Intrinsic Motivation and Authenticity in Leadership with Sharath Jeevan

ON THIS EPISODE

In this episode of Evolve: A New Era of Leadership, I’m joined by Sharath Jeevan, a globally recognized authority on leadership and the author of “Intrinsic” and “Inflection.” Sharath shares his profound insights on purpose-driven leadership and the power of disruption in fostering meaningful change.



ABOUT THE GUEST
Sharath Jeevan

Sharath Jeevan OBE is the globally recognised authority on Leadership at Inflection Moments. He is an acclaimed advisor, facilitator and author supporting a wide range of organizations to safely navigate their Inflection Moments and futureproof success. 

Sharath was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s 2022 New Year’s Honours, and an Honorary Doctorate, for his contributions to the field. 

He holds degrees from Cambridge University (First-Class Honours), Oxford University and INSEAD (MBA with Distinction). He is an alumnus of Strategy& and eBay. He founded and led two education organizations – STiR Education & Teaching Leaders – which collectively impacted over 10 million children across 40,000 schools in the UK, US, India, East Africa, Indonesia and Brazil.

Sharath’s work has been featured in a wide range of global media, including The Economist, CNN, Forbes, Inc, CNBC, Financial Times & The Telegraph. He writes regularly on LinkedIn for a wide audience and is also the author of the ground-breaking books “Intrinsic: A Manifesto to Reignite Our Inner Drive” and “Inflection: A Roadmap for Leaders at a Crossroads”.

SHOW NOTES

🔑 Key Themes & Takeaways:

  • Cultivating a Feedback Culture: Sharath emphasizes the importance of creating an environment where informal, rapid feedback is valued, fostering continuous improvement and mastery. 🌟

  • The Essence of Purpose: Exploring Sharath’s philosophy on the crucial role of purpose in authentic and influential leadership, guiding leaders toward leaving a lasting legacy. 🧭

  • Intrinsic Motivation: Insights into Sharath’s work on nurturing intrinsic motivation, particularly in the education sector, and its transformative impact on teachers and students alike. 🔥

  • Big P and Small P Purpose: The conversation delves into the concept of “Big P” and “Small P” purposes, emphasizing the need to weave both into an organization for maximum impact and alignment. 📚

  • Inflection Moments: Sharath introduces the concept of “inflection moments,” exploring the triggers and importance of recognizing and navigating these pivotal points in an organization’s journey. 🌍

  • The Path Less Traveled: Sharath shares a powerful moment of self-awareness and validation, emphasizing the significance of embracing the unknown and taking the more adventurous path. 🗺️


We talk about:

  • 00:00 Intro
  • 02:48 Sharath’s Background and Influences
  • 04:36 Early Leadership Experiences
  • 05:45 Journey to Social Entrepreneurship
  • 06:51 Impact on Education Systems
  • 11:10 Intrinsic Motivation in Education
  • 12:56 Writing the Book ‘Intrinsic’
  • 14:49 Implementing Intrinsic Motivation in Organizations
  • 25:46 Navigating Different Timeframes
  • 26:11 The Guided Journey Framework
  • 26:48 Challenges in Leadership Focus
  • 27:03 The Role of Senior Leadership
  • 28:58 Applying the Dial Framework in Healthcare
  • 29:57 Identifying Inflection Points
  • 31:50 Future of Leadership
  • 34:48 Generational Perspectives in Leadership
  • 42:17 Exploring Diverse Interests
  • 44:39 The Importance of Cross-Cultural Music

🌈 Closing Thoughts:

This episode with Sharath Jeevan provides a captivating exploration of purpose-driven leadership and the transformative power of embracing disruption and inflection moments. Sharath’s insights challenge conventional thinking and offer a fresh perspective on cultivating authentic, impactful leadership that leaves a lasting legacy.

We encourage listeners to reflect on their own sense of purpose and consider how embracing disruption and recognizing inflection moments can ignite positive change within their organizations and communities.

#PurposeDrivenLeadership #IntrinsicMotivation #InflectionMoments #SelfAwareness #Transformation #MeaningfulChange

Connect with Sharath


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TRANSCRIPT
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So there’s a lot of work around continuous improvement we can create where the first thing is really creating a feedback culture where you don’t wait for the end of the year appraisal that you already create a culture where informal rapid feedback is valued and. That idea that feedback is a gift that can be created very powerfully.

What I’ve seen some of the best organizations do, and I’ve helped them do it, is to sort of build in not just technical mastery improvement, but also non technical or human mastery. So how do you have conversations? How do you mentor someone? How do you communicate in difficult situations? How do you handle a challenging conversation?

Building that in very explicitly, it’s that kind of part of a mastery map of what an organization wants to do. 

Carolyn: Hi, welcome to evolve a new era of leadership. I am your host, Carolyn Swora, and today’s guest is coming to us from across the pond. That’s right. We’re going into the UK. And today we’re going to be talking with Sharath Jeevan. 

He’s a globally recognized authority on leadership. And he’s written two books that I’m going to ask more questions about.

They’re called Inflection and Intrinsic. He has worked with a wide range of organizations to really help these leaders navigate their inflection moments and what he calls future proof success. Sherith holds a degree from Cambridge University, Oxford University, and INSAID. He’s an alumnus of Strategy and eBay, and he founded and led two education organizations, which I’m also really curious to hear more about, because together they collectively impacted over 10 million children across 40, 000 schools all over the world.

Thanks. Sherith’s work has been featured in a wide range of global media as well, including The Economist, CNN, Forbes, Inc., CNBC, Financial Times, and The Telegraph, and now we can say on Evolve. He writes regularly on LinkedIn for a very wide audience, and as I said, is the author of two fabulous books, Intrinsic and Inflection.

