Tuesday, September 3, 2013

It's All About Passion

From the September 1, New York Times and the Corner Office column by Adam Bryant and his interview with Francisco D’Souza, the chief executive of the information technology company Cognizant.

What are some leadership lessons you’ve learned during your career?

A. We started Cognizant in 1994, and there was a period early on when I personally knew everyone in the company. Now we have 160,000 employees, and there were several personal and rapid transitions over that time.

The lesson I learned is that when you have to evolve that quickly as a person, you need to be aware of two things. One is personal blind spots and the other is personal comfort zones. Those two things can be real gotchas.

It’s very hard to see your blind spots, by definition, and it’s very easy to fall into comfort zones, because people like patterns and a sense of familiarity. I’ve tried consciously to say, “What are the tools I can use to identify these blind spots and push through comfort zones?” And I always tell myself that if I wake up in the morning and feel comfortable, I’m probably not pushing myself hard enough.

Q. And what are the tools to help you see your blind spots?

A. One is just talking to other leaders. The conversations with them help me because they are, in a sense, a mirror — I can assess what I think they’re doing well, and where I think their blind spots are. It’s easier to see someone else’s blind spots than it is to see your own, of course, and you can use that to reflect on what your own blind spots are.

I also learned a lot from the people who work for me. Before I took over as C.E.O. in 2007, the board gave me the benefit of some time. I worked with a coach for a while, and he talked to about 20 people who worked for me, above me and around me, and to my board. It was difficult feedback, but very enlightening. That helped me identify a couple of my blind spots.

Q. Can you share one?

A. There was a lot of feedback from my team that people had confidence in my ability, but they also said that when I criticize something they’ve done, the weight of that is very pronounced and significant. It made me understand that the weight of my words was a lot heavier than I gave myself credit for, and it led me to be much more thoughtful and measured in how I give feedback.

Q. How do you hire?

A. I’m looking for passion. The person I’m hiring needs to have passion for what they’re doing, and they need to understand where that passion comes from. They need to be in touch with that. You need to know what drives you.

And you need somebody who’s got just raw smarts and talent and an innate ability to learn. Because the thing about functional expertise is that unless you’re in some very specific area, almost everything that we need to do our job becomes obsolete quickly, and the half-life of knowledge is becoming shorter and shorter. So do you have the personal agility to continuously renew those skills, to reinvent yourself?


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