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  • Writer's pictureAndy Goram

The Purpose Behind Sticky Leadership


Two smiling Asian men and a smiling podcast host discuss sticky leadership
Dr. Kumar & Amit Ramlall from the Chintan Project (left) and Andy Goram (right) discuss Sticky Leadership

What differentiates successful, magnetic leadership from other leaders? I'd argue the kind of leaders a stickier business has have a clear understanding of self, a strong sense of what they believe in, a distinct vision of what the future looks like, and understand that they need to connect their people to all those things to deliver results.


In the latest episode of my Sticky From The Inside Podcast, I had an extraordinary conversation with Dr. Kumar and Amit Ramlall from the Chintan Project. It was extraordinary not just for the content that they shared, but they way they shared it.


Amit still suffers from the effects of Autism, which has affected his ability to speak. So he now speaks through his Dad, using a deep connection, understanding and a plastic, laminated card which he types on with his hand. As he types, Kumar speaks. It's a phenomenal thing to witness, and if I'm honest, takes a bit of getting used to. Which is what I'd urge you to do if you listen to the full episode on the player below. Stick with it, because the information the pair share is extremely thought-provoking.


Below is also a full transcript of the conversation I had with them where they share their thoughts on leadership, purpose, brand and where the real seat of power sits within an organisation.



Podcast Transcript

00:00:10 - Andy Goram

Hello and welcome to Sticky from the Inside, the employee engagement podcast that looks at how to build stickier, competition-smashing consistently successful organizations from the inside out. I'm your host, Andy Goram, and I'm on a mission to help more businesses turn the lights on behind the eyes of their employees, light the fires within them, and create tons more success for everyone. This podcast is for all those who believe that's something worth going after and would like a little help and guidance in achieving that. Each episode, we dive into the topics that can help create what I call stickier businesses. The sort of businesses where people thrive and love to work, and where more customers stay with you and recommend you to others because they love what you do, and why you do it. So if you want to take the tricky out of being sticky, listen on.

 

Leadership & Purpose

00:01:10 - Andy Goram

Okay, then imagine a place where every morning employees wake up excited to go to work, where their values resonate with the company's mission, and where leadership doesn't just direct, but inspires. That, my friends, is the hallmark of a sticky business. A workplace that doesn't just retain talent, but nurtures and celebrates it.


But there's a catch. None of this happens by chance. It's the combination of leaders who possess a high degree of intentional human leadership skills and are deeply entwined with the mission of their business. When leaders are in sync with their mission, they create an environment where employees don't just work, they belong, they contribute and they grow, and everyone prospers, including their shareholders, as a result.


Now, in today's episode, we're going to unravel this concept with two frankly extraordinary guests from the Chintan project, where Dr. Kumar and Amit Ramlall are a dynamic duo in understanding human behaviour and its impact on workplaces. Their expertise and experience in guiding businesses to really leverage human strengths for meaningful and impactful work is used passionately and consistently. They're huge advocates for helping people discover and realize their purpose at work, which means they are, of course, the perfect guests for this podcast. So together, they're here to shed light on the pivotal role that leadership has in making a business sticky.


Now, how do leaders align themselves with their company mission? What happens when alignment's missing? And most importantly, how can leaders recalibrate to create a workplace that's not just productive, but also fulfilling and inspiring?


Now, what makes this episode, for me at least, even more interesting is the relationship between Dr. Kumar and Amit. Amit had a form of autism which still affects his speaking ability, but that doesn't stop him from sharing his amazing and deep knowledge of human behaviour. And Dr. Kumar plays a big role in that, as we're about to find out very shortly. So whether you're a CEO, a team leader, or someone passionate about creating positive workplace cultures, I reckon this episode is for you. So buckle up as we dive into the fascinating world of what it takes to lead a stickier business. Welcome to the show, Dr. Kumar and Amit.