Looking forward to this conversation with him.

 Welcome Evolve listeners. It’s Carolyn Suara, your host. And today I’m really excited to be talking to our guest, Sherith Jeevan. Welcome.

Sharath: Thanks, Rylan. Such a pleasure to be on the show.

Carolyn: Yeah, well, I’m really excited.

You’ve got just a wealth of experience in the space of leadership, and I’m really excited to hear more about your work and just the impact that you’re having before we do that. I’d love to hear from you. what influenced you to get into this field of leadership?

Sharath: Yeah, so I’m the son of Indian immigrants to the UK. I was born in India myself and came to the UK very young. I think seeing how much I spent a lot of summers in India growing up, and I think just seeing how much the country was moving and evolving and some of the challenges as well. I think seeing, for example, my grandparents who were very You know, very active citizens, very engaged in the world more broadly.

I think that question of sort of, you know, how do we try to shape the world we’re in rather than just accept it as how it is, that came in at a very young age. And I think I realized very early on that leadership was key to doing that. What I probably struggle with is I never thought the conventional definition of a leader in terms of not the definition, but the sort of persona of being that kind of brush.

You know, super loud, super decisive person that didn’t always fit. I didn’t really study with my own personality, and it’s taking me a while to figure out how to make leadership congruent with who we are as a person as well. But I think the importance of leadership was something that came in very early into my life.

Carolyn: and you talked about your parents and your grandparents there, were they really active in leading in different communities organizations?

Sharath: Yeah. So my parents were born just on the eve of Indians Independence. I got almost like midnight’s children in some regards as well. My grandparents went through the whole I guess British, occupation empire before that. So it just felt like, I was born in the 70s. So India was about 25 years in, into its sort of its journey then as well.

And there was a real sense of like, we all have a responsibility to try and make a difference to where the country goes. my parents decided to immigrate and head to the UK. But I think there was always that zeitgeist of you know, how do we make a difference? I think my grandparents were driven to be quite strongly over the summers there as well.

I think my grandparents were driven to be quite strongly over the summers there as well.

Carolyn: Yeah. 

And so as you grew up , were you active in leadership roles? Was that something that came naturally to you or were you one of more of these like silent observers and taking it all in around you?

Sharath: Yeah. So I think probably, honestly, the silent observer path was one that I probably went into the first maybe 25 years of my life, I guess, overall. I think one of the things that I grapple with as being an immigrant, there was that sense of obligation, not obligation of duty, responsibility, passion, I was always very passionate about social causes, but there was also the sense of having to make sure that you had economic security.

Safety was a big value. My parents would drill in into me and stuff as well. And so there were almost two sides of I guess my personality that I was trying to reconcile with, I think as well, I think the first 25 years, I very much stayed on the, maybe 30 years, actually still on the safer end of the path, I think, I guess, and maybe being in that silent observer part.

So I went to Cambridge just to read economics. I went into consulting, went into tech, I did my MBA at NCAD, very conventional sort of success markers as well. I enjoyed those experiences, but I think it was always that hunger to feel I could do more and contribute more as a leader, more widely to the world.

And it took until I was 28 or 29, when I really jumped out and became a social entrepreneur. Spent 15 years working in education, founding two organizations one in the UK and in deprived areas of the UK, building leadership in schools and in the city schools there. And then another 10 years working in countries like India.

So it was great to go back and do something productive, but also in Africa, Indonesia, Brazil, what we tried to look at, how do we try and remotivate and the motivation of public sector workforces, teachers in particular, at very large scale. And both organizations collectively reached about 50, 000 schools, about 20 million children were impacted through that work, and it was an incredible journey as a founder, CEO.

You know, so I think it just takes a while. it’s not the first thing you do. You sort of sometimes have these chapters in life. And three years ago, I stepped out of the CEO role and became a leadership advisor to other CEOs and their organizations there. So to me, there’s almost been this three chapters.

And I think it’s how each chapter try and makes the whole book, if you like.

Carolyn: Yeah. Can we go back to chapter one for a bit here? 

So working with students, I love that. were they younger in their teens or were they more university age?

Sharath: Yes, I was working mostly in the school system. So the first organization I ran, I found it was called Teaching Leaders. And what we are finding in the UK was that there was four times more variation in standards and outcomes all the way from grades to other measures of student performance within a school than between a school. And it, it took me a, when I sort of heard that stat, it almost made me take a few minutes to comprehend it because, in a company, let’s say GE or Google or whatever, you would never allow four times variation in performance between teams in the same company. But what was happening in teaching was that it was a very collegiate profession, right?

There was a sense of everyone’s an equal we don’t want to interfere. So we realized there was a role, I’d say that you’re the head of grade seven, for example. Or you’re the head of history in the school, or the head of humanities. That sense that your role was to really lift up standards, motivate a team, build the right culture, build best practice, that wasn’t really there.

Those roles existed, but they were largely administrative roles. And so I spent, you know, the first five of my years looking at how we can reignite that, redefine what leadership meant in a school context, below the principal, not at the top of the, organization, but in that mid level, that sense of middle leadership was really a very key piece there.

Carolyn: so instilling that into the students, did you see I’m guessing you didn’t do any sort of longitudinal studies to see like how that work and that focus of leadership at that level impacted those students later on in life.

Sharath: Yeah, so measured things like progression, academic outcomes, all of those things, and we could see very strong correlations between the work we were doing and those things lifting over time. we couldn’t do randomized experiments or the most rigorous research and stuff, but definitely there were very high correlations, also very strong impact on The career trajectories of the teachers themselves.

