If you light a lamp for somebody it will also brighten your path – Gautama Buddha
The author of this book, Vishal Gupta, is currently an Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at the IIM Ahmedabad. Vishal started as an electrical engineer from BITS Pilani. He then worked as a R&D engineer in a semiconductor design firm in the National Capital Region. Seeds for his search for effective leaders were sown here that eventually resulted in this book. Vishal Gupta’s “First Among Equals” is a very appropriately titled book that has its origins from personal experiences of the author in search of leaders and leadership behaviors that maximizes impact and builds people. Any search for the truth or research that is inspired by personal experiences is likely to be a genuine search for truth whether it is an action project or a piece of research.
This highly insightful and very professionally written book focuses on knowledge workers. It offers a TREAT leadership model of leadership that can maximize the impact of not only knowledge workers but anyone anywhere.
Leaders impact other individuals, teams, organizations and even nations. They can make or break people, their teams, and places of work. In recent times after a lot of debate and discussion on VUCA world, the debate shifted to leadership in Pandemic times and post pandemic. More than research, views and opinions started flowing almost like unending rivers. Research-based evidence is yet to emerge.
COVID-19 has demonstrated the significance of knowledge and information. Even the role of HR managers as leaders came under focus as well as scrutiny. In the first two months of the pandemic, it was said Corona warriors, who are largely Health and medical professionals, are critical for survival and countries clapped and expressed their gratitude in different forms. Soon after, as the livelihoods of people got threatened with the fall of economic activities, the world started recognizing that HR professionals and thoughtful leaders take care of both lives and livelihoods of people in different contexts.
This book by Vishal Gupta looks as though it was written in anticipation of the leadership role in pandemic times though it has originated and is based on research and observations across the last decade prior to the pandemic. The significance of this book is that it deals with “knowledge workers” like those who save lives and provide livelihood and create a healthy society. Knowledge work is defined in this book as any work where knowledge is central to the successful design of products, processes, service, technology etc. Today every sector is filled with knowledge workers: health, education, Information technology, logistics, transportation, pharma, banking and financial services, projects, consultancy, food and nutrition, agriculture: you name the sector and one can easily imagine its impact on life, if knowledge is missing in it.
People performing jobs should be treated with understanding of the context in which they work. As observed by Vishal Gupta, appropriately in this book, knowledge work has its own peculiarities. They include time lags (see the time it is taking to get a vaccine in place), sporadic and non-sporadic nature of its output etc. Workplaces everywhere are getting filled with knowledge workers who work for a cause rather than for a position in the hierarchy. They are talented and prefer freedom and autonomy. All supervisors or managers are leaders, and they influence what and how much work they can get done from their juniors.
This book “First among Equals” by Vishal Gupta is focused on two fundamentals: that everyone can be a leader and that leader is also a follower. The book is based on Vishal’s search to identify such effective leadership behaviors that promote creativity, and innovation which in turn lead to better products and services. Though the settings in which the author conducted his study are Research and Development organizations, his findings, and the leadership model he offers because of his research are fully applicable to all organizations.
In his explorations of leadership effectiveness, Vishal identified five leader behaviors that maximize the impact of leaders on others. They are:
- Task orientation (T).
- Relationship orientation (R).
- Empowerment (E).
- Authenticity (A); and
- Team building (T).
This TREAT framework is the basis of this book. The book presents a simple and easy to remember framework for leadership. The three mechanisms that leaders can use to maximize their impact of on their juniors are:
- Fairness at the workplace.
- Development of positive psychological capacities: hope, optimism, self-confidence, resilience; and
How does this model translate into action? Imagine a company where employees decide their own leave, has less paperwork and form filling, are trusted for their travel and other expense claims, can get their pets to work and they are even given a place to work in case they decide to leave the company and start on their own and are welcomed back if they decide to rejoin. The first chapter starts with an example of a company that has such great and unusual HR policies and is known to motivate employees and promoted to a large extent TREAT leadership style. This chapter illustrates how a knowledge worker would like to be respected and give his/her best.
The model was developed by the author in the first stage after in-depth interviews with 52 CSIR scientists. From this model that was evolved from these interviews Vishal studied 584 scientists (including 146 women scientists) from 11 laboratories to test his model. The model is further validated with authors experiences and observations with many other organizations in subsequent years. As Vishal observes, Knowledge is the currency of today’s business. The book deals in subsequent chapters the dimensions of leadership that are conducive to subordinate performance and creativity. This book presents a critical leadership behavior that impacts performance of their juniors. Vishal discovered that knowledge workers are best motivated to work at a place which has Learning (L), Enjoyment (E) and Autonomy (A) that in turn result in Performance (P). Together it is said – TREAT results in LEAP at the workplace.
This 273-page book is well brought out with scripts easy to read and remember. The model is presented in simple language at the same time in a scholarly manner. A remarkable feature of this book is its quotes in the beginning of each chapter from Gautam Buddha to APJ, JRD, Helen Keller, Satya Nadella, and Chinese proverbs. The book also presents a tool to measure leadership behaviors and it can be used as a self-assessment tool as well as perhaps a 360-degree feedback tool to build TREAT leadership competencies. The book also is filled with short stories and incidents taken from the lives of APJ Kalam, Satya Nadella, JRD, Sudha Murthy and many other contemporary leaders. The book makes a remarkably interesting read. The book is also filled with quotes of knowledge workers culled out from the interviews that Vishal had taken of various leaders and scientists working in research and development laboratories.
After the seminal contributions to the field of Leadership by thought leaders and scholars like J B P Sinha on Nurturant-Task Leaders, and by Udai Pareek on Institution Building Beyond Management, this will be a great book which is original, practical, glocal and truly relevant for Indian leaders, scholars and management students wanting to contribute more to the area of developing leaders and leadership across.