 

Introduction to Dr. Kumar & Amit Ramlall

00:03:40 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

Thank you, Andy. Thank you, Andy. Thank you very much for having us. So, for your guests (listeners), Andy, I speak on my own behalf with my own voice, and you'll also hear my voice because Amit, as a result of his autism, his independent speech is still affected. And so he types on this letter card, and I'll have him explain exactly how it works, but I am reading what it is that he is saying from that card. Thank you very much, Andy, for having us on your show.

 

00:04:25 - Andy Goram

I have to say, this is where my audio only podcast does not do today's episode justice, because you carry on. This is fantastic. This is amazing.

 

00:04:37 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

So, Andy, as you know, I had autism and it still affects my independent speech. I type on this card and my dad reads what I am typing. I use this card, Andy, the same way that you use glasses to help you see. I use this card to help me speak. That's all.

 

00:05:25 - Andy Goram

Brilliant.

 

00:05:26 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

And when my dad sounds half human, that's him. When he speaks like a robot, that is him reading what I am typing.

 

00:05:48 - Andy Goram

Brilliant. I have to say, the first time I saw your interaction, I was absolutely fascinated. And having seen the card, I mean, this must have taken hours and hours for you guys to connect and understand what's going on here. It's unbelievable. It's brilliant.

 

00:06:06 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

Well, we are grateful that we were introduced to the card. In our society, our world, we judge people by what they say. And it's great fun to have been taught eminently stupid when I couldn't speak or express.

 

00:06:47 - Andy Goram

Well, my friend, you are anything far from stupid. My goodness me. Which we will get into as we go forward. It's an absolute delight to have you here today. For those of you that are listening and still haven't worked this out, I will put some stuff in the show notes. We'll show you the card that Amit types on. And if I get a chance to put a little bit of video in the show notes just to show you how this works, it's absolutely fantastic. But enough of that because I'm really, really interested to get into today's discussion, right, about sticky leadership. And I'm incredibly grateful for you coming on the show today. And totally tailoring what you want to do, what you're going to talk about to the sticky manifesto, which is absolutely wonderful. Before I get overexcited and we get into that discussion today, guys, do me a bit of a favour, will you? Can you tell me a little bit about your background, a little bit, what you've been up to, a bit more about the Chintan project and what your focus is on today?

 

Understanding Purpose

00:07:46 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

So, Andy, first about your guests (listeners), because none of us would be here if it weren't for them. Here's how this works, in short, so they get the value for their price of admission upfront. You said this was about what makes a sticky leader. And here's what a sticky leader is authentic. And we'll spend the rest of our time sharing about what that means and how we get there, or more accurately, how we demonstrate that we are there. In terms of the Chintan project, it got started because of me. And when I was a little autistic kid, I was hungry to understand purpose, to understand the reason that any of this exists, to understand why even I existed. And I came to the conclusion early on that this universe of ours is extremely efficient, and that if anything exists, it had a purpose, a reason for being. And I thought, if this little autistic kid had a purpose, then so too does everyone else.

 

00:10:25 - Andy Goram

I mean, that's a pretty profound start.

 

00:10:28 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

To the show then, Andy. The rest followed naturally. I learnt to leverage that certainty of purpose in life, then in business. And what we do at Chintan project is help leaders and leadership teams leverage that certainty of purpose, and also the purpose of challenge so that they grow their impact and rewards.

 

00:11:17 - Andy Goram

I mean, that's a great goal for everybody to have, isn't it? I mean, I think that's pretty much the purpose behind the podcast. And what we try and do here is summed up beautifully. I'm going to start with the broad question, okay, the question you started to answer just a few seconds ago, when we think about the role of leadership in what I call a sticky business, and I'm really interested to hear from you. I mean, let's put this out there, Amit, you're a polymath, right? You've read an incredible amount of books. I mean, I think about 14,000 or more books that you've read.

 

00:11:58 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

I work at it, Andy. I work at it because I wanted to understand how this universe of ours works, if you will. I felt I needed to. I now understand I'm called to.