First of all, they stayed, which is a itself a huge thing because many working very challenging inner city areas, many would leave the profession. So we really helped them stay. And also many have become now principals. Some have become the level above, like a super principal, where they run a chain of schools now, like charter type schools and in the UK and so on as well.

So it’s been great to see that direct impact on children, for sure. Mhm. But also that sense of building an ecosystem of leadership where those people then influence other leaders and you have that just kind of pyramid effect starting to happen very strongly.

Carolyn: Yeah. Wow. And so I can see how that would lead you into chapter two in terms of working with the school system and with the leaders and administrators in that area. What were some of the highlights of that work?

Sharath: So I think what happened is India, for example, I was watching as I kind of went along and India had built about a million schools over about 15 years and about 240 million kids entered the school system, not overnight, but over 15 years, literally though before that, the country. Really only had schools for more elite groups, right?

A lot of kids were not educated at all. And so there was a national law, which was amazing that required every child until they were 14 to be in school full time. So enormous legislation and the government did a very good job of building the infrastructure and building literally a school for every kilometer of the country.

And so it’s a huge country. So it was enormous, but that hardware piece was great. But the software, the sense of teaching, of really being a noble profession being a really respected profession, that was actually thousands of years old in Indian tradition. But as it became part of the civil service, it became kind of bureaucratized.

A lot of those intrinsic drivers and motivations started to get eroded. So teachers started to feel like it was just a government job. They started to lose connection with the kids, with why they were doing it. They felt very micromanaged and didn’t feel they could really control things. And they didn’t feel they were getting better.

there weren’t many ways for them to really improve as a professional. And so they were not bad people in any way, in terms of imagination. But if any of us had those kind of workplace conditions, we’d all probably lapse into similar behaviors. So a lot of teachers were absent. They didn’t always teach to the best of their abilities when they were in school.

There was a crisis of intrinsic motivation. 

What I set up was an organization to try to work in about, yeah, I was in about 50, 000 schools and about 200, 000 teachers helping them reconnect with their passion and motivation by building almost sort of self help groups like Atholites, Anonymous for teachers.

And we had a height of about 8, 000 meetings a month

where teachers in local areas would meet together, share ideas, share new practices, but also energize and motivate each other. Each meeting was very carefully planned. design and constructed in that regard.

Carolyn: and those meetings were facilitated by the administrators or the teachers themselves. Like you didn’t have to train a lot of people I’m guessing.

Sharath: Yeah. So, so we were about a hundred people as an organization. So we were able to stay pretty small, but we basically started signing up partnerships with the governments, with states. So India, like the US has got states as its main, I don’t, I think you had provinces in Canada, but states are the main place where education happens, so we would work with the state and train all of their educational leaders, you know, the trainers and the people at different local levels to, to run these meetings well and train and facilitate them as well.

So it was all owned by government, run by them. And so it was really, we were trying to make it very sustainable and ended up costing about 50 U. S. cents a child per year to run this approach.

Carolyn: And then the impact on the students of these administrators and teachers.

Sharath: You know, so we saw some really powerful pieces around their emotional well being. Their enjoyment of school, their trust in their teacher, all of those elements. I think we realized that in terms of pure academic outcomes, we need to also other things to happen alongside this, like curriculum changing things, but the core sense of a child feeling safe in school, wanted by their teacher, respected enjoying their period in school was a very powerful experience.

Carolyn: Yeah. 

Now, I know that your first book was called Intrinsic and I’m guessing like there’s a similar word there. Was that the inspiration behind that book? I haven’t read that book of yours yet.

Sharath: Yeah, so it was really a chance to say let’s look at this whole question of intrinsic motivation. you know, famous researchers Deci and Ryan have written a lot about some of the concepts, the pillars of it. Dan Pink wrote a book called Drive about 10, 12 years ago now where he tried to sort of popularize some of the research.

But what I felt for the first book was that we need to re examine this, not just within a pure work lens, but also within a I brought a work and life lens as well and a leadership lens. So it explored how to take intrinsic motivation to the world of working careers, but also parenting, also our relationships, and also our work as citizens, as we’ve talked about.

So how can we try to bring those elements in? And the key insight in the book, and I don’t have to re summarize it, is that you need a mix of internal, intrinsic, and external, extrinsic motivation. But right now, our dial is set very much towards the extrinsic. And so, how do we reset the dial so more of that comes from genuinely wanting to do something, feeling a real purpose in it, feeling we’re in charge, and also feeling that we can get better at something?

And how do you try and reframe those key areas of our lives with that, that intrinsic focus as well?

Carolyn: So I’m hearing the autonomy, the mastery, the I guess like, like you said, the purpose. Yes. Okay. Those three things sound like they were very strong for you from a young age. So is it fair to say like your intrinsic motivation is not necessarily something you’re born with, but something that we can nurture and build individually.

Sharath: Absolutely. That was the key inside of the work I did in education, basically ran the largest intrinsic motivation initiative in the world, really, because it was such a big scale. And also what we learned about, I learned myself as a leader, that a lot of this is things we can nurture in a workforce.

So I talked to a lot of CEOs now, some of the largest companies in the world I work for and they say, look, there’s a real challenge for the next generation. They lack intrinsic motivation and at the face value, that’s true, but I think a lot of it’s about. Creating the conditions where that intrinsic motivation can flourish.

So the key point is we can’t motivate someone else to do something, right? They are their own person, as you said, back to autonomy, but we can create the conditions for them to find and discover their intrinsic motivation. And so some of the work I do culturally with organizations is around how do we try to make sure those pillars are very strongly embedded.

