapidly changing and uncertain business environment.

Organizations today have to reinvent themselves regularly so as to continue their own existence, face the competition, grow in tough market conditions, and this is possible by watching over the possibilities and opportunities in the market. Consequently some of the leaders in every organization must have few entrepreneurial skills such as innovative thinking, creativity, risk-taking, powerful future design and have to be bold and self-confident.  

It therefore is of utmost importance to search and identify such essential entrepreneurial qualities within the organizational leadership to enable predict success of the organization and to increase its competitive power in today’s turbulent business environment.

For leaders of tomorrow, dealing with the pressures of leading in the 21st century will be accompanied by its own set of challenges. Leaders now will have to manage performance in a rapidly changing, complex, global business environment — one that will constantly subject them to uncertainties and place new demands on their organizations and the capabilities of the workforce.  Entrepreneurs, being inherently perseverant are used to intervening everyday unexpected problems and have the ability to find new ways to overcome obstacles and restrictions fearlessly in rapidly changing and uncertain environments.

Perseverance, one of the most powerful qualities of entrepreneurial individual is what the leaders of tomorrow will need to help them  keep on struggling with persistence even in case of failure by challenging misfortunes and at the same time help focus on positive situations  in the long run in order to cope with negative situations while they go about with their everyday work.

On a fundamental basis, entrepreneurs are different from other people in terms of attitude, perspectives, some basic qualities, have the ability to spot new opportunities and are more skillful to fulfill their dreams about business where it is almost impossible for others to get that kind of achievement. It therefore follows that organizations, knowing the basic qualities that differentiate entrepreneurs from others should endeavour to provide cultural transformation which will contribute to instilling entrepreneurial spirit in the existing leaders  or  uncover entrepreneurial qualities that remains hidden in some individuals within the organization.

It is said of successful entrepreneurs as having the quality of seeing and using business opportunities and initiating appropriate actions. It is also seen that entrepreneurs are individuals who accommodate very fast to new circumstances and possess qualities like self-confidence, determination, risk-management, creativity, perfectionism and tolerance against uncertainty.

One of the most common traits of successful entrepreneurs is “innovation” and “creativity”, their ability to imagine, pursue their dreams, try new ideas, see opportunities where others see limits and then turn them into business success. They are highly focused action  than efficiency, always willing to be original, introduce new and surprising ideas or act in an original way, exhibit exemplary determination and patience, do not shudder from taking decisions and look for solutions instead of accepting problems as they are.

Successful entrepreneurs have also been seen as having a high motivation for success and  a high sense of responsibility. They set targets, try to reach them, are always on lookout for feedback related to their performance and  do not put the blame on luck or external factors but own up their  responsibility in case of a failure.

In general, successful entrepreneurs hold themselves responsible for their own lives and strongly believe that their destiny is affected by their own decisions not external factors outside their influence. This  belief of having control over their destiny prevents them from doubting the process of personal transformation because they feel responsible for their actions. Further it is this self-confidence and independence that makes them less anxious, more active and more successful.

Entrepreneurial leaders are individuals who have made us want to take greater action in our lives as a result of challenging what we had told ourselves was “impossible”, to name a few:

Peter Sage, The “Extreme Entrepreneur”

Peter Sage, also known as the “Extreme Entrepreneur,” has over 20 years’ experience, with a rare  distinction of founding 15 start-ups before the age of 30. Some of his most notable successes include: The Worldwide Health Corporation (an anti-aging company); The Energie Fitness Group (one of the fastest growing fitness chains in the UK); and Space Energy (a multibillion-dollar company with a focus on clean energy).

Sage is also an advisor to some of the most prominent business schools and leaders across the world – proving that you don’t need an education to go far in life, as he left school when he was 16.

This quote by Sage perfectly sums up one of the reasons why he is so inspiring an entrepreneurial leader:

“Someone once asked me, if I lost everything, would I consider getting a job. My reply was that it would be a damn good excuse to go again. After all, you can never lose what you have inside. At the end of the day, I am a born entrepreneur and I’m completely unemployable.” – Peter Sage

Elon Musk, Co-Founder of PayPal, Founder of SpaceX, CEO of Tesla Motors and Chairman of SolarCity

Elon Musk is pursuing his dream of making space travel safe and affordable, and to send humans to Mars within the next 20 years. It is hoped that by 2040, he will be able to have a colony of 80,000 people living on the red planet, and given that his was the first commercial company to launch and berth a vehicle to the International Space Station in 2012, he might actually even make this goal!

In addition to his space dreams, to help combat global warming, he has also committed to building a facility in Buffalo that would be one of the largest solar panel production plants in the world.