 

The Role of Authenticity in Leadership

00:12:26 - Andy Goram

And in all of that reading and all of that learning and we’ll drill it down into today's episode where we're talking about leadership in a sticky business, what do you think are the core foundations that makes leadership in a sticky business the thing that we should all be questing off for?

 

00:12:46 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

Well, you mentioned some of my studies, and here's why I think that matters to the very question of stickiness and sticky leaders in business. There's a common notion that people are supposed to reflect the brand. You've heard that gazillions of dollars get invested to work at that. Okay? And your brand reflects your people. So not only does your people reflect your brand, but your brand reflects your people. And if leaders are authentic, which we argue is what it takes to be sticky, then they are what oftentimes defines the brand. Later, if we have time, we might talk about Jack Welch and Bezos from Amazon. But first, let me explain how we get to those rules from those books. Here's the logic. Leaders are humans, at least for now.

 

00:14:58 - Andy Goram

Yeah, perhaps never a truer word for spoken.

 

00:15:03 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

And humans are part of nature. All of nature follows natural laws, the same laws that rule the atoms, the weather, and the motion of the planets and stars. Is that fair?

 

00:15:34 - Andy Goram

Expand on that for me. So what do you see as these key principles that you're talking about, Amit?

 

00:15:40 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

We'll get there. But if we humans and human behaviour follow these natural, universal laws. Not human laws, natural laws, then I think it was well worth figuring out. If you want to know how we humans tick, how we humans relate, these laws also govern them. And one of those laws says that everything exists on purpose.

 

00:16:40 - Andy Goram

Ok? And so if we take a leap from that position of everything exists, has a reason for being, has a purpose, and you've mentioned the word authenticity already. What is it particularly about authenticity with that link to purpose that is so important when it comes to leadership, from your perspective, from everything you've learned.

 

The Real Seat of Power

00:17:02 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

Well, we mentioned already that the brand reflects the people. And we'd argue that it's not just any of the people, but oftentimes the authentic leader. There is an important point around this authentic leader. Just like a waterfall where water flows from top to bottom, power flows from top to bottom, too. And sometimes it's easy to mistake power, real seat of power, for title.

 

00:18:10 - Andy Goram

That's true. Very true.

 

00:18:11 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

So within our various structures, we might assume a CEO has the power. Yet it might be the founder, who might even be long dead. It might be the matriarch of a family. It might even be the secretary who controls what the CEO sees. Or who the CEO sees. We think of countries and think it might be the prime minister or president, when sometimes it's the humble pollster who tells them what policies might sell. Sometimes it's Kim Kardashian or Lionel Messi to whom we give power. Sometimes it's a religious leader. We'd argue sometimes it seems like a fad, but it's never a fad. It's who we follow. Sometimes, without even realizing it, we give away our power. All of that is to say that if you want to know what a company, a brand will reflect, seek first to know the real seat of power. As we have worked with so many companies in our consultation work, and even as we now acquire companies or help them in their process of merging, we have had increasing reason to understand and honour these real seats of power.

 

What Makes A Sticky Leader?

00:21:07 - Andy Goram

Yeah, I mean, the leader’s, obviously, on occasions that by name only, not by action, what really gets said and done is a clear reflection of what a brand actually is and what it tends to be. And when we're thinking about sticky leadership, then what differentiates what I would think as a successful sticky leader? Someone who creates a great team, creates a great environment in which people can bring the best of themselves every day. What differentiates those individuals from other leaders?

 

00:21:42 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

Well, I think let's be careful about this concept of good or bad leadership.

 

00:21:55 - Andy Goram

Yeah, 100%. Yeah, totally get that.

 

00:21:57 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

As an example, Jack Welch from GE I don't think was good or bad. He likely did subordinate to Milton Friedman's view of primacy of profit for a business. And guess what? He turned an industrial giant into a corporate financial giant. Yet it is rumoured, or at least written, that people might have suffered as a result. At Amazon, Jeff Bezos was customer focused, to say the least. It was all about the customer. And stories abound about how undervalued the employees were. Yet eventually, the employees banded together, called unions to increase their leverage and took a corporate giant to its knees.