And also they’re being deeply role modeled by the exact team and CEO,

Carolyn: Yeah.

Sharath: we can do all the great programs in the world, but if it’s not something that is really coming from the very top in terms of how they see the world and do it, it’s not going to, it’s not going to work, for example.

Carolyn: if they’re in groups or organizations where the leaders don’t have that intrinsic motivation, they’re going to feel that and sense that and know that and not really have the inspiration to find it themselves.

Sharath: Exactly. So I think with the interesting question, it’s about getting the leaders and leadership team typically to step back first. And look at what drives them using those pillars of purpose, autonomy, mastery, dimension. How do you try and reconnect with those things as a leadership team? And once that’s clear, and it links to where the organization is going, how do you then create the conditions for that to be spread, and also for you to create great relationships and role modeling that actually translate across the organization?

Carolyn: I’ve got two questions there. What’s the easiest part for teams for these senior leadership teams to activate, put into place and what’s the most difficult, like what’s the biggest bridge that these leaders have to cross over?

Sharath: So I think some of the work around mastery can be something relatively easy to put in place because that’s about getting better each day, this idea that every day we’re getting we’re seeing progress and getting better. Better. And so there’s a lot of work around continuous improvement we can create where the first thing is really creating a feedback culture where you don’t wait for the end of the year appraisal, that you really create a culture where informal rapid feedback is valued and the idea that feedback is a gift that can be created very powerfully.

What I’ve seen some of the best organizations do, and I’ve helped them do it, is to sort of build in not just technical mastery improvement, but also non technical Typical human mastery. So how do you have conversations? How do you mentor someone? How do you communicate in difficult situations?

How do you handle a challenging conversation? Building that in very explicitly, it’s that kind of part of a mastery map of what an organization wants to do. So that’s probably the the most it’s not so easy, but it’s the one that is very tangible.

Yeah, and you can build that and I think many teams like it. I think a lot of next gen also really want that feedback culture to be quicker. They’re used to that rather waiting for, you know, months or even the end of a year for that sort of thing to happen. So, yeah, that’s one thing that goes well.

I think on the purpose question what my work has really made me think about is sort of two types of purpose. That’s probably the most challenging element. There’s a kind of what I call now a big P purpose, which is about a wider problem that you can see your work contributing to. So, I’ve been doing some work, for example, with one of the biggest restaurant groups in the UK recently, and they, there’s a big element of this idea of creating a transportative experience for someone.

You go to one, they’ve got restaurants that are, you know, Indian, they’ve got restaurants that are Iranian you name it, Taiwanese, et cetera. It’s one of the most diverse groups in the world. But when you step into the restaurant, you need to feel like you’re in Taiwan or Taipei or in in, in Tehran or wherever it might be.

That idea of making that kind of a North Star and feeling that if you want to be really deeply authentic and transportative in what we do, let’s build a whole company around that concept. So I think of that as just the big P purpose piece, but the small P, you know, it’s really about helping, in that case, you know, 

the idea of a guest promise that every time a guest comes into one of our restaurants we, they know they feel a deep connection to the staff, it’s caring, there’s a real sense of welcoming them, making them feel really that they’re special people because they’re coming into our, almost into our home.

That’s a small P Purpose piece. And so weaving big P Purpose and small P Purpose into an organization initiates the leadership. it’s a bit more complex, but it, once that happens, it can be incredibly powerful for an organization overall.

Carolyn: And that, so what’s coming up for me with that is just the congruence of that big P and little P purpose. And I believe, like, I wonder if that’s what this next generation, they can detect that incongruence in organizations.

Sharath: Yeah. I love that point. I think of when I was writing my second book, I try to learn a lot about the idea of what’s like a gin and tonic, the big P’s like the gin and the small P like the tonic, where you need a lot of, you know, that big vision, that big piece is important. And so that really is an exciting non stop for the whole organization.

organization, especially younger members of the workforce that galvanize behind and feel it’s really true. But you can have all these great statements, but actually if each day and every day we don’t actually manifest that in a very practical way, that’s where that incongruence can really show up and be there.

So I think my thinking has really evolved on the purpose point, but actually there are two types of purposes, big P and small P, and it’s about that sort of genotonic where you’re trying to bring both together. And make it a really powerful cocktail from the combination of the two.

Carolyn: And depending on the organization, too, you might have different amounts of the gin and the tonic, but you need both to make the flavor.

Sharath: Yeah exactly. It’s a very nice way of looking at it, actually, as well. There’s no, like, specific you know, recipe. It depends on the context, but both elements are really important, and they don’t work without each other to complement 

Carolyn: So I know you gave the example of the restaurant, which I think that’s easy to get our heads around because you can sort of imagine yourself in that experience. Is there an example you could give us with an organization? You don’t have to name them, but where the big P, how you help make that big P and little P purpose become more aligned?

Sharath: So I’ve been doing some work with the the B Core movement, for example, which I’m not sure if you’re familiar. They’re a certification organization. So a lot of companies around the world will certify themselves to BB core compliance. I’ve been working with that leadership team in the uk.

They’ve been a great an amazing team to, to work with. One of the things we’re looking at is 3% of GDP now in the UK goes to the B-Corp movements. It’s an amazing,

it’s only been around for about seven or eight years in the uk. It came from the States initially. But. One of the, a very tempting approach would have been to say let’s make it 5 percent or let’s get to 6 or 7%.