Richard Branson, Founder and CEO, Virgin

Branson left school at the age of 16, founded his first business – a magazine called Student and at the age of 20, founded a mail-order record service, parlaying this success into Virgin Records.

Since then, he has opened Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Mobile, Virgin Media and Virgin Galactic. Branson’s next venture is Virgin Fuels an attempt to respond to global warming and rising fuel costs.

Branson is proof that leaders can use their position to inspire and enrich the lives of others, launching Virgin Startup, a programme that provides loans to young entrepreneurs in the UK.

Whatever the industrial age or the times, a “true” leader will always be someone who will go  beyond the boundaries of conventionality, will take consistent action to show up each day, be congruent with his  inspiring words, be able  to influence other people to believe in, and work for, their vision, be able to gain people’s trust, and amass a following.   



Now that we are two decades into the 21st century and as the dust settles down, it is evident that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is  fundamentally changing the way we live, work and relate to one another. Extraordinary technological advances are ushering in a  new era in human development, merging physical, digital and biological worlds in a way that renders either a tremendous promise or definite doom. The very pace and the dimension of this revolution is forcing us to change how we envisage development of individuals, societies, businesses, organizations, economies, etc., in the 21st century. But the Fourth Industrial Revolution is just not a technology-driven change; it brings with itself an opportunity to create an inclusive and human-centred future, to set our sights beyond technological advancements and find ways and means to help people  develop  abilities that positively impacts mankind at large.

However, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is causing a convergence of forces that is reshaping the global economy: there is an exponential increase in the pace of innovation; new technologies are disrupting old industries and creating new ones, communication networks are spawning at astonishing speed: and global emergencies keep on erupting suddenly. Any one of these developments is having profound implications for organizations and the people who lead them. Taken together, these forces are creating a new context for leadership.

Broadly speaking, 21st Century Leadership can be seen as taking the shape of a discipline that is intended to respond to the unique challenges and opportunities that the world is throwing up every day. From a perspective of leadership and organizational development, to enable businesses to be sustainable, relevant and resourceful in the face of everyday chaos and uncertainty will call for organizations to learn agility, adaptability and innovativeness and this can be achieved by a process of massive change entailing a 360 degrees transformation.

In today’s chaotic and volatile environment succeeding as a business leader has become a more daunting endeavor than ever before. As a business leader one has to deal with economic uncertainty, market consolidation and the need for growth through innovation, and has to manage through multifaceted business challenges to ensure their organizations not only survive but s thrive.

Leaders dealing with the pressures of the 21st century have to manage performance in an unpredictable, uncertain, tumultuous, complex, global business environment — one that is constantly creates demands on the organizations and the capabilities of the workforce. At the same time, competition, market scrutiny and employee expectations grow more intense, requiring that leaders not only deliver business results, but that they do so in ways that are inherently authentic, transparent and inclusive.

By all means it’s a tall order for even the highest-performing executives. As such leadership effectiveness calls for shaping and setting strategy and business objectives, guiding and inspiring employees to meet and exceed business goals, embodying the organization’s brand and modeling the desired culture. Furthermore, the fact that leadership is a primary driver of employee engagement makes it critical for organizations to understand the determinants of successful leadership and what can be done to sustain it in the long term.

Being a leadership trainer and an ardent follower of leadership development in the 21st century, I have often been asked as to how  leadership is different in the fourth industrial revolution and what is the key to successful leadership.

Given the challenges, any leadership development regime in the 21st century has to focus on imparting skills relevant to render leaders, organizations and executives  future ready, keeping in mind the following elements that characterize the turbulent and rapidly changing environment in which we operate;

  • A better way of understanding leadership given the business challenges that the world is throwing at us today
  • Learning to deal with the business challenges that feature high change, high speed and high stress
  • Developing a culture and a mindset that adjusts continually to sudden competitive threats, new technologies, changes in regulations, frequently changing consumer needs, etc.
  • Developing a leadership approach that acknowledges the complexity and fluid nature of business change
  • Proven approaches that facilitate success in the face of extreme challenges
  • Learning & development tools and techniques that accelerate performance at all levels essential for success under demanding circumstances
  • Practices for becoming an agile organization that accommodates high change and still has predictability
  • Developing a mindset that acknowledges the realities we face today and understand why these realities
  • Developing a progressive culture that encourages self-leadership, innovation leadership and organizational agility
  • Developing senior managers who are ready to do away with counterproductive organizational practices and replace them with a management practice that is change tolerant and adaptable to all types of situations, from traditional to extreme

Going forward, organizations will have to foster a culture and an environment that facilitates:

  • development of advanced leadership regime which can roll out leaders who are well equipped to manage the complexity, paradox, non-linear stresses, ambiguity and a multitude of challenging business perspectives
  • nurtures a new mind-set, which is based on the reality that change is the norm needed to succeed under such extreme circumstances
  • develops a mindset that enables its practitioners to keep business operations under control in the face of volatility, while providing value to the outcomes each step of the way
  • develops leadership competencies comprising of principles, values, skills, tools, and practices that are compatible with change and uncertainty and form the soft and the hard glue of contemporary leadership.