 

00:23:39 - Andy Goram

And both these leaders have at times been held up to be absolute captains and the best examples and also been portrayed as evil, Machiavellian villains at the same time.

 

00:23:53 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

Right. If I might share a story from our own business in terms of how this know, there's Jack Welsh, there is Jeff Bezos. Right? And then there is one of our companies, which was a medical clinic. And we have, for reasons that you might begin to understand by now, a relentless focus on the individual. We actually believe that individual is within whom lies that purpose makes sense. We've got a clear bias. I, as the CEO of that organisation, bled that into the company. And so it might, on the surface have appeared that we were a company focused on its people. Okay. So it might, on the surface appeared that we, as a company, focused on its people. And yet what it was is that we as a company were focused on the individual. And that showed up. We had rising stars within our company. We have rising stars within our company. And what we were missing was teamwork. And so one of the things about knowing yourself as the leader is to know what you value, where you place your value. And again, that's not good or bad, but to know what the consequence of that was. And I was a slow learner. It took us a while to realize that what we are building was individual superstars and not a team.

 

00:25:35 - Andy Goram

Yeah.

 

The Importance of Valuing People

00:25:36 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

And since I didn't have that skill set, I brought in a manager and empowered her to say, your job is to make these guys be able to work together as a team.

 

00:25:49 - Andy Goram

Yeah. To build a team.

 

00:25:50 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

And so this apparently people focused company had a blind spot around a very people focused thing.

 

00:25:59 - Andy Goram

Almost a fundamental, you could say.

 

00:26:01 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

That’s right, if you will. The company reflects that leaders biases, that leader’s values, and each of us as leaders have got that value structure, that structure of what it is that we think is most important, and subtle differences in those pieces of things that we value. So it isn't that you value your people. In what way do you value your people? And how is that demonstrated?

 

00:26:35 - Andy Goram

Yeah, how do you recognize that?

 

00:26:37 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

That's right. So I tell that story. I mean, it could be said that Amazon valued people. Those people were their customers. And they valued their customers above profit. Interestingly enough, Amazon prime was not a profit centre that started out. It was started out try and value the individuals, the customers, at the same time that the unions were being branded together to address the company. As we analyse these companies, as your listeners look to see what is reflected in my company, it's the depth to which they know themselves is going to be helpful to take those next steps. We do need leaders who are focused on profit. And we do need, within companies, a focus on the people, too. In fat times, we might emphasize employee benefits. And in lean times, we think we focus on survival. Yet it may be preferable to be aware of what your values mean and what that means for your focus. And where are your blind spots? Where is it that you are likely to ignore?


Post COVID Leadership Challenges 

00:28:33 - Andy Goram

It's fascinating because maybe right now we find ourselves in a bit of a perfect storm because coming out of COVID, and we still talk about COVID all these kind of years later. But if I take the UK as an example, and maybe it's the same in Canada or wherever else, but we've got many, many businesses still focused on survival. We've got a workforce who've come out of COVID wanting a higher degree of flexibility and work life balance and other things. And these two things are colliding at the moment to create quite a tension in the workplace. And I think this is a key challenge for business leaders in particular now. And we're seeing this with come back to work, you must work five days in an office, or you can work wherever you like. You can do... It's a mess as we try and battle with these two things. I think it's fascinating that you talk about the changing kind of rhythm of running a business and where your focus might be and as a leader, recognizing where your strengths are, where your focus is, where your own values lie, and then how you link that to the business. I just think listening to you say that, it sort of gets to the heart of where a lot of businesses are finding problems right now. They're torn between two places.

 

00:29:51 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

And then sometimes as a business, because of that, we turn to ranking people instead of ranking results. Sometimes businesses are forgetting what it is that they are seeking to accomplish. When we map out what it is that we really want to accomplish and then use zero based thinking, questioning fundamental or apparently fundamental assumptions, we might find that our businesses and our lives get very differently arranged entirely.

