Dr. Pawan Verma is an author, professional speaker and Management Consultant from India’s financial services sector. He has got a rich experience in guiding start-ups, serving on boards and leading business initiatives in large organizations, such as the Reliance Group of Industries, Reliance ADA Group, LIC of India and Star Union Dai-ichi Life Insurance. As a thought leader, his passionate intellectual curiosities have often led him to challenge established practices and systems, leading to product and process innovations.
Kindly brief us about your latest book.
My latest book, published by Rupa Publications, is Age of the Imperfect Leader. It is a disruptive take on leadership that insists that in the age of personalization, you cannot have a standardized view of leadership. It offers an altogether new paradigm for leadership development.
I have just finished writing another book – The Woman Unbroken – soon to be sent for publication. It is an edge-of-the-seat thriller that tells the story of a young and courageous woman, who lands up in a wrong place at a wrong time and gets embroiled in a vicious battle between two deadly rivals. While she is fighting her own emotional demons within, the external threats force her to run for her life. Helpless and defenseless, she can run but can’t hide. Her life gets wrecked but she finds a larger purpose in her struggle for survival. Stumbling through her journey, she not only inflicts her personal revenge on her predators, she is also able to serve a purpose larger than her own cause. It is the story of courage and resilience, hope and survival.
The next book I am going to take up is once again on leadership and management. It is going to challenge some of the well-entrenched myths about management and leadership and offer some new perspectives to the readers.
How did “Age of the imperfect leader” happen? Could you describe the journey?
During my corporate career, I had been writing for some of the leading national dailies, like The Times of India, Hindustan Times, Economic Times, etc. These were mostly middles, published on the editorial pages, written in the lighter vein with humor and satire.
I was discussing the idea of getting this collection published as a book with the commissioning editor of a leading publishing house. The conversation led to a short but insightful discussion on leadership as this had been the favorite topic during my professional speaking assignments. It is here that he suggested me to write a book on the subject.
This was the opportunity I took. As a management professional, I have been keenly observing the dichotomy between leadership theories, propounded by the academia and the actual leadership practices on the shop floor. I find it disturbing that our leadership development programs today end up promoting more mediocrity than excellence among leaders. My purpose behind writing this book was to highlight the yawning gap between the theory and the practice and bring about the much-needed correction in our flawed models of leadership development.
So, you see, sometimes in life you plan for one thing and something else comes out of it.
The title of the book talks about “Imperfect Leader”. Who do
you think are the “perfect” or “imperfect” leaders? How do you
You see, perfect and imperfect leaders are not divided by time, place or culture. Human beings are essentially imperfect creations; nobody is perfect. Leaders, being human, have also been imperfect all across ages. The only difference is that earlier, following the Command and Control style of leadership, they used to adorn a halo of perfection and project it to their followers. The slow and stable economy, coupled with the lack of transparency helped them sustain this smoke-screen of perfection. However, in the knowledge economies of today, marked by volatility, complexity and transparency, the command and control style is out of place and any attempt to sound perfect would be counter-productive. Therefore, new-age leaders willingly own up their weaknesses and build their leadership based on the formidable strengths they possess. This is truly the age of the imperfect leader.
The greatest of the imperfect leaders I can think of is Mahatma Gandhi. In an age marked with extreme conservatism, Gandhi not only realized his weaknesses, he owned them up voluntarily and publicly as well. As a leader he was not limited by his weaknesses; rather he converted them into his strengths. It was with his unique strength, arising out of his unflinching commitment to truth and non-violence, that he was able to bring about a transformation in India’s struggle for independence.
Among the recent examples of imperfect leaders are people like Donald Trump, Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Vladimir Putin and many others, who have transformed the world with their formidable strengths even in the face of their glaring imperfections. They have shown that leadership is not defined by absence of weaknesses in the leader; it is defined by the leader’s formidable strengths.
The famous British sportsman, Robert Tew summed it up very well when he said, “There is no need to be perfect to inspire others. Let people get inspired by how you deal with your imperfections.”
How much research and efforts were required on your part to complete this book?
Research is the soul of writing particularly when you are talking on a much-written-about subject like leadership. Without research one could end up extending one’s own prejudices or remain a prisoner of one’s limited vision. A wider research on a topic not only enhances your perspective, it adds authenticity to your work as well. Hence, before taking up a subject for writing, I carry out an extensive research and convince myself of the point of view that I intend to espouse.
However, for me research is not limited to labs and libraries. Thanks to the inter-connected world today, the expansive canvas of our daily lives, our multi-cultural societies, they all provide us a rich minefield of research potential. Hence, apart from carrying out a systematic and dedicated research on a topic, my research remains a continuous process with each passing day teaching me something new.
Which writers inspire you most?
The list is long. But among the new-age thinkers, I admire Yuval Noah Harari. I loved all his three books – Sapiens, Homo Deus and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Among the fiction writers, I like Amish Tripathi a lot.
How would you like to inspire the creative people wishing to make their career in the field of literature?
The writing scene in India is very inspiring as a lot of new writers are coming on the scene to tell their stories or espouse their idea. Here are some words of advice to the budding writers:
- Write on something you feel passionate about. It will not only make the flow of your writing easier, your work will sound authentic as well. Further, do research on your topic before deciding to write about it so that you’re able to present a comprehensive picture to your readers.
- Make writing a part of your everyday routine. You may write just five hundred words a day, but make it a regular exercise. Find out your favorite time of the day, your desired environment for writing and stick to it to become more productive.
- Be observant of people, places, environment, etc. all the time – when you take a walk, when you travel or when you are in social or professional gatherings. This will add to the reservoir of your writing resources and enrich your writing.
- There is no substitute to reading great writers and observing how they espouse an idea or how the plot in their novel unfolds or how the characters are developed. Therefore, read a lot.
- The publishing world could be cruel. Rejections from literary agents and publishers may keep coming. But don’t give up. Have faith in yourself and go on doing your work with passion, perseverance and grit.