Per se, leadership is a multi-dimensional, multi-faceted discipline and therefore prone to various interpretations. Primarily 21st Century Leadership is all about “transformation”……  all kinds of transformation. Development and practice of leadership in the 21st century calls for a massive shift in the leadership paradigm, will draw upon and integrate knowledge and action from a wide range of disciplines and traditions to foster the desired transformative change, will incorporate a very wide spectrum of values and foster a wide range of capacities, competencies, and skills that include, but are not limited to: critical, creative and systems thinking, self-awareness, communication and dialogue, social and cultural intelligence, and facilitation of team and collaborative processes.

Developing the 21st century leadership perspective entails both an inward and outward orientation, an integrative view of leadership that is based on relationships and is all about being inclusive, collaborative, and of service, to individuals, the social good, and ecological sustainability.                          


Is “AGILITY” the new imperative for business success in the 21st Century?

Time and again, I have opined that “AGILITY, ADAPTABILITY AND INNOVATIVENESS” are the mantras for success in the 21st century given the fact that leaders have no choice but to operate in an environment that’s ambiguous, uncertain and rapidly changing.

The irony is that very few organizations are designed around delivering the results in such a bewildering business environment where planning to act is no longer a viable option – but powerful strategies driven by action are a necessary evil.

The realities of today’s chaotic and volatile environment we face explains the need for a latent leadership approach based on the presupposition that radical change and uncertainty are the norm, not the exception. It is expected that organizations will have to adjust continually to sudden disruptive changes, competitive threats, new technologies, rapidly changing markets, business environment and customer needs.

It therefore follows that 21st century leadership requires an agile, adaptive and innovative organization, that is, change-tolerant, has a chaos-friendly culture that recognizes and supports the special needs of different situations from traditional to extreme.

The world of business management is changing radically, totally and irreversibly. It is not just that today’s business challenges don’t share even a family resemblance with yesterdays, but the world in which businesses are managed is changing irrevocably. With constantly changing requirements, rapidly evolving technology, and a competitive landscape that shifts daily, it falls upon business leadership to move forward at high speed.

The common denominator of those who will manage to  survive and thrive in the future is that they will have the ability to be nimble and like the wise adage about the blade of grass that bends in the wind, they will know when to bend, pivot and change to accommodate forces more powerful than itself.  And this is what business agility is all about, knowing when and how to adjust to the rapid changes in the market and also   to internal changes in the business process itself.

For a simple understanding, business agility is the ability of an organization to renew itself, adapt, change quickly, and succeed in a rapidly changing, ambiguous, turbulent environment. The notion of business agility acknowledges the fact that sustainable success in the 21st century means embracing responsiveness as the new strategy, being visible and transparent the new must haves for leaders, exploring and adapting emerging technologies as the means to move forward.

Modern day businesses need to deal with increasingly diverse business drivers at a faster pace in order to sustain themselves. The very essence of business agility is to help align the business strategy and its operations to render performance effectiveness in a rapidly changing business environment and create better ways for businesses to transform themselves with the aid of technology – in the process empowering itself to grow with courage and confidence.

“Agility” has certainly gained buzz status in recent years and across the literature, there are many different definitions of agility, like:

  • “The power of moving quickly and easily; nimbleness” – Random House Dictionary

  • “The capacity to identify and capture opportunities more quickly than rivals do” – McKinsey Quarterly article “Competing through organizational agility”

  • “Take advantage of change – whether planned or unexpected – without ever letting it sideline you” – Price Waterhouse Coopers article “How to build an agile foundation for change”

  • “The ability to transform information into insight in response to market movements” – The Economist article “Organizational agility: How business can survive and thrive in turbulent times”

  • “The result of integrating alertness to changes with a capability to use resources in responding to such changes, all in a timely, flexible, affordable, relevant manner” – Holsapple and Li article “Understanding Organizational Agility: A Work-Design Perspective”

  • “Nimble organization: one that has a sustained ability to quickly and effectively respond to the demands of change while continually delivering high performance” – Daryl Conner article “The Characteristics of Nimble Execution”

  • “An always present ability to manage multiple, complex portfolios of change” Accenture podcast “Corporate agility, Working at the speed of opportunity”

  • “The speed and ability of a business to identify and react to internal and external events that could and do occur.” – EYGM Limited article “Optimizing and balancing corporate agility for insurers”.

