Mahindra University welcomed Jeff Smith, a board member of Tech Mahindra Group and a visionary in technology with a career spanning over 30 years in top executive positions in companies like Telstra, Honeywell, and IBM, on 10th February 2023. Smith was accompanied by moderator Rajesh Dhuddu, SVP & Global Business Head, Blockchain and Metaverse, Tech Mahindra in a fireside chat that discussed the importance of listening and learning in leadership.
The chat started by touching upon the concept of listening, or rather the lack of it in every setting whether it be home, university, or in the corporate world. Smith expressed that the key to innovation is in finding ways to expand one’s listening and learning abilities from others. The people in the industry try to solve the problems they encounter on their own, assuming it to be a badge of honour to figure out everything alone. However, it only slows down the process and minimizes the chances of a better result. “Collective wisdom will always outweigh individual intelligence. One must acknowledge that someone else might know better. It is just having enough humility to say someone is smarter than me and by finding that person, a lot of time could be saved. That has been my approach so far,” he said.
The discussion soon shifted towards learning in today’s world and the abundance of resources available to foster it, yet the lack of intent to use these resources. Smith’s advice to people dealing with such an issue is simply, “do the craft you love.” He touches upon how people in industries are more focused on the position they hold than their love for the craft.
Throughout the chat, he emphasized the importance of culture in a workplace and how he achieves the same through his leadership. “It is important to identify the skills and resources each individual possesses. Their job is to create a productive environment, focusing on the common goal rather than letting biases get in the way,” he said. When assessing his teams and their leaders every quarter, Smith mainly asks two questions: Would you recommend your leader to an outside colleague? Would you recommend the squad you’re on to an outside colleague? He publishes the results and analyzes what his colleagues think of their leaders and teams. All this, he says, is not only avoiding the bullying culture in his workplace but also creating a productive environment, all while being empathetic.
Following the chat, Mahindra University students and faculty had the invaluable opportunity to ask questions and gain further insight from the panel. Answering a question on how to unlearn as we scale through our careers, Smith said it’s important that as individuals we know what motivates us to learn and how we can make the biggest impact. “We’re not good multitaskers, it’s better to hone in on one thing and get really good at it than to try to do ten things. You have the switching cost, and I think that is the biggest hindrance to productivity and learning,” Smith stated.