But it’s a very brave and courageous team, and they have been thinking about, actually, we want to go much deeper. It’s not just about incrementally doing more, but how do we go into the sort of the drivers of, of what, what drives business much more deeply on that big P purpose question. So, you know, who influences business investors, it’s pension funds.

Canada has one of the biggest ones in the world, of course. As you just found it’s legislation, it’s policy makers, those questions. How do we try and move our direction to thinking about that big P again. And reframing that, and I can’t share too much of the details, but basically that’s been one of the most exciting projects that I’ve seen.

A really new way of thinking about what that big P looks like in the next chapter. And that’s what I really tried to focus on. Those inflection moments were also trying to think about, they’ve got to a certain height on the mountain. And they now want to look at what’s the next mountain decline? How can we do it even more impactfully?

Carolyn: And what I’m hearing there too is depth, like they want to go deeper and that’s sort of what came to mind is when I think of different organizations I’ve read about or worked in or worked with, sometimes that purpose. the statement can just be a little bit too generic. And so, Hey, yay.

It sounds great on the surface, but the depth just isn’t there.

Sharath: Yeah, no, I think it’s so important. I think a lot of the work I do with organizations on this question of purpose and direction are about being really authentic and being really unique. And so it’s not about just trying to be like everyone else, and actually the more you can be distinct, the more that enables us to hire and retain the best people.

It means we’re unique to our customers or clients, being what the work we do. It also means that we we can create our business model, our organizational structure, our culture around that uniqueness.

Carolyn: Yeah.

Sharath: And it’s also really clear what we stand for. And I think, you know, many organizations tend to want to be all things to all people.

And they, they do that for a while, but they realize at some point that they’ve got to be more, more specific as in less vanilla and really have that. And some people may not be attracted to them, which is also part of this is what are we not going to do or what are we not going to say that’s as important as well.

Carolyn: Yeah. Thank you. That’s really helpful. And I just love hearing that, that group you’re working with is looking for more depth. Cause that’s sort of a belief that I have is that we’re craving more depth. We just don’t know how to get there.

Sharath: Yeah, no, it’s a really powerful insight, I think, and so most of the work I do is really about probing and not coming with the answer, but usually leaders have the answers, but it’s about how to help be a really constructive friend in that process and asking different questions. And what I find a lot of times in leadership teams is that you have these kind of elephants in the room that are never addressed.

So if we’re going to go after X with our direction and purpose, that means probably less than Y. But we’re not willing to let go of some of that baggage of what we did in the past, and a lot of what I try and do is help organizations realize they’ve got to let go of some things in order to go deeper into others as well.

Carolyn: Yeah. The other thing that I think you said is so important there is that the leaders have these answers and creating space and opportunity to allow them to go in there and find it and explore it is a big part of this work. What have you found over the years that is really a turning point for leaders? to shift from being everything to everyone to really giving themselves permission to go deeper and to be really clear on what they’re not going to do. Yeah.

Sharath: leadership is not, of course, day to day execution matters. 

Of course, it’s hugely important. But actually, when I look back at my time as a CEO, we have these kind of chapters, these inflection moments that determine success, and I think of, you know, those that I handle well, which really turbocharged and future proofed the organization.

At times I didn’t handle them that well, and you can still see the scarring many years out from now. So I think of it more in terms of, I really get involved when a leader is thinking about, look, what is that next mountain to climb? They have a bit of space to, to want to step back. And I think what makes, and almost recognizing that inflection moment for what it is, right?

It’s not a day to day moment. It’s a time to redefine that next mountain. That’s it. And go deep in it. 

What makes inflection moments so hard, I wrote about this in my second book, Inflection, which is really about that you need to navigate different timeframes, right? There’s a long term perspective, like five, 10 years out.

You’ve got the medium term, you know, often two, three years away. You’ve got the immediate stuff like short term stuff. How do I make sure I deliver on my annual goals, my funding, whatever it might be. And so how to balance those timeframes together really matters. 

What a lot of leaders end up doing is they go for the short term fixes without thinking about the long term, and so the process I try to work with them on, I call it the guided journey, is to help them think about that long term direction piece first, the hour hand of the watch, if you like, as well, then go to the minute hand, then go to the second hand, but everything depends on the hour hand, because if we’re not sure where we’re trying to go, it’s really hard to know what kind of team we need to be in, what kind of culture we want to build in order to achieve that as well.

Carolyn: What makes it difficult for leaders to start with the hour hand? Why do you think they’re so attracted or drawn to the short term?

Sharath: There’s so much noise in leadership today, just around attention, around focus. Also, I think we’ve over incentivized the organization. So there’s so much short term pressure on things as well. So it’s really hard for me to step out of the second hand mindset. 

Ironically, though, I think the role of a CEO should really be almost all at the hour hand level.

The role of a leadership team, the ex co, or the level around the CEO, that should be, I’d say, half hour hand, maybe half minute hand. A lot of the those other levels can focus much more on the second and part of the minute hand as well. But I think if a senior leader really, or the head of the organization focuses only on the shorter term elements, that’s almost a waste of potential.

I think they can do much more. 

Because I define leadership fundamentally as helping and inspiring others to reach places they wouldn’t have reached otherwise.

And the only way you can do that is by setting a very compelling and clear and authentic and distinctive direction. You know, in terms of like where we go and having a very deep perspective on the area in which you work that is different from others.

Carolyn: Yeah. And so I know I believe you have a framework called the Dial Framework. How does that fit in? I mean, I know there’s some short term, long term, but how does that fit in with the guided journey?

Sharath: Yes, the DAL, so the D in DAL really is about the daring of a new direction. It’s the hour hand stuff around that we talked about. How do you set that fresh, authentic direction? I is really about igniting potential in the whole team and ensuring that we leave no one’s potential behind at that inflection moment.