Agile organizations are different from the more tra­di­tion­al com­pa­nies in terms of man­age­ment and out­look, are more goal-cen­tric, have ongo­ing per­for­mance con­ver­sa­tions rather than sin­gle annu­al per­for­mance appraisals and are for­ward-look­ing at all times.

Gen­er­al Elec­tric (GE)

In 2015, Gen­er­al Elec­tric under­took a per­for­mance man­age­ment over­haul that paved the way for oth­er glob­al com­pa­nies to do the same. After years of the annu­al per­for­mance review and their noto­ri­ous rank-and-yank per­for­mance rat­ings sys­tem, GE decid­ed  to refresh their per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tem. The rank­ings sys­tem was the first to go, but the annu­al appraisals remained. Now, they are an agile organization that has seen sub­stan­tial improvements.

The new sys­tem relied on man­agers guid­ing and coach­ing employ­ees to achieve their goals, and they work under a much less rigid frame­work. GE also decid­ed to incor­po­rate the use of an app which they built, known as PD@GE, to facil­i­tate the deliv­ery of reg­u­lar employ­ee feed­back and pro­duc­tive per­for­mance conversations.

With the app, each employ­ee sets a series of pri­or­i­ties and asks for insights and feed­back. They are also able to pro­vide real-time feed­back to oth­ers. Employ­ees can ask for an in-per­son meet­ing at any time — these con­ver­sa­tions focus on trans­paren­cy, hon­esty and con­tin­u­ous improve­ment. 


There was a time when food pro­duc­er and dis­trib­u­tor Cargill Inc found it was fail­ing to engage and moti­vate its 155,000 employ­ees world­wide. As a result, Cargill decid­ed to become an agile organization, intro­duc­ing what it termed ​“every­day per­for­mance man­age­ment”.

A new sys­tem was designed to encour­age and incor­po­rate dai­ly, real-time feed­back into its per­for­mance man­age­ment sys­tem. Since mak­ing this tran­si­tion, the com­pa­ny claims to have seen mea­sur­able improve­ments, and it has become more for­ward-focused rather than mere­ly review­ing past performance.

The results were amaz­ing — 69% of employ­ees said they received feed­back that was use­ful for their pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment. Also, 70% of employ­ees claimed they felt more val­ued fol­low­ing the imple­men­ta­tion of the new sys­tem. From a per­for­mance point of view, man­agers found employ­ees spend­ing more time on tasks that actu­al­ly mat­tered  rather than spend­ing hours fill­ing out paperwork.

Business agility enables businesses of all sizes to create a beneficial tool that will make them more responsive to customer and market needs, just what businesses need in the ever-increasingly dynamic, demanding and resource-scarce world. Business agility demystifies business change by helping the provision of  a simple and effective framework to respond to it. Business agility helps maneuver market changes, adapt products or services or map a successful route to successfully launch something new. Business agility also helps business to develop a competitive edge whereby a business can outlearn and outperform its competition and at the same time attract passionate people who excel in the empowered environment of business agility. Again, business agility provides companies with the ability to deliver fast and respond quickly and offer great customer experiences by organizing quickly and learning rapidly.

The business world of today is only getting more volatile, uncertain and increasingly complex and business agility is one of the ways to achieve success through such ambiguities simply because business agility gives one the tools to pivot and remain necessary to customers and changing market needs.



Some time back I was approached by a consulting firm that dealt with financial reconstruction of MSME businesses. Over a period of time the findings of this consulting firm were that the financial crunch and poor performance by a number of their clients was more due to the lack of latent business skills than any solid financial reasons. And consequently, I was approached to help them uncover the critical reasons for the performance failure of their clients (name of the consulting firm withheld on their request, however I am thankful to them for giving the permission to share some of the key findings in the larger interest of entrepreneurship development).

The following are the 6 reasons that emerged from the study as being the key contributors towards poor performance;

  • Total lack or very poor understanding of what “ENTREPRENEURIAL RISK” is all about
  • Inadequate business management skills
  • Inability to give the required time and effort to sustain the business
  • Applying obsolete knowledge in managing a MSME business in the 21st century
  • Lack of financial acumen or very poor understanding of entrepreneurial financial management
  • Lack of contemporary market and industry knowledge

To me, what was most intriguing was that lack of understanding of entrepreneurial risk coming out as the number one reason for performance failures when all the time the most common notion is that entrepreneurship is all about taking risk.