 

The Power and Influence of Mission

00:30:58 - Andy Goram

So I think this is what nicely, we sort of trailed it in the intro today, brings us nicely in line with the importance of mission. Like you just talked about, if you're unclear about where you're going, what a surprise if you don't get there because you're zigzagging all over the place. And I think the distinct difference between a longer-term vision, the ultimate kind of destination, and perhaps a shorter term journey in the mission itself the next couple of years. And just talking about the environment you find ourselves in now, what is that step? What is that mission? To get us close to the vision, bearing in mind the current landscape that we're all working in. So in your work and your readings, the importance of mission for sticky leadership, can you elaborate on that?

 

00:31:46 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

I will. In two parts. There is a business teacher in North America called Keith Cunningham, and he says that running a business is at least two different steps. In one, you are running the business for what is today and what might be tomorrow. And not only businesses, but countries, sometimes as a consequence of democracy that we so much value, find themselves running for today. And we are, I would submit, mistaken when we think that survival demands that we focus only on today because change is the only constant. And so, as we navigate the waters, shall we say, the stormy waters, at times, it is still important that we know what it is that we are seeking to accomplish and as leaders, who it is that we are. Because as we give space to getting to know what we truly value, not what we say we value, but what shows up in our lives as proof that we have valued, that we can then recognise. And mission, by the way, is reflected in what we value. My relentless focus on leveraging purpose, you might call a mission. I might call it my own purpose. And there is proof that I value that.

 

The Magnetism of Mission

00:34:59 - Andy Goram

I think that mission in my world is what becomes that kind of tractor beam that sucks everybody in. So, if I listen to your learning and your advice and your wisdom today, we're thinking about leaders who are very, very clear of their own individual values, understand intrinsically where the business needs to go, understands the values of its people, and can align all these things and bring with it energy, enthusiasm, inspiration. It can understand where it's strong, it can understand where it's got blind spots and bring other people in to help make it go forward. But the tractor beam, the magnetic piece in the middle, can be this vision and mission that will attract employees who are inspired by that, or it matches their own values and therefore will give to the cause. Can keep a leader on track in the space of lots of distraction and challenge by being very clear on the mission. And yet without this, without a clear vision, without an understandable mission, a relative relevant mission for today's world, this is when we see things go awry. This is where we see retention levels drop and employees fall away. Talent moves on. Leadership is less effective and moves on. It's incredible when you really think about it, something that people sometimes pay real lip service to in all that vision and mission stuff, actually, when we talk about the sort of conversation we're having today, when we're thinking about what sticky leadership really is, this is a fundamental to making really successful sticky businesses work. And it is that leadership with that real intent and understanding that can make it happen.

 

00:37:06 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

You have eloquently expressed it, Andy, because it is that certainty of mission, that certainty of purpose that allows you to control the only three things that we humans have control over. Would it be of interest, you think, for your guests to know what those three things are?

 

00:37:48 - Andy Goram

Yes! You can't just say that and then leave us with no answer. Of course we want to know what those three things are.

 

Control & Influence

00:37:55 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

So here are the three things, and before you write them down, understand that these three things intimately reflect your values. You have control over your perceptions, control over your decisions, and control over your actions. Perceptions, decisions, actions. And yours only notice you do not have control over anyone else's.

 

00:38:50 - Andy Goram

No matter how much you fool yourself.

 

00:38:52 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

To a kid, a parent, a spouse, or an employee, you don't control their perceptions, decisions, or actions.

 

00:39:08 - Andy Goram

No, but we influence, right?

 

00:39:10 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

Yeah. And so you do have the option of influencing others by showing them how they get more of what they value by following one or the other that encompasses. We think, a big part of leadership encompasses knowing your people, what they value, and helping them see how they get more of what they want by helping you or your company get more of what you want.