The A is around aligning motivation. So really making sure different stakeholders feel convicted and excited and engaged in where the organization is going. And the L is the learning to learn piece, where you, how do we keep learning as an organization as we go on this journey? And so during our typical, what I call infection journey, it might last for example, six months, I would systematically go through those four elements, starting with the, I’ll have a long term first and going through them, not in a kind of template or formulaic way, but I think first of all, being really sensitive to where the organization is and what the core issues are.

Around the organization and how the leaders in it see that they’re all differently. 

So I’ve been doing some work with our National Health Service in the UK as an example. Primary care right now, which I was working very senior leaders in primary care, is going through a huge inflection moment where it’s going to get more important, the role of diagnostics, the role of trying to really make sure chronic diseases are addressed much earlier on.

So you don’t actually need to go to secondary care quite as much as we do. Right now,

Yep.

I think that the leaders I worked with had very powerful perspectives on that transition, but they’ve never been allowed to actually put that into practice

And make it part of how they thought they could lead. What is what’s happening in many senses, like the National Health Service in the UK is that there’s almost like a paint by numbers approach.

Your job is to execute. Here’s the plan. But in fact, there’s so much wisdom in that leadership group. They’re the ones actually running the organizations. They need to be able to. Almost embrace perspective as the fundamental kind of tenet of what leadership looks like overall.

Carolyn: Wow. Yeah.

 And so what’s the biggest barrier do you think for leaderships leadership teams today? Like what, like how can they, not everybody can bring you in to help them and guide them, but how can leadership teams find this inflection point? What’s the inflection point for leadership in general?

Sharath: Yeah. So one of the things I talk about in the book is sort of, what are some of the triggers, one of the things to look out for that you might want to see and realize you’re at an inflection point. 

I talk a lot about asteroids and starships, and asteroids being kind of something in the external environment that is about Dramatically shift how everything operates, right?

So in the healthcare example, it’s that shift from primary, some secondary care to primary care, aging populations, chronic disease, etc. So looking at outside, if you like, and looking at what’s about to come and sort of hit us as an asteroid overall.

Carolyn: Right.

Sharath: There’s also the other side of it is the starship.

Battlestar Galactica. If you’re a sci fi fan, what’s happening within your own organization? It might be having a new CEO. You might be the your workforce is getting younger and they have different expectations of what to look at. It could be a new board or a new investor coming on board or going public or whatever Those things are.

Usually when inflection months happen, it’s the combination of the asteroids and the scholarships at the same time. That really creates the condition for an inflection moment as well.

Carolyn: Wow.

Sharath: And the sweet spot is, I mean, sometimes, you know, organizations wait and it’s. It becomes a crisis, they kind of ignore it, they don’t recognize it, and then you’ve got to get into full sort of firefighting and troubleshooting and do some of that when needed, but what is preferable most always is to look at before you’re there, like there’s that sense of the next mountain, you’re in good shape, actually defining that next chapter really carefully and consciously and intentionally, that will really future proof success for a long time to come.

Carolyn: And so when you think of leadership 10, 15, 20 years from now, how’s it going to look? Look into your crystal ball.

Sharath: Yeah. So I’m always worried about visibles kind of, but I think if you accept the definition of leadership being about inspiring and empowering others to reach those other places they wouldn’t have reached otherwise. If you look at how leaders spend their time today, mostly a lot of it really is more about management, right?

It’s about making things happen, executing meetings, coordination. Communication, which is, all these things are important. I’m not trying to say they’re not, but actually if you look at the leadership element of a typical CEO job, how much time is spent? Maybe 10, 20 percent if you’re lucky. And I think the big opportunity is to shift the dial to make it more like 60, 70, 80 percent.

And, you know, there’s a lot of hype on AI and so on, but I do think some of the things that AI automation can do is take away some of the more managerial elements. And allow leaders to really focus that core element of leadership. And really on that hour hand piece of setting direction, but also the minute and second hands of really making sure the team is fully aligned.

Their full potential is being realized as they to reach that direction. And also they feel deeply motivated and engage on the journey as well. So the human elements of leadership and That sense of really setting a long term direction purpose. I think that can massively, you know, kind of increase in the mix as well.

Carolyn: Are there any, I guess, well known leaders, like, that everybody might know who are listening that you think are really demonstrating this now and we could really learn from?

Sharath: It’s a really good question, actually, as well, and I’m thinking about I think what has happened in the sort of, I have many leaders in the network and those I worked with who maybe don’t be household names at all, but what I’d say is that I think if you look at, say, an Elon Musk or a You know, the kinds of guys we tend to sort of, you know, popularize in leadership.

A lot of that stuff is the visionary stuff we often applaud and also the really bold entrepreneurial gestures and risks they take and so on. Again, I think that’s part of it, but it’s not all of it. And so I would love to see in the future, the leaders we really lionize are the ones who can do this piece really well overall.

And I think many of the leaders we celebrate are. can often be quite optimistic and that sense of a deeper direction, that’s not always as strong as it could be, even in the ones we celebrate most around the world. So yeah, lots of examples that I can name that are a little bit closer to home and some of the stuff I do around the world, but I think it has the global icons, if you like, as well.

I think there’s still room to improve, I think, if I can be a little bit critical.

Carolyn: Yeah. Well, and I think there’s also room to improve for who gets covered 

and

who gets highlighted. What so I know you, do you still teach at Oxford and Cambridge in

 What are some of the things that you’re really inspired about with this next generation coming through?

Yep.

