INSEAD PARTICIPANT INTERVIEW
Boosting leadership skills and developing a high-performance culture
Head of Sponsorships and Premium Content Sales, APAC at Google
Past participant Rajesh Sheshadri explains how INSEAD’s Leading for Results programme helped him refine his leadership approach and have a greater impact on his organisation.
Tell us about your career so far.
I’ve spent most of my career working with content – either making, marketing, packaging or selling it. I started my career in print and radio then spent nine years at Fox International Channels, where among other things I handled the business for Hong Kong and led teams delivering advertising solutions for brands such as FOX, Star, ESPN Star Sports, National Geographic Channel across Asia and the Middle East. Recently, I made the leap from TV to the digital world. I’m now head of Sponsorships and Premium Content Sales, APAC at Google. I’m responsible for creating and delivering content strategies for advertising partners for YouTube across the region.
What are some of the key challenges you face in your job in terms of managing people?
Google attracts the best and brightest people in the world so that sets you up for a management challenge right away. It’s a great problem to have, of course. But let’s just say the pressure is very much on when it comes to inspiring high performance and developing capabilities. At the same time, the industry is changing fast; so as a business leader, it’s vital to be able to respond quickly and make the right decisions under pressure.
What made you decide to come on the programme? Did you consider any other courses or institutions?
I believe leadership is a skill you need to continuously hone – it’s a work in progress. So on the one hand I was seeking a programme that could act as a kind of retrospective. I wanted to look back at what had worked well for me as a business leader in the past and analyse my strengths and weaknesses. I also wanted to explore new frameworks for inspiring people and motivating them to perform better, including using collaborative approaches.
One of my colleagues attended INSEAD’s Leading for Results programme and gave me great feedback – so much so that I didn’t bother scouting out alternatives. Also, I’m based in Singapore so from a location perspective this programme was a great fit.
What were your key takeaways?
Most useful was the idea that managing top talent is often more about empowering people rather than putting them into a preconceived mould. In fact, if you can just point someone in the right direction and give them the right support, you often find they already know what to do. This means your role becomes more obstacle remover and problem solver, rather than manager. When we encounter pressurised situations, we tend to revert to our default way of working – that more traditional ‘command and control’ style of management. It takes time and effort and constant reinforcement not to do that, and you’ve got to pay attention to it.
Another key insight for me was the importance of just being yourself and letting everyone else see that, rather than taking on the mantle of always being the boss, leader, and manager. In other words, it’s okay to be vulnerable, rather than trying to cloak your emotions all the time. Inspiring people has more to do with showing a combination of vulnerability and authenticity, while providing clarity.
How did you find the 360-degree feedback and coaching techniques?
Both were really rewarding. The 360-degree feedback was particularly useful. It clarified things I already knew and helped me understand what I needed to do to set direction and then sustain that focus.
How will what you learnt on the programme help you in your work, and help you meet challenges?
The programme makes a compelling case for building your informal networks and ensuring you’re getting feedback on what’s developing in the environment around you. That’s something I’m trying to implement. The other critical lesson I took away was about ensuring you find sponsors and mentors, even as a senior business leader. Previously, as I progressed I was lucky enough to have fairly senior people mentor me, and now that I’m in a new system, this is something I need to restart. After all, as you become more experienced, life becomes more complex, so it’s always good to have someone act as a sounding board or adviser.
Did you benefit from the diversity of participants on the programme with you?
Yes, there was a great mix of senior peers and we stay in touch. I also participate in a monthly call with my coaching group – they’re based in Australia, Shanghai, France and Singapore. We got to know each other’s business challenges pretty well on the programme, so we find it valuable to keep exchanging notes on a regular basis.
What would you say to someone who is thinking of doing the programme?
I found Programme Director Professor Jose-Luis Alvarez very insightful – not just in theoretical terms but from a practical standpoint. He has the kind of know-how that you could apply to any organisation and make it work. So I’d say that if you want to learn strategies for navigating the internal dynamics within your organisation, and how to apply these to get great results, you’ve got to attend Professor Alvarez’s class.
Click here to know more about INSEAD’s Leading for Results programme.