 

00:40:17 - Andy Goram

Good grief. I really had no expectations of where our conversation was going to go today, based on our previous meeting. And, I mean, we could have recorded that conversation, I think, as we joked at the time, right. Because we went all over the place and talked about so many amazing things. It's been fascinating to kind of listen to a much deeper, profound understanding of, really, where purpose fits in with leadership and the importance of something like mission, not just because it's the thing to aim at, but from where it comes from and the effect it has on other people. And I think understanding that who you are, what you believe, and where you're going as three things as a leader isn't too bad a place to start. But they're big questions to get into, right? They're really big questions. I'm loathed to kind of draw this conversation to a close, but that’s the law.

 

00:41:18 – Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

That’s human law, mind you, not natural law.


Sticky Notes

00:41:21 - Andy Goram

Yes, we're back to the beginning again, Amit. Very good point. I have this part in the show which I call sticky notes. It's a lazy attempt on my behalf to summarize the show because I asked a guest to sort of share their three nuggets of wisdom that really sums up the topic of today's conversation. Now, we have talked about some very big concepts today, but if you were to leave listeners with three practical pieces of advice, or even, in your case, profound wisdom around the importance of leadership and the lessons you've talked about today, what three sticky notes would you leave behind?

 

00:42:00 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

Sticky note one. While you hope your people reflect your brand, do know that your brand reflects your people. The second is around the seat of real power. I've explained this sometimes as power within an organization follows the same rules as a septic tank, the really big chunks always rise to the top. What happens is look to see where the real power sits in your organization, because that is what is determining the people, how they show up, and is what is determining, therefore your brand.

 

00:42:54 - Andy Goram

I love that. I tend to sometimes think about the shadow of a leader that we cast in that frame. But yeah, brilliant, fantastic.

 

00:43:01 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

And number three, what does the leader's life demonstrate they value? It is only when we know that, that we get a deep understanding of what's showing up, what the leader is likely to be blind to. And for our next podcast, here's something else. It opens up knowing what it is that you as a leader values helps you understand and leverage what I call the purpose of challenge. Because, Andy, not only is each individual, each entity existing on purpose, but our challenges exist on purpose too.

It has been a privilege to share this time with you. If your guests are interested in learning more about how they might stress test their own thinking so that they might lead more effectively, we would love to meet them@chintanproject.com or sign up for our newsletter there. Andy, thank you very much for this opportunity. I know we're pushing you past your human imposed time limit, but thank you for having us here.

 

00:45:16 - Andy Goram

Not at all. I mean, honestly, the timing is there, so I don't talk for 20 hours. It's absolutely fascinating. I love the three sticky notes. As if my tiny little brain wasn't blown by some of the concepts today, then trailing the next conversation as the purpose of challenge. I mean, I'm going to have to go and sit in a dark room after this, guys, and sort of just try and recover a wee bit. Listen, it's been my absolute pleasure to meet you. You're both wonderful people. I thank you so much for sort of spending some time to talk to us today on a different level. I will put all of that information about where people can find you and where people can find out more in the show notes. So check out the show notes, everybody, because it's well worth looking up these two guys. All I can say is thank you so much for coming on and I wish you the very best with all the amazing things that I know you're up to right now.

 

00:46:07 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

Thank you very much, Andy.

 

00:46:08 - Andy Goram

Ok, you take care, guys. All the best.

 

00:46:10 - Dr. Kumar Ramlall, Amit Ramlall

Thank you.

 

Podcast Close

00:46:12 - Andy Goram

Okay, everyone. Well, that was Dr. Kumar and Amit Ramlall from the Chintan project. And if you'd like to find out a bit more about them or any of the things we've talked about today, please check out the show notes.


So that concludes today's episode. I hope you've enjoyed it, found it interesting, and heard something maybe that will help you become a stickier, more success, successful business from the inside going forward. If you have, please like comment and subscribe. It really helps. I'm Andy Goram, and you've been listening to the Sticky from the Inside podcast. Until next time, thanks for listening.


Andy Goram is the owner of Bizjuicer, an employee engagement and workplace culture consultancy that's on a mission to help people have more fulfilling work lives. He's also the host of the Sticky From The Inside Podcast, which talks to experts on these topics from around the world. 

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