Sharath: thinking a lot about Caroline, I’m actually working on a third book and it’s about this kind of idea of an inflection generation. And I sort of feel like if you think about the world ahead and what they’re gonna inherit both generation Z and generation gen Z and gen alpha, it’s a world where, you know, some of our biggest existential risks are out there, right?

Climate change, of course, and then of course you know, peace and security inequality, such big issues of role. And yeah, I find the disconnect between the generations greater than ever. And I hear a lot of frustration on both sides. It’s wonderful to teach the next gen in this program as well.

It’s one of the most popular courses at Oxford, for example, at the business school. And I think one of the things I’m thinking a lot about is what is the common language that will try to align the generations, help them see and respect each other’s perspectives, and help them work together better. To solve some of the bigger problems in the world and also to really ensure we have fantastic organizations that are going to deliver on all the human needs we need in the future as well.

So I think it’s about a mindset alignment. It’s about maybe a language alignment. It’s also about an understanding and a sort of sense of collaboration that can be different as well.

Carolyn: I really, I’m really resonating with the language. I mean, just a fun side note with my son, who’s 20 and 19, like my 20 year old just got home from university after his third year and just hearing him talk. I’m like, well, back it up. Like I need a dictionary. Like, what are you saying? And so I can only imagine how that would carry into the workforce.

And like you said, just sort of cause a bit of a divide.

Sharath: Yeah. No, I think what happened is, of course, in the 1990s, we had things like the outsourcing boom and, I think we also changed the terms of engagement for employment overall. So that kind of idea of the Japanese salary man who would stay for 30, 40 years, that’s gone, right? We don’t have that anymore. And so one of the ideas of even, you know, what does loyalty even mean nowadays in the workforce, right?

What does it mean? I think what’s probably happened is that’s gone down to another extreme where it can be quite transactional. Just take one example of that divide. That’s also not very helpful. And so one of the ideas, for example, I’m exploring for this new book is about what does it mean to be all in, right?

So you might not work in somewhere forever. You almost certainly won’t. But when you are there, what is an acceptable and a powerful, like, tour of duty that means that over those two, three, five years, whatever, you really have, ensure you have deep impact and legacy. And you can feel proud of that stage.

This idea of a marriage where you’re there to fill the company’s mission, of course, but they also understand what you’re trying to do and your mission statement as well. And they’re trying to, and that kind of idea of a partnership, a marriage between employee and employer or senior leader and and younger leader.

That’s something I really think we can bring up more in the way that we think about work more widely.

Carolyn: Now your second book, Inflection, is it when did that one come out?

Sharath: Came a couple of months ago, so end of, it was early February, actually.

Carolyn: So you’re already, like, well into the next one. Is it, is your next one going to come out next year?

Wow. how it goes. I’m trying to see yeah, I feel like I’m so lucky to work with such amazing leaders and I said, Karen, I can only work with a small number relatively directly. They’re all over the world, different sectors, but it’s 

Sharath: a tiny fraction of the leaders out there in the world.

And I hope the writing, and I read a lot of LinkedIn as well can just help take it and sort of open up and spread these ideas more widely.

Carolyn: Well, I know I requested to join your LinkedIn network this morning and saw that great work. Where could our listeners find more of your work and how could they hear more about what you do? Where could

Sharath: Yes, if they want to go into Amazon, they can look for Inflection, which is on book format, Kindle and Audible Intrinsic Refreshbook is also on there, but also just please feel free to follow or connect with me, and I write very regularly on LinkedIn about these topics. I really love co creating things with my community and really getting ideas from them and learning with and from them as well, and there’s more my website, Intrinsic Labs, about just some of the organizational work I do as well.

Carolyn: Yeah. Oh, that’s wonderful. We’re going to make sure that we have all those links in the show notes for the listeners. Are there any last advice before we go into the last three questions for listeners? Any last words of advice or insight?

Sharath: I’m sweating already, Caroline, for the philosophy that so for the, yeah, I just say that I think overall, this idea that not all leadership time is created equal, that it’s very easy to go in and think that leadership is a day by day contest. Yes, to some extent it is, but actually you have these really important moments where how you navigate them with your team and with your stakeholders is going to future proof success for many years to come.

So if you’re at that point of looking at the next part of the claim. Try and step back, try and look at that differently, take the time to really grapple with those questions deeply. Look inward, think about what your perspective is on the situation, and try to then really create a direction that’s different, authentic, and aligned, and then really work hard to build the potential and culture of your organization around that direction, but have the courage and conviction to make that inflection moment in the first place.

Carolyn: That’s wonderful. Oh, thank you so much. I’m so, happy to have you on our show and that our listeners had a chance to hear all this great wisdom from you. It’s now time to shift to the three questions. So the first question is, so these three questions were inspired by my book that came out last year called evolve.

And so my first question is really an invitation to share with the listeners. About self awareness, a moment, a story and an inflection point, if you will that really deepened. Your understanding of who you are.

Sharath: Yeah, so I think when I’ve set up my my second organization, I was the founder CEO. I’d got a great plan for how I was going to look for innovations among teachers, right? In, in India in that case, and we started working in the slums of Delhi and some of the poorest parts of the world, you know, and very quickly I realized that the plan we had was not really the core, that actually the motivational benefits what we were doing far outweighed the innovations themselves we were finding for the teachers.