It just did not make sense when 90% of the respondents to the study were found to be lacking an understanding of entrepreneurial risk, then how can entrepreneurship be all about taking risks and it is this that set me on a quest of exploring the relationship between entrepreneurial success and risk taking of individuals.

From my experience I see individuals with entrepreneurial qualities as being self-controlled, self-confident, self-motivated, competitive, having a great imagination, nurturing an intrinsic need for achievement and not averse to risk taking.

Let’s look at a few successful entrepreneurs who have at some point in their journey embraced risk and how:

Bill Gates

The billionaire Bill Gates when pursuing his vision of the personal computer becoming an essential and useful tool in every office and home took a great risk when he dropped out of college to set up Microsoft.

Bill Gates further risked by being ready to travel in the wilderness of the unknown and would do anything to win. He never felt threatened to imitate or borrow ideas from other great innovators and tech companies.

This paid off in the end when his company became a tech giant worth billions of dollars.

Donald Trump

With his monster TV show The Apprentice, a sprawling business empire and a billion-dollar fortune, Donald Trump appeared to be on top of the world, but it was not always this way. As a matter of fact, there were times when he was facing personal bankruptcy with huge personal debts. However, in a short period of time he cleared his personal debts, greatly reduced his business debt and even merged some of his business interests into a publicly held company.

Trump is living proof that risk takers can win big in business and lose big as well. As a matter of fact, Trumps success was due to his willingness to take huge risks.

Larry Ellison

The founder of Oracle is one of the richest people in the world with a net worth around $ 68 billion.

Much of his success has been attributed to taking huge risks. It is said that he would promise people non-existent features, only to go back to his developers and demand them to build the products. He would also hire staff unqualified for their position only to train them later with manuals and books.

Warren Buffett

As an investor, Warren Buffett has never been afraid of taking risks and making mistakes along the way. It is his readiness to take huge risks that have contributed to his astounding success.

Warren Buffett understands that stocks and shares are a huge game of risks, but he knows the investment of risk-taking experience over time minimizes his investment risks for the future, and so nowadays he tries his luck investing in various different industries with a huge measure of success.

Entrepreneurial success is very often attributed to the risk-taking abilities of an individual and likewise quite often, risk taking is seen as an entrepreneurial badge of honour. But there are a large number of unsuccessful entrepreneurs who have also been risk takers. So, are successful entrepreneurs successful because of their risk-taking abilities or regardless of their risk taking? And can we also then look at the role of risk taking in entrepreneurial failures?

Risk is an essential ingredient of the entrepreneurial process and every entrepreneur at some point in his journey has to embrace risk. Every successful entrepreneurial pursuit, in its initial stages, has to confront and overcome a multitude of challenges and entrepreneurs have to take risks that could have a tremendous impact on the finances, health, stability, etc.

In fact while taking risks, entrepreneurs do not act very differently from others but they act with very different motives while thinking about business opportunities so when they are compared to people who do not have entrepreneurial qualities, they are able to categorize the opportunities that have more profit potential. Taking calculated risks is in a way a daily and essential affair for entrepreneurs.

Risk-taking is related to innovation and creativity and it is necessary for the realization of objectives. Having high self-confidence increases the tendency to take risks. However, excessive self-confidence can at times leads to an ignorance of risk factors and as long as calculated risks are taken within the known entrepreneurial limits, outcomes may be more beneficial than malefic.  Therefore, any entrepreneur who is aware of his limits should never resort to taking unnecessary risks. He should control his emotions and accepts risk if only profit equals it or higher than it is.

In spite of the world view that risk-taking is a characteristic of an entrepreneur it has been noticed on a number of occasions that individuals strongly in need of success, moderate their desire for taking risks and moderate risks by itself bring a high motivation for success.

However, it is of prime importance to present entrepreneurial risk taking in a proper perspective simply because over glorification and celebration of risk taking can create a faulty startup culture of encouraging risk taking when what should be professed in risk-mitigation. Yes, there are exceptions and history is full of instances when risk taking has been the prime reason most billionaires came to become some of the richest people on the planet.

Risk is something most people are afraid of and as a result, they shy away from building a successful business in order to avoid it. The very things that one stands to lose when taking risks are the very same ones that one stand to gain. The dare devil entrepreneurs who were able to become successful billionaires because they were ready and willing to take risks. If they had stayed in their comfort zones, they probably wouldn’t have made it to the financial heights that they accomplished.

The common denominator that emerges from the stories of successful entrepreneurs is that they achieved great success by embracing great risks and trusting their survival instincts and that in the end everything turned out quite right.

One never knows what one can accomplish until one does something that one has never attempted before.