Now, I was at this really interesting crossroads where I could, I persuaded lots of investors to invest in that, that first idea. It would have been very easy to keep going. Everything was set up, it would be a much easier ride. The whole thing around motivation was so fluffy, fuzzy, misunderstood. And you had that kind of, you know, the sort of a Robert Frost of the path less traveled, I guess, the crossroads. I think I was so pleased I took the path less traveled. It was hair raising at times, very scary at times as well. But I think it was an area that was so exciting and different and so much, there’s so much to learn and develop in that area as well. And we could have so much more impact in it.

So I think between that first lesson of sort of when you have that path and you’re wondering whether to go off on a limb, but do the unusual thing, it’s almost always better to go for the. Yeah. The thing’s a little bit quirkier and a bit more different and 

Carolyn: Yeah, a little bit more unknown and 

Sharath: Hmm. 

So, but it took a lot of courage and I think it could have easily imagined going down the other one as well.

But I really like, I thank myself for taking the more adventurous part.

Carolyn: That’s great. So my second question has to do with just rituals or practices, you know, we mentioned earlier just how there’s so much, there’s so much noise. What are some rituals or practices that you really rely on to help you stay present and more regulated?

Sharath: I don’t know, there’s things I need to work on in this area for sure, but I think for you to having a wide range of interests is really important. So I’ve been learning a lot more about, I’ve been playing Sonic the Pickleball, which I’m really enjoying now. All the way to learning more about wine, about the history of art just things that I’ve always really enjoyed, but wanted to go deeper in.

So I think taking out time from the typical, just to explore other interests, to put yourself in different different worlds, so you think differently. And also I think really widening social networks, so you spend, I’m lucky to work with You know, ballerinas chefs sports people, as well as of course, executives and so on in the work I do, and I really love that chance to work with a wide range of people because it just keeps our perspective fresh.

So the key thing is that try not to get in a rut, try to really find different sources of energy and learning and really enjoy the other sides of you that happen when you explore those different areas. And we don’t need to be one dimensional. We can explore different facets of ourselves and. Get to know very different people and different ways of looking at the world.

I found that a very powerful practice as well.

Carolyn: And it very much connects to what you said with the first question, which is going off the beaten path, so to speak, and a little bit unknown and courageous.

Sharath: Yeah, they’re linked, of course. And I think the idea that often team would have the more unusual perspective. If that’s the definition of really the core of leadership, we’ve got to have wide perspectives, right? We had the Renaissance hundreds of years ago, but we’ve got into a world where we’re very often very hyper specialized, we’re quite myopic in how we think about the world, we’re pretty.

often laser like focus, and that has some benefits, but it has a lot of disadvantages in terms of being, yeah, losing, not seeing the wood from the trees sometimes, I think, what we do. So, yeah, I really encourage leaders to have different sources of energy, different sources of friendships, different things they read, different things they listen to, and all of those things, you don’t have to even do much to consciously process them, just the fact you’re doing them will bring different ways of thinking about your core work as well.

Carolyn: Yeah. Oh, wonderful. All right. Last question. And this one, I love music. I find music is a beautiful way to connect with others. And so my final question for you is around a genre of music or a specific song that really you feel connected to something bigger than yourself.

Sharath: So I’m I guess because my background is so, is very cross cultural, I love working across countries and so on, I’m loving some of the diaspora music around the world that’s coming through. So I’m a big Burner Boy fan, for example, he’s a Nigerian but it’s crossed a lot, a big audience in North America.

There’s a, that you’re going to see on Friday, an artist called Priya Raghu, who’s a Swiss Tamil artist. Artist and singer, for example, as well. So, I think just finding artists who are able to bring these different cultural elements. What’s cool with both artists is that they they have a lot of sort of, I guess, indigenous influences in terms of both, you know, Africa and South Asian in their music.

But they also really use some of the latest technology. A lot of some of the best work are, you know, Western production, beats, etc. as well. So, So they’ve really managed to fuse things in a very interesting and different ways. And I think it’s that sense of something very unfamiliar, but also rooted in a different context.

And that stuff can be really powerful to listen to as well.

Carolyn: Oh and I think back to your second question, you’ve linked all these three beautifully, but the energy, the different energy that can bring, and with that indigenous wisdom embedded under it, I think that really can hit us in our bodies so differently as well.

Sharath: Yeah, I mean, so I think a lot of it, Ken, is trying to not get it wrong in every sense, just what you listen to and, you know, the way that our social media works or even Spotify with others that you listen to one thing and they’ll it’ll recommend more and more like the same. And I think try to beat the algorithms and try and keep fresh, get different friends to give you their their playlists, see what’s going on in the world as well

and just explore.

It’s really important. I think.

Carolyn: Beautiful. Thank you so much for this wonderful conversation. It really has been a pleasure speaking with you.

Sharath: Thanks for that. I really enjoyed it.

Carolyn: All right. And for all of our listeners out there, I hope that you get a chance to pick up some of Sharaf’s amazing work books. There’s so many different ways that you can follow his work.

Thanks again for joining us.

Intrinsic and inflection, the two names of Sharath’s books, and also two elements of leadership that from our conversation today can really help define who you are as a leader, as a person, and help you find the purpose and the impact that you want to have in the world. And that impact. Is not necessarily a certain size impact is about authenticity and where you want to leave your mark in the world.

And we can do that in so many places in so many ways and nothing is too small where we can leave our impact. I hope you appreciated this conversation with Sherith and that you do check out his work. It’s really, he’s doing some incredible work across the globe. 

And I would love to hear from you.

If you would like to reach out to me with any ideas for guests, if you have any feedback on what we’re talking about, or if you’d like to just find out more about the work that I’m doing, please check out carolynsuara. com. And if you could leave a review and a rating for this podcast on whatever platform you listen to, that would be greatly appreciated as well.

We’ll see you soon. 

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